Working with Dr. Kevin A. Judy, superintendent of Emanuel County Schools, we recently did a Q&A with principals and teachers from Emanuel County schools on how they believe Covid-19 has impacted our school system. This Q&A with several educators provides valuable insight, straight from those who are working with our kids daily, on how we are navigating this time of uncertainty and change. Due to limited space, we were unable to print everything we received, but we feel that their answers are important for you to read, so as an online exclusive, we’re providing more from the Q&A on our website.
Q&A with Teachers
Q: As an educator with Emanuel County Schools, what are some difficulties faced since the pandemic hit?
Brandy Donnan, Twin City Elementary: Since the pandemic hit, the layout of our classrooms has changed dramatically. Students are spaced apart, all facing forward in rows. Large meeting rugs and cloth items all have been removed. Small group instruction is around one side of the table where students are not permitted to sit beside the teacher. Lines are longer and socially distanced as much as possible. Students are not allowed to work together in learning stations or play together inside the kindergarten classroom. The sharing of materials is limited, and the use of disinfecting products is enhanced when items must be shared. Keeping 5- and 6-year-olds apart is a difficult task in and of itself. Students are being asked to sit at their desks and remain in the same room for most of the school day.
Angela Hooks, Swainsboro High School: It has been difficult at the high school level to see students miss out on major events that make high school memorable, such as prom, graduation events, sporting events, etc.
Greg Kennedy, Emanuel County Institute: There have been several difficulties that we have faced but the biggest has been dealing with absences from quarantine, symptoms, or being positive. Some students have been out days and even weeks, which makes missed work and missed instruction an issue. We have adapted and put some strategies in place to overcome these difficulties but nothing beats in-school instruction. It is also hard to keep up with who was out and what days they were out. After having several students out for an extended period of time, it becomes difficult to keep up with who was present and what they may have missed while out.
Tracey Mercer, Emanuel County Institute: Interactions with the students are very challenging due to the necessity for social distancing and Covid precautions, creating accessible and rigorous assignments for students who are absent for an extended period of time, and the uncertainty as to when things will return to normal have all been added stressors since March.
Lindsey Sconyers, Swainsboro High School: Since the beginning of the pandemic, the biggest difficulty I have faced as a classroom teacher is how to keep my students safe while still granting the same opportunities for learning that others have received in the past. Our classes look so different due to the social distancing guidelines that are in place. This pandemic has caused us to step away from the collaborative learning setting that our students thrive academically from.
Janie Slater, Swainsboro Middle School: As an educator, it has been difficult to know what best practices I should use in my classroom—knowing how hard and how often to enforce mask policy and usage of sanitizer, for example. I feel like we are all just doing the best we can.
Stephanie Tripplet, Early Learning Center: I think the biggest task for us has been scheduling around eating in the rooms, extra cleaning times, and outside play times. We are only able to have one class at a time on the playground, so this has cut our students to one 30-minute time frame in the mornings (weather permitting). We have a wonderful team and have worked together and come up with ways to work these various schedules. I feel through trial and error, we have it working for everyone now. Also, parent contact was a concern with us now having drop-off and pick-up and no parents in the building. However, this has really not been an issue. We use every method of contact with our parents, and it seems to be working.
Q: How have you strived to overcome these obstacles?
Brandy Donnan, Twin City Elementary: I have strived to overcome these obstacles by promoting a positive learning environment. The students do not know how my class is different from years past. I promote our school safety plan with regards to mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing. The students know the expectations and they now have become part of our daily routine. When we are in small group instruction, the students know to bring a mask and their supplies. Being the students are in desks a large portion of the day, we try to incorporate movement in all our lessons. During our phonemic awareness lesson, we turned it into a phonemic awareness workout time. During our small group instruction, students are able to leave their desk to attend my small group, my para’s small group, and an independent learning station where they get to sit at a different learning station daily.
Angela Hooks, Swainsboro High School: For last year's graduating class, we were thankfully able to offer graduation exercises, but it looked very different than in years prior. We had them spaced six feet apart using the whole football field instead of just the track, and we limited the number of guests allowed to attend.
Greg Kennedy, Emanuel County Institute: I have begun to utilize Google Classroom, which allows students to keep up with notes, assignments, and classroom instruction when they are out. Each student is familiar with Google Classroom and they know how to access it and use it. I have also begun to record my instructional teaching with a camera and then post it to the Google Classroom for students to view. If the students are absent, they can view the lesson as if they were sitting in the classroom.
Tracey Mercer, Emanuel County Institute: I have immersed myself in learning new technologies that enable me to interact with students through programs such as Zoom, Google Meets, screencastomatic, and Google classroom. I’ve tried to keep up with classroom progress by posting daily videos, assignments, and tutorials when needed. It has been nice to be able to have virtual meetings with students who are confined to their homes. That might not have been possible if this had happened five or ten years ago. I was even able to teach from home when I was quarantined myself. Students watched me through Zoom and I was able to continue instruction.
Lindsey Sconyers, Swainsboro High School: Still being able to meet face-to-face with our students allows the teachers to continue to deliver quality standards-based instruction. Our work sessions may have changed, but we are still able to meet the students where they are academically because we can physically see where or when they are struggling.
Janie Slater, Swainsboro Middle School: At some point you have to implement a policy that makes sense to you [see following preventive protocols answer]. That’s what I have done.
