It’s been over a year since many students in Sunflower County have heard the sound of school bells, and it’s been that long since the teachers have had pupils in the same room with them.
That came to an end for many students and teachers this past Monday when the Sunflower County Consolidated School District opened its doors to classroom instruction for the first time since the week before spring break in 2020.
“Our first official day of student return was nothing short of amazing,” said SCCSD Superintendent Miskia Davis. “Everyone was truly excited to see our students back inside of our buildings, where they belong. Our students appeared happy to be back, and we were elated to receive them.”
The school day was far from normal.
Anyone entering a school building, including students, had their temperatures checked at the door. Even the district’s youngest students wore masks, many of them shielded behind screened cubicles on their desks.
Breakfast was picked up in the cafeteria and eaten in the classroom.
Still, it’s a better prospect for many than finishing the school year online and waiting until August to get a feel for the classroom again.
“To be honest, virtual has been extremely hard, so I am so excited to be back in-person,” said Helen Cobb, an inclusion teacher for K-3 at Lockard Elementary in Indianola. “However, we have made it work. Now that we are face-to-face, we are super excited.”
Cobb said teachers struggled throughout the school year with getting students to attend classes. Many of them, she said, were not tech savvy, and neither were their parents, which made the situation harder.
“Those were the big cons of virtual,” she said.
For Kena Benford, an academic coach at Ruleville Middle School, the teacher-student interaction in the classroom is something that could never be replicated through Zoom.
““I think the children are excited, and the staff is excited to have them back,” said Benford. “We get that one-on-one and that teacher-student touch when we can actually see who we are talking to instead of looking at a computer screen.”
Still, not everyone is back inside the classroom.
Davis said that between 10-15% of the district’s elementary students are still virtual.
“Our middle and high schools, as well as Carver, opened to our most vulnerable students, to include exceptional education students, truant students, low performing students, and failing students,” Davis said. “Our virtual numbers were much larger at the middle and high schools, which is to be expected. We are hoping that as we begin opening our middle and high school buildings up to more students, we will have more who choose to attend in person. However, those who have chosen to remain virtual, must remain virtual for the remainder of the 2020/2021 school year, even when we open the buildings to all students.”
Teachers like ELA instructor Tasha Robinson will have to now make the adjustment to teaching both classroom-based students and those who remain virtual.
“When you have kids who are in the building and kids who are virtual it’s more of a challenge, but we made it work, said Robinson. “It’s going to take a little getting used to, but we are going to take care of it. It’s going to be alright.”
Davis said there were few hiccups that occurred on the first day back, and she is hoping for a smooth ride to the end of the school year.
She also said that she knows not all parents are ready to send their kids back to school, but she said the district is moving forward for the good of all its students.
“Some students need to be back in the presence of teachers,” she said. “We went as long as possible, considering the safety of our students and staff. But after much counsel from our nurses and the state health officials, and with the availability of the vaccine, we felt that now was an appropriate time to start matriculating our students back into our buildings.”
For teachers like Cobb, just having the students back in the building is worth it all.
“Just to see my students faces. Just to give them a face-to-face welcome, a face-to-face I love you and a face-to-face air high five,” she said. “I’m excited to do all that.