Cumberland County students, teachers and school systems are breathing a little easier following action by the Tennessee General Assembly last week to waive standardized testing in the state and reduce the required number of instructional days for the 2019-’20 school year.

“I think it fair to hold harmless students and teachers during a time that is totally out of their control,” Director of Schools Janet Graham told the Chronicle. “We still have many decisions to make in the coming days and weeks.”

Schools were closed March 16 in Cumberland County. This week had been slated as spring break for students, but Gov. Bill Lee called on schools to close through at least March 31. 

By that time, Graham said school systems will know if the closure will be drawing to a close or extended further.

“The executive staff are working daily on plans to determine what we can do if the closure continues past the March 31 date,” Graham said. 

On Monday, Lee said he would be considering the next steps for schools in the state as the number of confirmed cases climbed above 600, with two confirmed cases in Cumberland County at press time Tuesday morning. 

“We will be evaluating that and making a decision in the next couple of days,” Lee said during a press briefing.

Graham said staff and supervisors had discussed developing packets and offering them to students if the school closures continued past March 31, but that also presented challenges.

“Right now, our concern is for our employees and for those picking up or delivering completed packets,” she said. “With the advent of spring break, we will use that time to formulate a plan that is as good as we can make it while keeping the health and safety of all involved at the forefront. That is truly the most important issue at hand today.”

In the meantime, the school system’s food services department continues to serve breakfast and lunch at sites around the county, with grab-and-go meals available for all children 18 years old or younger. 

The meals began being offered March 17. Kathy Hamby, school nutrition supervisor, said they are serving about 2,000 meals a day last week. That number increased to about 2,400 meals on Monday. 

“It was not easy, but it happened because of the network we already had established with our summer program,” Hamby said. “I would like to say a huge thank you to our community partners and volunteers among the café and school staff who made this happen so quickly.”

 

Keeping kids academically engaged

Parents, teachers and administrators are doing their best to help children stay academically engaged during the unexpected extended break. 

Last week, Cumberland County schools released a link to online resources for all students, kindergarten through high school: bit.ly/ccschoolscovid19.

“The purpose of this website is to provide resources for students, parents, and teachers during school closures,” is posted on the link’s home page.

Educational content, meal delivery information, schedules for students, physical activities and live streams to activities are available at the link.

Students are urged by the school system to stay active and engaged in academic content during the hiatus from school, though no homework can actually be assigned per Cumberland County Schools.

“It’s really important, especially for your younger kids,” said Staci Smith, chemistry and ACT prep teacher at Cumberland County High School, who also has two school-age children. “They have to have that constant practice, and if they’re not practicing at home then they’re going to be farther behind when they come back.”

Smith views the online resources as a good starting point for both parents and students.

“For the parents who are going to be able to stay home and work with their kids, they have something to use to help them so they’re not lost,” Smith added. “A lot of stuff at the high school level, they don’t have someone at home to help them out with that. Which is where it comes in handy that they have those other resources that the school sent out.”

Smith is taking her own steps to keep her children academically active during the down time.

“We read, and we’re going to hike,” Smith added. “Brady (her son) is doing a lot of extra reading, and has access to his ‘A Math’ so he can still meet all of his AR goals.”

The official link from the school system is not the only assistance online for Cumberland County students. Multiple teachers are sharing links to additional educational resources available to students. The Crossville Chronicle will share some of these links online at www.crossville-chronicle.com.

Even though students are being encouraged to use online resources, Toni LaRue-Garrett, North Cumberland seventh-grade English language arts teacher, feels too much screen time will have a detrimental effect on students.

“The biggest impact is that I’m worried about the students is that they are going to have too much electronic or television time and is going to get them out of the routine of learning,” she said. 

Although she teaches seventh grade, LaRue-Garrett taught kindergarten through third grade for 17 years and says it’s extremely important for younger students to “stay in the text and that they’re reading because you read to learn.”

“It will definitely affect students to be out of school over an extended time with their stability and, I think, comprehension because they’re going to get lax on the things they are doing and it’s going to create a little bit of backlash … It can really affect them unless somebody is consistently having them to read.”

In addition to reading more, she suggests limiting their screen time.

“To at least — and they’ll think I’m crazy — after-school hours,” she said. “From 8 to 3, don’t let them be on something unless it pertains to school.”

Some internet providers, including Spectrum, are offering free service for households with students for the next 60 days. The company also offers Spectrum Internet Assist to help low-income households with internet needs.

 

 

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.