Q: What preventive protocols have you instilled within your classroom as a combative attempt against the spread of Covid-19?
Brandy Donnan, Twin City Elementary: All of my desks are spaced apart, in rows facing forward. Large meeting rugs and cloth items have been removed. I have three locations where students have access to hand sanitizer. All surfaces are cleaned on a daily basis. Shared items are disinfected between student use. Masks are strongly encouraged when socially distancing is not possible (small groups). Students are given the opportunity to wash their hands regularly with soap and water. Students have a cubby to house their water bottles so as to not contaminate another student’s water bottle. I also wear a mask when working with students for extended periods of time.
Angela Hooks, Swainsboro High School: Within the classroom, I have socially distanced students in regards to where they sit (every other desk) when possible, and in using our classroom Chromebooks, we have sanitized them carefully before each student uses them. I have also stopped going between the rows when students may have questions, and instead ask students to come to me directly so that I can be only addressing one student at a time. To clarify, what I mean by this is when students have questions about independent work outside of whole class instruction time.
Greg Kennedy, Emanuel County Institute: At the beginning of the school year, I decluttered my room to ensure that I could maximize the most space. I am able to spread my desk out to help social distancing. As a 6th grade team, we arranged our students so that they are all sitting the same in each class. This helps alleviate so many being out if there is a positive case. I also spray each desk down after each class period with a disinfectant spray. There are also several hand sanitizing stations in my classroom. As we leave the classroom, to go to the bathroom, we emphasize social distancing.
Tracey Mercer, Emanuel County Institute: Seating arrangements and transitions between classes are as distant as they can be from one another, masks are strongly encouraged, hand sanitizer is available, my class is sanitized every afternoon, and I am continually moving around the room.
Lindsey Sconyers, Swainsboro High School: We are able to sanitize each Chromebook, calculator, desk, and other materials at the end of each class period. We (the teachers) walk around with hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, and paper towels for the students to use to sanitize each item before the next class comes in. It takes time out of our instruction, but it is worth it to help ensure that our students are safe at school. I also wear a mask when helping one-on-one with students or when walking around the classrooms or in common areas around the school.
Janie Slater, Swainsboro Middle School: Encouraging usage of masks, passing out hand sanitizer often and especially before lunch. Spreading desks out to the absolute maximum distance, wiping down desks daily, discontinued use of textbooks and classroom books to prevent cross-handling and potential virus spread, discontinued using paper handouts and going digital for every single classroom assignment, discontinued use of notebooks and paper writing portfolios and instead using digital portfolios to keep and share final drafts of written work, discontinued partner and small group sharing and work together.
Stephanie Tripplet, Early Learning Center: We are staying in our rooms in order to stay with our students during the day. Masks are worn in the hallways, in the office, on the buses, and at times with smaller groups. We have separated students during our large group times.
Q: Working with the youth of the community, I’m sure things have been difficult to process when looking back on how school functioned prior to the pandemic. What do you miss most about teaching prior to the pandemic hitting?
Brandy Donnan, Twin City Elementary: A large part of kindergarten is teaching children how to socialize appropriately. Being that children are not permitted to play together inside the classroom, they are missing this learning opportunity. I miss having children buddy up and work together to learn new skills. I miss allowing my students to check out books from the library. I miss the excitement they display when they can read the book and go on their own to get a new book. I miss huddling my class together on our meeting rug and reading a story together. I miss taking field trips and having parents help with special events.
Angela Hooks, Swainsboro High School: Most of the students at SHS have been great about wearing masks, but when half of a student's face is covered, it makes it difficult to learn names and put names with faces as quickly as I could before. I now have to rely on other things to help me recognize students both in the classroom and in the halls such as height, gait, hair, voice, etc. I have always used seating charts to help learn new students, a necessity that fades once I get to know them. Now, this is used much longer than before to remember a student by where they are located in my classroom.
Greg Kennedy, Emanuel County Institute: I definitely miss the normalcy of school before the pandemic. What I miss the most about teaching is the personal relationships and smiling faces. The pandemic has made many scared to interact with each other closely. I miss “high fiving” my students as they enter my classroom or if they have success. Most of all I miss seeing smiling faces or faces full of laughter. There are some students that I’ve only seen their faces a couple of times all year. The mask makes it hard to read student expressions or responses. It seems to make discussions and/or interactions less personal.
Tracey Mercer, Emanuel County Institute: I miss the interactions most; everything from small group instruction to high-fives to scavenger hunts - all of it. It just isn’t the same thanks to Covid. I think any teacher will tell you this is what they miss the most.
Lindsey Sconyers, Swainsboro High School: I miss the collaboration within my classroom the most. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a group of students working together to solve a complex problem. I also miss my hugs, fist bumps, and high fives between class changes.
Janie Slater, Swainsboro Middle School: In my ELA classroom, I miss giving the students the opportunities to work with partners and in small groups. Peer editing and planning together has had to be placed on the back burner. However, it’s also encouraged using technology and thinking outside the box to tweak and maintain some of these practices in new, creative ways. For instance, we now peer edit digitally by sharing final drafts. The students can highlight and make suggestions/comments to their classmates using Google Docs.
Stephanie Tripplet, Early Learning Center: We definitely miss having the opportunity for our students to play together and have some time outside of our classroom. However, honestly what I miss most is being able to hug my students, console them as needed, and participate in our morning greetings. It has made me feel distant from these babies and that’s not me.
