Education, Latest News

Keeping an even keel: Mon Schools working to maintain in the pandemic

There was the little girl who broke into tears at school one day.

She was convinced her grandmother, who was coughing and sniffling with a (medically diagnosed) cold was going to die of COVID, even though the matriarch had earlier tested negative for the contagion.

And the little boy on another morning who worked himself into a quiet frenzy – over a chair.

He and a handful of his classmates were tagged for a read-aloud exercise in front of the room, and chairs had been set up for the occasion.

Which was fine. Except that it wasn’t.

He was worried the seat designated for him wasn’t “sanitized enough.” With a mix of fear and anger, he refused to join the group, earning a slight reprimand in response.

So goes the pandemic life and times of Monongalia County’s school district these days, Michael Ryan told members of Mon’s Board of Education Tuesday night.

Ryan, who was West Virginia’s School Counselor of the Year for 2018, is now an administrator in the district’s central office.

He also chairs the district’s department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which focuses on the emotional health and well-being of Mon’s public school students.

With the pandemic 18 months in, students, he said, are being generally adaptable and resilient about their collective circumstances.

So are teachers and other employees, the diversity chair said.

Still, though, there are the emotional hiccups such as the above, Ryan reported to the BOE.

He and a group of his colleagues came to the meeting to talk those new emotional facets of pandemic and how to respond to situations such as the above.

In the case of the fretful little boy, his chair could have simply been swabbed with a disinfecting wipe (standard-issue in all Mon classrooms now) to help quell his anxiety, the group said.

There are the results of a recent survey sent to students and teachers on overall health and well-being, which Ryan and board members said is especially telling as to how teachers have been holding up, also.

Like the little girl and her grandmother and the little boy and his chair, there are occasional fissures brought by the circumstances by the global rise of COVID.

For example, Ryan said, 82.5% of Mon’s teachers who responded said they were still “engaged” by their jobs.

Nearly 60%, though, also said they “felt overwhelmed” by their contagion-shaped environment, be it teaching from home during the shutdown or now – when an elementary student might worry, believe it or not, about a classroom seat not being clean enough to use.

Ryan is still sorting through the numbers. The above one, though, is what board member Ron Lytle was thinking about Tuesday.

“Do they have enough time to do their work?” he asked.

Deputy Superintendent Donna Talerico said the district asks that same question daily while also acknowledging the new COVID-realities of it all, particularly in all matters emotional.  

“We’ve become way more than the typical standard of what a teacher ‘is,’ said the veteran educator, who was an elementary teacher and principal before joining the central office.

Mainly through dollars generated by the excess levy for education, Mon’s school district is also able to fund 11 school psychologists, 19 nurses, 36 counselors and 10 outreach facilitators, which is the district’s equivalent of a social worker, Ryan and his group said.