Finding a way ~ Music teachers get creative

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

When Pocahontas County Schools returned to in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year, much effort went into making the classrooms safe for students and staff during the Covid-19 pandemic. Masks were bought, desks were distanced, cameras were purchased for remote instruction and copious amounts of hand sanitizer were delivered to each school.

While the school climate has drastically changed this year, instruction is the same. The efforts put forth have made it possible for students and staff to continue their everyday educational lives, with a few exceptions.

At the December 1 Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting – held via Zoom – music teachers Bob Mann, Rick McLaughlin and Greg Morgan reported that they are facing some difficulty in their band classes.

Students are required to wear masks at all times when in attendance at school, therefore, they cannot safely play their musical instruments, Mann explained. There is also an issue when the students are attending remotely and trying to perform a song together through the internet.

“I am pleased to report that [Monday and Tuesday] I had a majority of my students report in,” Mann said of remote learning. “Thirty-three out of the thirty-six band members were on my Zoom today, and as you can imagine, it was pretty chaotic, so I had to make adjustments. The other three that didn’t check in on the Zoom meeting sent me an email and explained that they couldn’t get through.”

Mann said the internet connectivity in the county is so unreliable in certain areas, that some students have a difficult time connecting to the Zoom classes.

Although it is safer for the students to perform together through Zoom, Mann added that because of the internet and lag time, it is nearly impossible for everyone to be in the same place on a song and some students will always be one or two notes behind.

As for performances, Mann said the Pocahontas County High School band was fortunate enough to perform during home football games, but concert season is a different story. Instead of a regular concert, Mann is hoping to film the band and live stream or upload the video for the community’s viewing pleasure.

“First and foremost, [director of technology Ruth Bland] communicated that we got cameras,” Mann said. “The cameras are going to be an exceptional tool for promoting what we’re working on in the classroom. I can motivate students and have them prepare music, set a date and I can record them performing. I might tweak it a little bit in a software, but I would be able to upload to a site like YouTube, and then I would be able to distribute that video [on social media] so community members can see what’s going on.”

Mann said the school has special face masks with slits cut in them so the students can play their wind instruments. The board has also purchased bell covers for the brass instruments which will keep the shared air safer.

“We’re trying to perform and be safe at the same time,” he said. “The name of the game is being able to play. If they play and they’re learning and performing, then that’s how we win.”

Green Bank Elementary-Middle School’s Morgan reported that his band is unable to perform at this time, but he is still working with the students on general music theory and helping them learn and stay safe at the same time.

His elementary classes are going well and he plans to utilize his class camera to record Quaver lessons for students to use during remote learning.

McLaughlin, who teaches music at both Marlinton Elementary and Middle Schools, said he has had to change his teaching methods to fit the schools. Both of his classrooms were taken to help regular classes social distance, so instead of having his students come to him, he goes to them in their homerooms.

“[At the elementary school] we’re not doing any instruments or anything where I can hand stuff out to the kids,” he said. “There are no recorders. We are doing a little bit of singing. The kids are doing well with it.”

At the middle school, the sixth grade band meets twice a week and the varsity band is able to play, while wearing masks, in the gymnasium.

McLaughlin said he also plans to record the middle school bands and have a video uploaded of their Christmas concert performance for the public to enjoy.

The board thanked the teachers for their updates and efforts to get music education to the students safely.

In updates:

• Superintendent Terrence Beam gave special recognition to several individuals and their continued efforts to keep the school system safe and informed during the pandemic.

“I’ve done this several times, but I just want to continue to do this,” he said. “I want to give a shout out to our nurses and our LPNs, and our county health department for keeping me totally in tune with what’s going on around our county.”

Beam also recognized High Rocks for Girls director Sarah Riley, who has been leading Task Force meetings every Thursday since March concerning the pandemic. Riley has included local businesses, churches, the school system, health department, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital and the county libraries in the meetings to ensure the community is involved and aware about the changing climate of the pandemic in the county.

• School nurse Jenny Friel gave an update on the COVID-19 numbers in the schools and the projected timeline for vaccinations.

“As of now, we have seventeen students in quarantine and that’s because they were in direct contact with a positive individual,” she said. “They’re actually spread throughout the county. We have them at each school, however, the majority of them are at Hillsboro Elementary School. At Hillsboro Elementary, we have nine students right now. Each school is affected.

“We have three staff members who are positive for COVID, and we have eight staff members who are having to quarantine because they were in direct contact with a person who tested positive,” she continued.

Most individuals are under quarantine for 14 days, unless they live with someone who is COVID-19 positive. In that case, they must quarantine for 24 days.

“I’ve had several staff members contact me – they’re misunderstanding that if they are in direct contact with a person who is positive for COVID and they get tested and they are negative, that they are okay to return to school, however, they are not, according to the health department guidelines and the CDC,” Friel said. “They still have to quarantine for fourteen days because there’s a chance that even if they are negative five days after exposure, it could take up to fourteen days to have a positive test.”

As for the vaccine, Friel said that should be released to West Virginia the third or fourth week of December, but she is not sure when it will be available for the school systems.

“First will be, of course, healthcare workers and EMS, and I’m sure they will let me know when teaching personnel and staff can receive it,” she continued. “It is much quicker than I ever anticipated.”

Friel said Governor Jim Justice has asked for school nurses to volunteer to help with administration of the vaccines, but again, did not clarify when they would be available to each county.

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