Q: Learning how to operate your classroom with new restrictions in place since and during the pandemic, how has this process been handled?
Brandy Donnan, Twin City Elementary: In my opinion, the county did a great job of laying out their expectations for how our classrooms were to look and be ran. I have tried to follow our protocols that were put in place to keep our students safe and to keep learning going. I did have to figure out ways to get the students out of their desks so that the day was not spent sitting and listening to me teach.
Angela Hooks, Swainsboro High School: Teachers are more aware of the need to sanitize desks and computers regularly. When flu season would hit in years prior, we would begin to sanitize, but now that process happens daily.
Greg Kennedy, Emanuel County Institute: It has been a learning process. I have tried some things and then realized that there may be a better way to do it. It is sort of like anything new in life, you have to try and then make adaptations accordingly. I am fortunate to work with a great group of people who are supportive and willing to help. We are able to bounce ideas off of each other and discuss what works and what doesn’t. It has also been helpful that the students have been responsive and willing to adapt to the changes.
Tracey Mercer, Emanuel County Institute: More technology has been integrated and there is not as much interaction one-on-one with students, but otherwise, instruction has gone on as smoothly as it could under these strange circumstances.
Lindsey Sconyers, Swainsboro High School: Time management is key. We find the time to sanitize items between uses in order to keep our students safe.
Janie Slater, Swainsboro Middle School: The administration at SMS—Dr. Gibson, Mr. Miller, and Mrs. Young—have been tremendous in providing clear directions for handling new protocols. When we were given new guidelines for changing classes in the hallway, Mr. Miller, for example, clearly explained procedures and was loud and clear with us that we CAN do this and we will. What would have been a tedious change was actually executed quite well very quickly due to both his excellent instructions and his voiced encouragement to us teachers.
In the hallways, the administration instituted 0-1-2-6, adding the “6” which stands for 6 feet apart. Enforcing this new protocol has been a constant challenge, but has actually worked quite well and also serves to improve behavior problems. Same with the lunchroom. Kids sit on only one side of the tables and spaced out. This both ensures no/little spread of the virus as well as improved behavior in the lunchroom.
Stephanie Tripplet, Early Learning Center: Some challenges back in March and now are supplying technology, using technology in homes, and me trying to learn all these ways to use technology. I am thankful for my work family because we all generate ideas together and help each other with our weaknesses.
Q: During last year’s closing of schools, what were some challenges faced when working with parents to have schoolwork completed at-home? What are some things you learned during this process that you have worked to improve for the current school year?
Brandy Donnan, Twin City Elementary: When school closed last year, parents were not required to help their students complete the assigned work. We were not allowed to pressure parents into keeping the learning going. This experience has taught me that I need to be thankful for each day that I get to spend with my students. I need to be teaching my students every moment of the day. I need to be prepared to scaffold my students to achieve their maximum potential. I do not have time to waste any learning time. This has also made me grateful for the parents who do work with their children.
Angela Hooks, Swainsboro High School: It was difficult during last year's closure (for both teachers and students) to rely on technology for instruction. Since that time, we have all become well versed in Zoom, Google Meets, and Google Classroom (if we were not well versed before) to present instruction and assignments. We are much better prepared now than we were last year if there is another closure to meet the instructional needs of our students.
Greg Kennedy, Emanuel County Institute: This was a challenging time because it was new to everyone. The biggest challenge was trying to get the work to the students. We gave them a choice between paperwork or virtual work. We were able to set up a day for parents to come pick up their child's paperwork. This was set up as a drive-thru. The staff at ECI really worked great together to make an efficient process. The virtual work was a little tougher because we were dependent on the parents and students to check their emails or Google Classroom to complete their work. Previous to the shut down, our Administration had given us training in Google Classroom so this came in handy. Again, the virtual learning was still new to us so we learned as we experienced the process. This experience has made me learn more about the use and implementation of technology, and now I am more comfortable with the virtual process.
Tracey Mercer, Emanuel County Institute: I have spent a lot of time learning about new technologies in order to make sure I can provide rigorous instruction without face-to-face interaction when it is necessary to do so.
Lindsey Sconyers, Swainsboro High School: The lack of technology at home was a big problem during the beginning of the school closure last March. Dr. Warnock has done a great job at making sure that there are enough devices available for student use at home in the event that they are sent home due to Covid-19. When the students have the right technology they can stay up to date through the use of Google Meets and Google Classroom.
Janie Slater, Swainsboro Middle School: Working out the logistics of content delivery with parents and students last year was a challenge. Many students fell through the cracks without consistent follow-up. Our (as teachers) learning curve was quite large. However, we now have the tools and know-how to use these tools to ensure smooth delivery of content and student accountability for completion.
Stephanie Tripplet, Early Learning Center: Learning these ways to use technology is definitely something I have been working on myself. Patience and understanding is the main thing we all need to reiterate. This applies to parents, students, and teachers. We are all facing these uncertainties and are somewhat playing it by ear. These children should be our priority and parents, teachers, and communities have to come together in order to benefit them and their education.
Q: From a teacher’s standpoint, what is a topic you feel should be addressed with parents and others in the community?
