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Buncombe County School Year Starts In-Class And At Home

Megan Cain
West Buncombe Elementary starts school on August 17. The school will have in person and virtual classes.

Monday is the first day of school for many students across North Carolina.  Some will actually be in class, though most will not.  One district that is having limited in-person classes is Buncombe County.  After attending a short in-person orientation over the next two weeks, all students will learn remotely for at least the following five weeks. That presents an assortment of challenges for teachers, especially those dealing with first-time students.

“See, I turned you down.”

Tara Roy is testing a video call. 

“All right let me try something. Let me turn off this and see.”

She sits across the room from the teacher she works with. They’re trying to figure out how they will meet with students daily from the same classroom. 

“I’ve learned a lot from the computer this past year,” Roy said. 

On the surface, the classroom looks normal. The alphabet is plastered on the wall. Welcome bags sit in the corner. A big blue rug decorates the floor in front of a rocking chair. 

Then you notice the missing nametags. The clear masks hanging next to the desks. The yellow and red arrows that direct traffic down the hallway. 

Roy is a kindergarten assistant at West Buncombe Elementary. Her class of 17 will be virtual until January. She’s excited for the challenge, but she’ll miss the personal interactions with the kids. 

“They want to hug you and they want to show love and just that one-on-one connection. You know, we’re in a different time right now where we can’t have that kind of connection. So I think virtual is best right now,” Roy said.

They’re making the best of it. She and the teacher she works with used at-home scavenger hunts, zoom science experiments and even a virtual field trip to keep their class engaged last year.

“I’ve been throwing some ideas around, like some of the crafts we could do. Maybe we could make some packets every so many weeks and send them home so they’ll have some hands on things that they can do with us,” Roy said. 

Virtual assignments present a whole new challenge for Sandra Medellin. 

She’s the kindergarten teacher for the Spanish immersion program at West Buncombe, a program that teaches students in Spanish and English with the goal of fluency by fifth grade. 

“We have to start little by little, and I know maybe it’s not going to be exactly the same, but I’m going to be doing some conferences with the whole group, with small groups, even individually,” Medellin said. 

Medellin’s students will attend a one week orientation this week. She will have half of her class for two days each. 

“This is their first time to be at the school. And as a little kid you always wanted to go to school, and I mean that’s something that’s really exciting. So my big challenge is to make those two days just full of experiences that they can remember and say, ‘Oh yeah. I love school. I want to be here,” Medellin said.

And then she will squeeze in some teaching while also showing each student how to use the iPad they will take home to complete their assignments. 

As for the students who will be going virtual from the start, they must complete their assignments for their attendance to count, says Jennifer Reed, the director of Elementary Education for Buncombe County Schools. 

“From home that parent coach, or whoever happens to be working with that child throughout the day is going to be a very important part of supporting instruction for students,” Reed said. 

Medellin is making a library of tutorial videos to help students and parents. 

She admits that the process takes longer.

“But you know, I don't mind. I really like teaching and I know, I mean, this is a little challenge, but, I mean, that's what I'm looking for, I love challenges and I like to do the best that I can,” Medellin said.  

The Buncombe County school board will meet next month to determine if and when students may return to the classroom this year.