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School system continues to operate outside the classroom

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

With March turning to April, the end of the regular school year is getting ever closer and the number one question is – will school be back in session this year? There is no simple answer.

At this time, the governor has ordered that schools be closed until April 30, with no indication that students will return to classrooms this year.

In the meantime, Pocahontas County Schools is continuing to provide an education and meals to its students as it awaits updates on the ever-changing status of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Graduation is one of the biggest issues,” superintendent Terrence Beam said. “We can always move graduation to a later date if we need to. If it gets to a point where graduation in a big setting isn’t going to work, then [principal Joe Riley] has been looking at a virtual graduation of some type. It would be something like a slide show with pictures of the kids in their caps and gowns. We’re still working on that.”

Beam said there have been a lot of questions from the community about school related events, including field trips, dances and parties, that were scheduled for this spring. 

“Right now, of course, field trips have been canceled by the state,” Beam said. “We can’t travel anywhere. It’s really not that we have a decision to make on this. If they end up relaxing the rules a little bit and putting the counties in charge of making these decisions, then that’s a little bit of a different situation.”

Beam added that if the planned field trips are canceled until next year, the money raised for the trips will carry over. For example, if the fourth grade was to go to Washington, D.C. this year, then as fifth grade students next year, they could go on the trip if the class decides to do that.

The school system continues to provide a week’s worth of meals each Monday, but Beam added that next week, which would have been spring break, meals will not be provided.

“Everybody needs a spring break – the volunteers, the staff,” he said. “We’ve been told to run spring break like we always do. Teachers will be told they are not to make assignments during spring break.”

Students will continue to have lessons online and can share their work digitally with their teachers for grading. Beam said he had a student question why his grade decreased after the schools closed for quarantine and Beam said he would look into it.

“It’s not supposed to happen that way,” Beam said. “We’ve been directed that only grades are to be used to enhance a student’s grade, not to oppose them. The principals have been told this, but I know that word of mouth is really slow and principals have not been able to meet with their teachers like they normally do. I’m going to remind them again that the direction we received from the state department is that grades should not be used to lower students’ averages, only to enhance them.”

Beam added that the direction from the West Virginia Department of Education may change, but at this time, he said the work students are doing at home will not be counted against them if they do not do well on it.

Now that schools have been out for a month, Beam said he is proud of the staff and students for working together and finding ways to continue their educational efforts.

“I am so proud of our employees for all of the work they do,” he said. “They’ve been under a lot of stress. They want to be back to work just like the kids want to be back in school. I know our teachers are reaching out to our kids. I think the majority is doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing to get our kids the best instruction that they can.

“Our kids are doing the work,” he continued. “I think they have handled this very well, and I’m so appreciative of our parents for being so understanding and patient with the whole thing. I just can’t say enough about our community on how well they’ve navigated this crisis.”

Beam is still holding out hope that they will be able to return to school in May, but West Virginia has yet to make that decision.

“They want to go back to school, and we want them back, too,” he said.

Beam will continue to provide weekly updates in The Pocahontas Times.

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