Brandy Donnan, Twin City Elementary: If a teacher requests your support at home, it is essential that you support the learning at home. Educators are trying to fill gaps, enhance learning, and provide support to produce life-long learners. We would love to be able to provide everything our students need, but sometimes extra support is needed.
Angela Hooks, Swainsboro High School: With the virtual options for instruction available now and students being more well-adjusted to using it, parents and the community should know that we are ready if we are faced with a closure. Last year's closure was unexpected and there were many unknowns, but now it is critical that we get students/parents to realize that it is necessary for students to earn their grades in this manner and not just think it is optional.
Greg Kennedy, Emanuel County Institute: I’m not sure if this question is about Covid or just in general, but I feel that something that needs to be addressed is that some kids need more attention at home from their parents. I see/hear things that make me concerned that the parents do not know what goes on in their kids’ lives. These kids are exposed to so many things on their phones/internet that they do not need to be exposed to. I feel like the parents are naive about what their kids are doing or seeing on these devices. We have many issues between students that derive from something that occurred on their phones. I also feel that the kids spend so much time on their phones that they are not developing social skills. It seems to me that the kids are not getting enough adult supervision and attention and are left to their devices for a means of “babysitting.”
Tracey Mercer, Emanuel County Institute: For the virtual students, I believe that parents were a little surprised about the amount of time that it is necessary for students to put in each day in order to keep up with the demands of their classes. For face-to-face instruction, my high school students who are known for being social have struggled with the lack of social interaction. However, they have done an amazing job adapting to all of the changes.
Lindsey Sconyers, Swainsboro High School: Understanding and Grace. It is vital to the success of our students that the parents and teachers operate on the same page. Without Understanding and Grace from all parties, our students will not have the best opportunity to be successful.
Janie Slater, Swainsboro Middle School: Accountability for student work at home is the biggest challenge we face. Parents must help their child/children develop a space and a time for school work and ensure completion of this work daily.
Q: Tell me a little about your background in education. What drew you to this field? How long have you been a teacher? In your opinion, what are some benefits of your job?
Brandy Donnan, Twin City Elementary: I have been teaching for 17 years. I have three educational degrees from Georgia Southern University. I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher from a very young age. In second grade, I could not read like the other kids in my class. I was put in a remedial reading program that was taught by a pull out teacher. Through this experience, I know the power of extra support. I want to be the teacher that helps every student achieve their educational goals. Teaching has many benefits apart from holidays and summers off with your family. In the past 17 years of teaching, I have not had two days that were exactly the same. Each day in teaching is a new and different experience. Working with young children and seeing their excitement when they master new skills is a very rewarding experience.
Angela Hooks, Swainsboro High School: I have been an educator since 2002 and at SHS since 2007. I was drawn to the profession because I love working with this age group of students. Being a teacher of mainly seniors for the last 10 years, I have been given an opportunity to help students prepare for life outside of high school. We discuss Economics of course, but there are so many life lessons that go along with our curriculum in that subject. I love that we can relate real-world events to what we are learning and students are open to understanding how it impacts their future. Just to name a few things: taxes, government regulation, consumer and producer behavior, and personal finance things like budgeting, insurance, wages, and credit.
Greg Kennedy, Emanuel County Institute: I have been teaching for the past 21 years, all at ECI. I initially was interested in education because I enjoyed being around kids and also to coach. I have coached either baseball or football for the past 21 years, as well. My reasoning for teaching is also the biggest benefit, which is interacting and watching kids succeed as they become educated or skilled. It's so rewarding to see the kids show growth in learning and character. When students have success and you see how excited they are about learning, you feel that success as well.
Tracey Mercer, Emanuel County Institute: I have a BSEd in secondary mathematics education from UGA, a MEd from Troy University, and EdS degree from Nova Southeastern University. I have always loved mathematics and enjoyed working with others who did not share the same love. This is my 26th year teaching high school mathematics. The benefits I enjoy are teaching math to some amazing students. In addition, I have been able to watch my own two sons grow up in this county and be able to support them at most all of their extracurricular activities. I am not so sure that I would be able to have supported them in the same manner with another career. Working with teenagers for 26 years has helped me be a better parent to my own. Many parents dread the teenage years. However, I love them. There are so many pivotal moments for these young people, and it’s such a wonderful opportunity to be able to witness many of them. I love how I teach many of them more than once and get to see the beautiful transformations into the young men and women they are becoming year after year.
Lindsey Sconyers, Swainsboro High School: This is my 14th year teaching in Emanuel County -seven years at SMS and the last seven years at SHS in the Math Department. I have been serving as the Mathematics Department chair for three years and am a member of the schools OMT. Teaching is one of the most rewarding careers that I could ever imagine having. I have the honor of teaching some of the most EXTRAORDINARY, RESPECTFUL, and overall BEST students/Tigers. The smiles, the fist bumps, hugs, and thank you’s are what makes me keep coming back year after year. I love my TIGERS!
Janie Slater, Swainsboro Middle School: My parents were educators who loved and encouraged their students to achieve their highest potential in the classroom and in life. I knew from a young age I, too, was called to be an educator. I’ve taught for six years. However, I’ve taught and trained in the business sector many more years (for IBM and the North American Mission Board, etc.). One of the benefits of teaching is the tremendous satisfaction of seeing student growth and learning over time—seeing clearly that my teaching is making a difference.
