Adaptability, resilience: Schools celebrate end to year challenged by the pandemic

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Several Johnson City Schools marked the end of a school year like no other on Wednesday.

As Town Acres Elementary let out for the summer, the excitement could be sensed among students and staff. While the first weeks of school were especially challenging, Principal Josh Simmons has been impressed by everyone’s adaptability as COVID-19 shifted modes of learning.

“When you see these people not make excuses, and they just try to find a way to continue to be their best, whether it’s as a student or a teacher, from a principal’s perspective it’s very rewarding,” he said.

Some teachers like Millie Tyree have taught virtually all year. She’s gradually learned the best ways to instruct her second-graders.

Teacher Millie Tyree with her virtual teaching setup

“What I found with engaging students at this age remotely was to keep things short and simple. So any video lessons I did I tried to keep around 10 minutes. Meetings, I tried to not let go over 30 to 45 minutes,” she said. “But my students really impressed me. How their stamina increased, and their ability to engage online increased throughout the year.

Chad Moore taught third-grade in-person at Town Acres. He’s seen resilience in his fellow teachers as they worked to prevent student learning loss.

Town Acres teacher Chad Moore

“I mean we always work hard. But I think with the knowledge of what had happened last spring, I think we just all put our foot down and just went a little bit harder through the fall,” he said. “And by the second nine weeks, we all just kind of looked around and said, ‘We’re in pretty good shape here.'”

Moore also praised how his elementary students handled mask requirements.

“I didn’t hear one student complain one time in here this year. That’s pretty amazing to me,” he said.

The end of the school year looked different for the Reading family, who chose to learn remotely all year.

Jon Reading, the parent of two Johnson City Schools students, said they stayed virtual for the sake of consistency, but it came with challenges.

“We realized pretty early on that there was a lot of parent involvement to make sure the kids were doing what they were supposed to, that they were listening to what they were supposed to, that they were completing their assignments at the right time,” he said.

Brynn and Jon Reading

He’s eager for his children to return to in-person classes next school year.

“We’re definitely going to take this away as one year that we hope doesn’t ever happen again. From our family but also through the school system, I think everybody was doing the best they can,” he said.

Jon’s daughter, Brynn, is excited to start fifth-grade in-person at Indian Trail Elementary. Asked what she looks forward to most-

“Seeing my friends. That’s it. Seeing real people,” Brynn said.

The 10-year-old hopes she never sees another year like 2020.

“At the beginning of the year, it’s like, COVID was the plague. If it fell upon you there was nothing you could do. You just had to lay down in the hospital, just waiting,” Brynn said. “And then at the end of the year, it’s like, ‘oh we have a vaccine, everything is fine,’ masks are down and everyone’s actually seeing each other.”

“All in one year,” said Jon.

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