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Remote learning has students feeling more disconnected

Too much homework.

Or, not enough.

Using the latest technology to talk to teachers via Chromebooks — while feeling more emotionally disconnected than ever.

So goes the quandary of COVID-19 for Monongalia County students in the pandemic year of 2020.

Mon’s Board of Education completed its last meeting for the year this week by working from a script that has come to be quite familiar.

It’s the same one the BOE has been working  from since mid-March, when Gov. Jim Justice first ordered schools shuttered because of the-then looming shadow of the coronavirus.

That is, it spent its valedictory meeting Monday by simply trying to get its collective arms around pandemic management in a school year like no other.

Michael Ryan, a school counselor by training who coordinates student support services in the district, talked about the county’s effort to improve student engagement in that arena.

In a mostly remote year, he said, schools have tried to navigate the new COVD landscape by stepping up distance activities, from virtual costume parties for Halloween to online chats with teachers during recess time at now-empty playgrounds.

Even so, most students just don’t “feel connected” right now, he said — and never mind the WiFi.

It’s a coronavirus contradiction, Mon Schools Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr. said.

While cases in the district are quite low — less than 1% among teachers and students — community spread of the virus had led to increased quarantines as a precaution among teachers and other employees.

Earlier this month, Campbell had put local schools on total remote learning through Jan. 20 because of the above.

The district, he said then, simply didn’t have enough substitutes to fill the temporary vacancies, meaning schools couldn’t properly tend to the academic needs of students attending under the hybrid-learning model.

And that, the superintendent said, comes with the understanding that everyone from parents to academic experts agrees that students should be in school — precisely because of the pandemic and its upsurge of positive cases across the county and state.

Which goes back to the pandemic paradox-within the paradox, as board member Sara Anderson reminded the room.

“We can’t realistically get kids in schools unless we can staff and it and unless we can get the community transmission rates under control,” she said.

A key step to that, Campbell said, will be when teachers and other school employees start receiving the vaccine in the near future.

Those over the age of 50 will be first in line, Campbell said, which prompted board member Mike Kelly to wonder about the younger teachers with chronic health conditions, making them vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“That’s going to be a very valid question,” came the superintendent’s reply.

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