Stephanie Tripplet, Early Learning Center: I have been in education for 26 years, 21 of those as a PreK teacher. I started out as a sub and that led into a paraprofessional job. This spiked my passion for education and children. That passion led me to get my degree.
Q: What is something you feel is overlooked but needs to be brought to the attention of the community?
Brandy Donnan, Twin City Elementary: Attitude is everything! We are all going through a lot with this pandemic. However, our attitude toward safety protocols, your child’s teacher, providing support for your learner, and our school-wide decisions make a difference. We need to be a positive voice. It is perfectly normal to voice concerns and is encouraged. However, the attitude you present to your child is crucial during these times.
Angela Hooks, Swainsboro High School: The community should know that SHS teachers work tirelessly to provide high levels of instruction to our students. With the new challenges facing education, we are working hard to maintain both their high school experience as well as to provide them with instruction in new ways to be sure they get what they need to succeed.
Greg Kennedy, Emanuel County Institute: I feel that many in the community do not know the hardships and situations that many of our students face each day. Before I got into education, I had no idea of the situations and experiences that many students face. Many of our students do not get three meals a day unless they are at school. Many of our students don’t have running water, clean clothes, a bed to sleep in, or even a roof over their heads. Many students don’t hear a kind word until they attend school. I would encourage the community to check up on your neighbors, fellow workers, and friends. Make sure they are taken care of and have what they need. Help each other out and show compassion.
Tracey Mercer, Emanuel County Institute: I wish people in the community could understand how well students have adapted to the challenges of the last year. In the face of no prom, no baseball season, a delayed graduation, limited attendance at sporting events, canceled conventions, virtual competitions, and in many cases, truncated schedules for all events, they have continued to rise above and give their best effort while keeping, for the most part, positive attitudes and optimism for the future.
Lindsey Sconyers, Swainsboro High School: It is my hope and prayer that the community understands just how different school looks right now. From daily operations to classroom instruction, everything has changed. But the one thing that has not is our desire to deliver quality instruction and to help our young adults turn into productive citizens.
Janie Slater, Swainsboro Middle School: It’s important to always remember I’m not just here to deliver content (teach the subject), but to be a positive influencer, mentor, encourager, and a coach to each and every student on my rosters. They all matter.
Q&A with Principals
Q: As a principal, what difficulties have you faced when operating daily functions of learning for both in-person and virtual education?
Anetria Edenfield, Principal, Emanuel County Institute: Virtual - Communicating with all involved in the process! It is not just the students that we are communicating with it’s the guardians as well. It has been difficult to get on the same page with everyone involved in this process. In-Person – Trying to follow the guidelines. In August, students were hypersensitive and followed procedures. As we progressed in the semester, they became more relaxed and did not see the urgency of the situation.
Robbie Warnock, Principal, Twin City Elementary: So much of what I try to do as a principal involves making sure that my students and teachers all have access to the materials they need to learn and teach. When I have all of my students on campus, I can get them what they need relatively easily. If a student needs paper or pencil, we can make that happen in seconds. If a teacher needs a new resource, I have never been unable to get it. Our district level leadership is awesome in providing that freedom to principals. The challenges now lie in the fact that we are basically running two public school settings, a face-to-face one and a virtual academy. The virtual academy is our newest offering, which allows students the ability to maintain their studies from home. We are able to provide our virtual students with technology and teachers to provide remote assistance, but the comparison is a lot like watching someone cook or repair something on YouTube and doing it yourself, or having that expert sitting right across from you. My teachers and I want our virtual students to have all those benefits of being face-to-face, and that is our main struggle.
Denise Warnock, Principal, Swainsboro High School: At Swainsboro High School, our ability to grow our students academically by identifying where they are academically and moving them to their next level has been a source of pride. To do this, you have to have accurate student achievement data. Last year’s school closure gave way to learning gaps that are difficult to pinpoint or generalize. Though we, like districts state-wide, were not ready to go from face-to-face to virtual learning on a moment’s notice, our central office and school staffs rallied together to put a plan in place that would enable us to offer parents and students options with regard to how they returned to instruction this school term.
Valorie Watkins, Principal, Swainsboro Elementary School: As principal, I love being in classrooms on a daily basis. It has been difficult to limit my visit times to under 10 minutes in each classroom. I am now conscious of where I stand, making sure I am wearing a mask and staying socially distanced while visiting classrooms. I do not get to participate in the lessons as much as I used to when I visit classrooms.
Of course, I miss all my virtual students. I was able to meet most of the virtual parents during our Virtual Parent Orientations earlier in the school year. However, many of our third graders I have not met in person. I have been able to join in on some of the Zoom meetings set up by the virtual teacher. We have a great team of teachers working with our students on Edgenuity. Initially, we had some difficulty understanding the pacing of the program and the amount of time students should be on daily.
Q: What have been some concerns faced since the pandemic hit and how have any obstacles been overcame?
Anetria Edenfield, Principal, Emanuel County Institute: Curriculum! – Keeping students on track. As educators we want to ensure all students are college/career ready. Any day instruction is missed plays a huge part in their overall academic achievement.
