The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) has spent the past few months discussing the return to in-person learning, and has encouraged districts across the nation to seek out testimonials from parents, teachers, school officials, and community members sharing their positive experiences – in both virtual and in-person environments. The following is one such “back-to-school success story” from Henderson County Public Schools.
Kris Kaufman, mother of 2nd-grader
Glenn C. Marlow Elementary School
Well, what an experience the 2020 school year has been! If you would have told me back in March that we would still be at home virtually schooling, and quite possibly could be for the rest of the 2020-21 school year, I would not have believed you! It has been a very drastic change to the way we school, yet the transitions have been ushered in with unconditional positivity by our school, teachers, and staff, which has no doubt helped. That doesn’t mean it has always been smooth sailing; all significant transitions come with questions and challenges. But a positive attitude, honest and consistent communication, and a little bit of grace (on both ends!) have gone a long way to getting to where we are at today!
Like anything that is a success, there are many converging factors behind why it works. There is typically not just one single thing. In our experience, here are the reasons why the virtual school option has worked for us:
First off, my son’s teacher, Ms. Mac, is amazing! I literally do not know how she does it! Her engaging nature and how she plans the daily schedule keeps the children’s attention virtually. She is so loving and encouraging in her communication with the kids. She offers a calm and loving presence in her words, tone, and in all she does (which is so important during this time!). I am sure it is difficult to get this across a computer screen, but she does it! She is super positive—she can turn anything around and some days she has to when technology issues arise! Ms. Mac truly cares for her students. Any question that arose with my son, she was on it, and helped him get what he needed…and then followed up to make sure things were working out. I honestly don’t think this would be working out so well without her!
Our school administration, support, staff, specials teachers, and teachers assistants have also been key. Again, they have been extremely positive and energetic with the transition decisions. They find a way to make it work with smiles on their faces! They have also allowed us to borrow a laptop, which is super helpful. We have been able to keep a connection to our teacher and school with drive-though meet events, teacher porch visits, and re-imagining our typical school events. Our principal, Mr. Hart, is stellar. He takes any opportunity he can to connect with parents. We came to the school to pick up a jump rope, and he took the time to bring it out to us and chatted with my son and I. I also hear him regularly checking-in with our virtual class to say “Hi” to the kids. He is a blessing!
I also appreciate our school district, Henderson County Public Schools, during this time. I know it has not been easy for our school leadership and volunteer school board members. Moving into the summer, there were quite a bit of questions and uncertainty; I knew changes were being discussed. Any question, piece of feedback or concern I had was promptly answered. Whether it was an answer to a question, listening to my concern, or even just to reassure me what was already being done behind the scenes, it was all addressed and communicated.
Our family is also fortunate to live in an engaged community where many of the children attend our district and specifically our school. I am very lucky to have a network of parents to ask questions, bounce ideas off of, share information, and also to just talk through the options. This has been hugely helpful! Additionally, when we began the 2020-21 school year, our entire district started virtual for the first six weeks. This was stressful for everyone with the different expectations and how things were being operated, etc. During this six weeks, our family was part of a small elementary school pod. It was so helpful during this time to share information and navigate the beginning of this new and different school year as a group.
And finally, I have to give credit to my son! His personality works with this type of learning. He is independent, very participatory, not afraid to speak up, advocates for himself, and can concentrate for an extended period of time. School can be an incredibly extroverted experience. He does well with the structure of virtual school where there is concentrated group time interspersed with breaks. During the breaks he can have his individual time and then is ready to get back to the group. He’s responsible and keeps track of his own breaks and school work….and he’s only in second grade!
Overall, the virtual school experience has been positive for us! Yes, there are times of uncertainty and stress and with any significant transition there are going to be bumps in the road. But there have been good things that have come out of it too. This experience has allowed me to get more involved and engaged in my son’s education. It has been a blessing to really see and know where his strengths and areas to improve are academically and socially and also to know what he is working on in school. It has allowed me to advocate, connect with school and district leaders and stay engaged with what is going on within the district, which I had not done previously. I am thankful and appreciative for everyone who has made it work—it truly takes a village!
If you’re an HCPS student, parent/guardian, or educator and want to share your positive 2020 story, please email Molly McGowan Gorsuch at email@example.com.