La J’ai Reed

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — In just a matter of weeks, lives around the world were flipped upside down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amongst those affected have been numerous K-12 schools, leaving administrators, teachers, other staff and students in a scramble.

When it comes to policy changes and emergency updates, South Carolina has been amongst the last of states to make statewide declarations.

The increasing numbers, lack of a vaccine and uncertainty about transmission of the novel coronavirus, left many South Carolina schools to take the process day by day.

Kimberly Odom, principal of Independence Elementary School in Rock Hill, S.C., said the situation has taken everyone by surprise.

“I don’t think that anybody would have thought that we would be in this situation,” Odom said.

Remote learning has became the norm for a number of schools and Odom said the reliance on technology increased significantly, which created challenges for some families.

“We do recognize that many of our families, unfortunately, don’t have access to some of those resources,” Odom said.

Fortunately, Rock Hill Schools, including Independence, became part of the state’s e-learning pilot program prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“E-learning was essentially an opportunity for students to be able to make up time missed during the school year due to some short term occurrences,” Odom said. “However, e-learning has become a more extended version for this remote learning experience that we’re in right now.”

As a result, many options for online software and programs had already been established and students were adept to using their devices for learning.

ClassDojo, Canvas, Google Classroom, Edgenuity and MasteryConnect are amongst the software programs used around South Carolina.

The Berkeley County School District, in the state’s Lowcountry, also participated in the pilot program.

Erin Larsen, a secondary education teacher in the district, said the e-learning pilot program made the transition to remote instruction slightly smoother.

“In Berkeley County, we have been in a uniquely advantageous position compared to other districts,” Larsen said.

However, Larsen said many staff members know it may still be difficult for students to be successful, even if they have a computer and internet access, without a teacher present.

Teachers around the state, and the nation, recognize that one-on-one assistance is highly important and have been trying to work to accommodate students in the most efficient way possible.

“The way that Google Meets has allowed me to reach out to my students via voice calls and video chatting has probably helped me more than anything,” Larsen said. “Knowing that I can meet with my students one-on-one if they need to ask me a question.”

However, there are other challenges, due to the health crisis, beyond education.

For example, many students have lost other basic needs like access to food and other resources, including interactions provided by extracurricular opportunities such as field trips, clubs and organizations and peer interactions.

“Certainly what the priority is, is making sure that the social-emotional well-being of students is in place,” Odom said. “While academics are extremely important, that takes a backseat to how well our students are able to cope and adjust to this new normal.”

Odom said the challenges for teachers have been great.

“Throughout this pandemic we absolutely lift up and celebrate those who are on the frontlines in the healthcare profession,” Odom said. “And I would say coming up behind them in terms of heroes of the situation would be our teachers.”

Bailey Edmonds is a fifth-grade teacher at Independence Elementary who has four children of her own, including three who are school age.

“We have a pretty strict schedule around here on school days, but it can be a challenge if I am trying to respond to students and my children need help with an assignment, or if the youngest (15 months) is fussy,” Edmonds said.

Losing interaction with their team members and students is also a challenge for educators, she said.

“I miss them, the laughs, the hugs, the celebrations, even the redirections,” Edmonds said. “I miss the relational piece of seeing those children every day, and I hope there is a part of them that misses that piece as well.”

For many educators, the challenges go beyond education.

“It’s hard to speak for everybody, but I think that a decent percentage of us are really, really heartbroken about this,” Larsen said.

Educators say staff are working hard to ensure that the loss of face-to-face contact will not hinder a students ability to succeed.

“These things are out of our control and, for me, the heart of the matter is our children,” Odom said.