Robbie Warnock, Principal, Twin City Elementary: My most immediate concern has been physical safety. I have several people in my personal life who are in the at-risk demographics for Covid as do many of my staff and students. I have total confidence in my teachers’ ability to get their jobs done, but so much of my worry has been geared toward the safety aspect. Schools fall fairly in the middle of the information chain, so our reaction time has to be pretty fast when we get new information regarding health policies or procedures. Almost every single aspect of the education calling is based on precedence. How did we handle this last time? Covid-19 is new, so we are literally making these decisions for the first time. In my personal situation, I have been blessed with a superintendent and school board who are totally dedicated to everyone’s personal safety. Even before the wave crested, they were taking steps to get the equipment and supplies we need for everyone’s health.
Denise Warnock, Principal, Swainsboro High School: Ensuring student and staff safety has always been priority number one.
The social and emotional engagement of our students became a greater concern once the pandemic hit. With school closure we had to become intentional in engaging our students. When we returned to school this fall, we began work to revise our student advisement activities to better address our students’ social and emotional needs. We are hopeful the new advisement activities we have this semester will prove more meaningful to both the students and adults in our building.
The pandemic has expanded our definition of school safety. Everyone within our school district has played key roles in making sure we have procedures, materials, and protocols in place to ensure students and staff have a safe and secure work environment, which adheres to CDC and GaDOE recommendations. The Superintendent, School Board, and Finance and Facilities Directors are to be commended for scrambling to allocate the needed resources and materials to building administrators, custodial staff, and teachers and coaches.
Also, ensuring kids had meals when schools were closed was an obstacle that had to be overcome when the pandemic hit. Our school food and nutrition staff, district director, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, and school resource officers were out in our community five days a week making sure the students in our community had access to nutritious meals and snacks when school was not in session.
Valorie Watkins, Principal, Swainsboro Elementary School: The major concern has been the safety of all students and employees. We are overcoming our safety concern by reminding everyone to follow all guidelines and protocols set by our board of education. I announce each morning our expectations to help stop the spread of germs. We review the 3Ws.
Q: Prior to the pandemic hitting, what do you miss most about how schools were operated?
Anetria Edenfield, Principal, Emanuel County Institute: Just the normal day! Transitions, lunches, student interactions, group work, etc. All of these have been impacted and are pieces of the puzzle that make a student’s high school career successful and memorable.
Robbie Warnock, Principal, Twin City Elementary: This one is easy, and it is what we all miss. Emanuel County Schools is not a thing or a set of buildings, it is a family. Just like everyone else, I am missing those chances to see the whole family. TCE has a tradition of being an open campus, stakeholders have always been on campus. We have a huge group of volunteers and community members who can’t come see us now, and I miss that.
Denise Warnock, Principal, Swainsboro High School: Interactions between students and adults, students and students, and adult and adults are what we missed most. Though 85% of our students are back in the building, we look forward to the day they all return.
Valorie Watkins, Principal, Swainsboro Elementary School: I miss seeing our students gather in a large setting. We have not been able to do any assemblies. I miss students going to the media center to select and check out books. We
Q: When things are dark, it’s hard to see the positive amongst the odds faced. What are some highlights that you are proud to have seen accomplished within your school by staff and students?
Anetria Edenfield, Principal, Emanuel County Institute: Students – they have been so flexible and willing to do whatever it takes. I love this about them. They are so resilient. They adapt and move on.
Robbie Warnock, Principal, Twin City Elementary: Things are dark, but that just makes the light brighter when we see it. One major thing we heard - “You will never get elementary students to social distance themselves!” I wish I could share the videos of lines of students with their arms stretched out as they “zombie shuffle” down the hall, staying just far enough apart. I see my TCE staff leaping into new technology and teaching styles to better serve our students. Since this whole situation started, none of your students’ teachers have asked me “Why are we doing this?” Every question is “How can I make this happen for my kids?” That is powerful.
Denise Warnock, Principal, Swainsboro High School: Looking back on 2019-2020, we are proud that though delayed, we were able to provide our seniors and their parents with a face-to-face graduation with as traditional a format as we possible. Pulling that off required parents, faculty, staff, and community members coming together to recognize and celebrate our students achieving the apex of their K-12 educational experience.
Our athletic staff and student athletes are to be applauded for their response and adherence to state and local recommendations and GHSA mandates so that, on the extracurricular front, we could restore some activity and routine to the lives of the young people we serve.
The resiliency of our faculty and staff has been an outstanding highpoint. Most are both educators and parents, and they have had to respond to the pandemic from different perspectives. They have been like the bamboo plant, able to bend without breaking.
Valorie Watkins, Principal, Swainsboro Elementary School: I am proud of the staff being positive. They know our positivity in the school starts with them in the classroom. They have really embraced the many changes with a smile. Our teachers have worked diligently to become familiar with the many facets of technology. For many, it has been a fast-learning curve in order to make sure our students are technology savvy. We have one to one Chromebook correspondence, if it became necessary each student would be able to take a Chromebook home and students could continue instruction.
I have been extremely proud of our students for their fortitude and endurance. They have jumped right on board following the 3Ws. The majority of our students wear a face mask, stay socially distanced when possible, and wash their hands or use hand sanitizers on a regular basis throughout the school day. SES students are very resilient!
Q: In your opinion, what are the pros and cons associated with virtual learning?
Anetria Edenfield, Principal, Emanuel County Institute: Pros – For some students they feel this is the safest way to continue their education. Students can work at his/her own pace.
