Johnson City Schools go virtual on first day of classes


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- The halls of Liberty Bell Middle School would normally be full of students on the first day of school, but the coronavirus pandemic created a much quieter first day.

Sitting in her empty classroom, teacher Amy Rigsby connected with her 8th-grade algebra students on Zoom. Though it didn’t need to be ready yet, her classroom was all set up for the first day of virtual learning. Rigsby spaced the desks as far apart as she could.

“It makes me feel better to have it – at least I feel like, maybe I’m getting ready to teach a class,” she said. “And we know we’re not going to be having this many in a classroom once the in-person day arrives.”

Amy Rigsby talks to students over Zoom

Johnson City Schools has designated August 31st for the first day of in-person learning. The first three weeks will be virtual.

Liberty Bell teacher Kelsey Walker connected with her students on Canvas on Monday.

“It’s a little sad on some parts to not have them here and see their faces,” Walker said. “I just keep reminding myself that they’ll be here eventually, and we’ll all be together. This is temporary but necessary.”

Kelsey Walker connects with students on Canvas

Walker spent the last week making sure her English Language Arts students were ready to learn virtually.

“The first day is usually… the feelings were the same last night. I didn’t sleep much,” she said. “But it was more about, is it going to crash? Can they watch the video that I made? Did it work? It’s definitely very different. The strangest first day of school that I’ve ever had.”

The first day was not without its technical glitches. With so many students logging on to the system for the first time, phones were ringing steadily in the Liberty Bell front office on Monday. School staff worked to assure parents calling in that they knew there were some technical errors, like Google Suite being down.

Johnson City Schools parent Rhiannon Hunter said issues included not being able to log into homerooms and teachers getting cut out of Zoom meetings.

“We have a few challenges to say the least. And the teachers and the school system, I totally understand, they are working diligently to overcome these barriers,” Hunter said.

The mother of two still questioned how sustainable the virtual learning plan was with so many glitches.

“That’s a huge concern of parents, just being able to log in and recognize that your child’s there so they don’t get tardies,” Hunter said.

Janet Williams, another Liberty Bell parent, shared her daughter’s first-day experience with News Channel 11 over email.

“Very challenging to get logged in and in the right class but after two hours it was smooth sailing,” Williams wrote.

Ella, a Liberty Bell student, learns virtually
(photo submitted by Janet Williams)

Walker says teachers will be understanding as everyone faces the new challenges together.

“Right now we’re just wanting to meet you where you are, and try to get you to learn the system. And that’s definitely the reassurance I need to hear too,” she said.

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