Cons – Interacting with other students and adults is essential to growing into a young adult. I don’t think they realized how much they missed this until it was gone. Honestly, nothing beats face-to-face instruction. It just can’t be replaced. This option is the closest thing that we have to it, and students have been successful, but some have struggled because they need a face-to-face instructor.
Robbie Warnock, Principal, Twin City Elementary: The major pro is that it allows students to maintain their personal learning and growth. A major con is that so much of that teacher-student interaction is different. If you are teaching me how to write, I learn so much better when I am in the same space as my teacher- even if that same teacher is teaching me over Zoom.
Denise Warnock, Principal, Swainsboro High School: Technology has been both a pro and a con. Fortunately, we have been able to provide our students with Chromebooks and internet devices, if needed. However, there are times when something like the type of roof on a residence has affected the dependability of the signal a device receives.
Parents who work are not always available to monitor and help their children to ensure they are progressing as expected.
Valorie Watkins, Principal, Swainsboro Elementary School: The pros to virtual learning are the opportunity for parents to allow their child to learn at home and work at their own pace. Students and parents are able to set their own schedule each day. Several parents have enjoyed more time with their child at home. These parents feel more involved in their child’s learning. Virtual teachers are available to assist students on the content they are working on. Teachers set up Zoom meetings and set up conference calls to ensure students and parents are up to date on their assignments each week.
One of the cons to virtual learning is if a student is working below grade level. Edgenuity is an on-grade level program. It is very challenging for teachers to try to help a student that is academically behind on this program. Often teachers have to go in and make adjustments to the student’s assignments and set aside time to work with a student that needs more individualized instruction. If a student misses a day of completing work, it is very difficult for the student to catch up.
Q: In reference to in-person learning, what have been some obstacles faced during the pandemic?
Anetria Edenfield, Principal, Emanuel County Institute: Shifting of instructors – Teachers go into education because they want to work with students. Preferable face-to-face. When we moved some teachers to virtual learning, it took that away from them.
Finding creative ways to work one-on-one or small groups to provide individualized instruction. Students still need this and social distancing has made it more difficult. Our teachers faced this challenge and have found ways to make it happen to ensure student success.
Robbie Warnock, Principal, Twin City Elementary: Our major obstacle is the sheer amount of time related to Covid-specific problems. For example, if a student has to be quarantined due to being a close contact, that student is still missing seat time. If a student has to be quarantined more than once, that can seriously generate some gaps that teachers and parents have to struggle to close. Each teacher at TCE has a virtual learning environment that is not part of our Virtual Academy; when school started I required each teacher to deliver 20% of their content this way so that teachers and students have practice in this hybrid model. K-2 students use SeeSaw; 3-5 students use Google Classroom. Having them practice during face-to-face instruction helps our students who have to be absent stay in pace with their peers.
Denise Warnock, Principal, Swainsboro High School: At the high school level, it is impossible for students to complete graduation requirements and stay within a pod setting. Therefore students have the potential to be exposed to a completely different group of students each period of the day. Seating assignments have allowed us to limit each student’s number of close contacts.
Group work is an invaluable learning strategy and a well-recognized best practice for teaching and learning. Social distancing makes this practically impossible, which has been frustrating for both the students and teachers.
Valorie Watkins, Principal, Swainsboro Elementary School: Some of the obstacles we have faced during the pandemic have been attendance with students and staff. Compared to our previous year attendance data we have seen an increase in the amount of absences for students and staff. This year we are still keeping up with our number of absences, but we do not have any attendance incentives for students or staff this year.
We have really had to be understanding and flexible with make-up work for students. Teachers have really worked hard to catch students up on lessons that were taught while a student was absent due to Covid. It has taken some time for many of our students to get back on track with their learning targets.
Q: What are the pros and cons noticed with in-person learning during the pandemic?
Anetria Edenfield, Principal, Emanuel County Institute: Pros – Students have a real life person to ask questions if they struggle with concepts. Teachers can observe student progress and step in when needed. Students get to interact with peers.
Can’t think of any [cons]! Nothing replaces in-person instruction. If I had to answer here it would just be operating under the social distancing guidelines, but we have made this work!
Robbie Warnock, Principal, Twin City Elementary: The major pro here is that we can see our students. We can lay eyes on them, make sure they are safe and learning, and we can respond more quickly to their immediate needs. The con is simply seeing how much stress and concern some students are having with these changes. People assume that elementary students may not be aware of global news, but a lot of them are, and it is awful to see that anxiety in person and not be able to fix it.
Denise Warnock, Principal, Swainsboro High School: Students are with us eight hours a day, five days a week. We can only hope that they are following social distancing guidelines when they are not at school thus minimizing risk to themselves and others. The majority of quarantines we have dealt with thus far have not originated at school or school activities.
Valorie Watkins, Principal, Swainsboro Elementary School: The pros with in-person learning during the pandemic have been the simple act of taking precautions to keep everyone safe. We strongly encourage our students and staff to wear a mask, watch their distance (staying 6ft. apart- 2 arm lengths away from the next person), washing their hands on a regular basis throughout the day. We have hand sanitizers in classrooms in each hall, and other locations in the building. We have taken the attitude that we will each do our part to keep everyone safe. We have all worked together with flexibility in our school’s daily schedule allowing limited transition times. Our students remain in their homeroom class except for two activity classes. Our content teachers change classes instead of our students changing. Students have expressed they like that they have their own space and do not have to share their desk with others. Also, we have less discipline or office referrals this year compared to previous years.
The cons with in-person learning during the pandemic have been the loss of some instructional time to make sure classrooms are disinfected throughout the day. Another challenge has been seating students apart in the classroom. At best, they are 2 to 3 feet apart. Our classrooms were not designed for students to sit 6 ft. apart. We are able to place students 6 ft. apart in our SPED and PE classes.
Q: Working with the youth of the community, I’m sure things have been difficult to process when looking back on how school functioned prior to the pandemic. What do you miss most about the operation of schools prior to the pandemic hitting?
Anetria Edenfield, Principal, Emanuel County Institute: Interacting with students and what this looks like now. This puts a strain on relationship building (trust).
Robbie Warnock, Principal, Twin City Elementary: I miss our community shrinking and seeing so many things being cancelled or rescheduled. One of the things we like in our school system is how the schools, industries, and communities agree that Emanuel County’s youth are our greatest resource. The average person would be in awe of the people who just check in on us and see if we need anything. When word got out that all Emanuel County students could have water bottles with them all the time since hydration is such a good deterrent, TCE has had multiple truckloads of water delivered for our students. Like most of us, we just miss people!
Denise Warnock, Principal, Swainsboro High School: Not having to be six feet apart and being able to provide students with the experiences most of us took for granted previously, i.e. large group activities such as club meetings and prom, indoor sporting events, face-to-face honors nights, open house events and parent meetings. The list goes on.
Valorie Watkins, Principal, Swainsboro Elementary School: I miss having our Honors Programs, Veterans’ Day Program, Career Day, PTO Meetings and other events. I miss having parents, visitors and volunteers in our building. I miss having a school-wide assembly.
Q: What preventive protocols have you instilled within your school as a combative attempt against the spread of Covid-19?
Anetria Edenfield, Principal, Emanuel County Institute: Seating arrangements, how we transition between classes, signs and stickers reminding students to socially distance, providing hand sanitizer, constant verbal reminders, etc.
Robbie Warnock, Principal, Twin City Elementary: This is one area where our district leadership surpassed any others around us. Our school buildings are shielded through a company called Ecovasive. They come in every 90 days and treat all of our surfaces with a barrier to protect us; they renew this every 90 days too. School buses are sanitized at the start and conclusion of every route. We sterilize classrooms and shared equipment daily. Every person has a temperature check prior to entering. We socially distance ourselves in community areas. Sanitizer stations have been installed all around our building and our maintenance department recently installed water bottle fill stations for all of our students. We have enough masks on hand for any students who need one.
Denise Warnock, Principal, Swainsboro High School: Temperature checks upon arrival, social distancing to the greatest extent possible, mask recommendations, directional movement with a roundabout common’s area, virtual meetings, capacity limitations (graduation, class ring presentations, athletic events), frequent and ongoing extensive sanitation protocols, additional lunch times, altered seating (spaced and in one direction), just to name a few.
Valorie Watkins, Principal, Swainsboro Elementary School: As I mentioned earlier, our students are not changing classes. Students are not eating in the cafeteria for breakfast or lunch. Our students are able to pick up a quick breakfast and head on to the classroom. Students go to the lunchroom to pick up a tray and return to the classroom to eat. We no longer have face-to-face faculty meetings. We conduct Zoom faculty meetings. Our ventilation system has been revamped throughout the school. Since our water fountains are not in use. We have water filing stations down each hall and in the lunchroom. Hand sanitizers located throughout the building. Temperature checks are administered each morning for all students and staff. Every visitor’s temperature is checked as they enter the office. Custodians and teachers are disinfecting classrooms throughout the day on a regular basis. Our activity teachers are spraying after each class. Our custodians are wiping down walls and door handles during the day. They are spraying each classroom at the end of each day.
Q: Lastly, please take the time to address any topic of conversation that has not been addressed in the above questions:
Anetria Edenfield, Principal, Emanuel County Institute: I would just like to say what we have faced the challenge of the pandemic head on. It has had its ups and downs but we have persevered!
Robbie Warnock, Principal, Twin City Elementary: Folks, please just bear with us as we navigate these uncertain seas. There may be times where, as a school and system, we have to react quickly to news we have just received. Also, keep your students’ teachers and our superintendent and school board members in your thoughts. I have been in the meetings and have seen just how hard they are working for us. Please, everyone - do your best to stay safe, and I hope to see you soon!
Denise Warnock, Principal, Swainsboro High School: Students and teachers alike were so happy to return this past July. We have had very little discipline this school year and I would like to believe a new appreciation for the opportunity to attend school resulted from last year’s school closure. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to have our building’s classrooms, hallways, gymnasiums, and practice fields alive with Swainsboro High School Tigers.
Valorie Watkins, Principal, Swainsboro Elementary School: SES staff are HEROES. I would like to say “Thank You!” Our teachers and support staff have taken on this year willing to do all they could for the safety of all. Since day one, we were all a little weary because of the unknowns of the coming year. Everyone took on the challenge of this year with a positive attitude. The staff has made some sacrifices that have really brought us closer together, we all had to step up. I am proud and privileged to work alongside such an awesome family of educators.
I would also like to thank our parents for their supportive role. They have trusted us to take care of your children. Our parents have supported us in the many changes we have set in this school year. Thank you to our community for the many donations. We are thankful for your love and support of SES!