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McDowell County Schools Adapting to the New School Year

By Derek Tyson
The Welch News Editor
WELCH, W.Va. – McDowell County Schools continues to adapt to a very different school year, visiting their plan for moving forward.
Title I Director Amanda Peyton spoke to the Board about this year’s strategic plan, highlighting a few changes.
“We’re looking to do some in-class modeling through a virtual platform so we can put our coaches in our classrooms to provide that support,” said Peyton. “Once our teachers get comfortable with the reduced hours, the new schedule and the new learning management platforms, this will help us know how can we continue to support them.”
Another change for the year is virtual after school programs, to begin in October. Afterschool programs will also be held at Southside K-8, Welch Elementary and Sandy River Middle School.
“Principals are checking on virtual teachers, seeing what they need and letting families see them in the classroom and also conducting walkthroughs and observations in the on-campus classrooms,” said Peyton.
Using federal funding, Peyton said they were also able to eliminate some split-grade classrooms.
“We know it’s much better for the students to be in the same grade level in each classroom,” said Peyton. “Some schools for example Bradshaw, Iaeger, Welch, and Southside have all used their funding to eliminate splits this year.”
Family engagement is also going virtual this year, with an upcoming family advisement meeting to be held in October.
“Our families have been messaging us and made sure that we continue holding those meetings,” said Peyton. “Our home visiting project will also be virtual. We were going to change that program for safety reasons until things settle. Teachers will still maintain those relationships and home visits. We want to make sure we keep those up, and they will be available to all students, on-campus and virtual. If you’re on a virtual program, teachers see you regularly but it’s a different kind of meeting. It’s the teacher one on one with the child, setting hopes and dreams.”
Virtual office hours for families to reach out to teachers will also be in place, as well as social and emotional support for students.
“Wellness Wednesdays are new this year for our virtual students,” said Peyton. “We were concerned that those students aren’t on the playground, their not building that sense of community in the classroom, so for one hour each Wednesday, our virtual teachers are building activities focused on social and emotional learning. Social workers, counselors, CIS Facilitators are going to assist. It’s really about having fun, being a child, and getting to know your friends.”
Board member Margaret Beavers said her granddaughters enjoyed getting to see their friends virtually. “It helps them a whole lot,” said Beavers.
“How many new teachers did we pick up this year,” asked Board President David Williams.
Tonya White answered, saying 13 had been recruited.
“How many are we shy,” asked Vice President Mike Callaway.
“We probably have 16 vacancies,” said White.
“It’s not as bad as it has been before,” said Callaway.
 Georgia West expressed concerns about virtual after school, keeping students logged in when they normally would be free to play outside.
“We’ve been listening to educators across the state on how to make an engaging afterschool program,” said Peyton. “We probably were looking at the platform Zoom where everyone would log in and go into a breakout room. One could be Physical Education, the next a STEM lab where you might build a robot, then have tutoring after that.”
“Once my child came home after a long day, it just seems like it would be so boring,” said West. “They need to get outside and get some exercise too.”
“That’s why we wanted to have the PE part in the program, plus attendance has been very low in after school programs, so low we almost didn’t get our funding. So we’re exploring ways to let them go home, unwind and eat, then log in at a later hour for this,” said Peyton.
MCS staff have trained on COVID-19 protocols and additional professional development will include help navigating the new learning management systems See Saw and Schoology.
“In the case that we turned orange and had to go full remote, having this training in place will help with that transition,” said Peyton.
Other goals for the year included improvement in English/Language Arts and Math, lowering absences and dropout rate.
One highlight of the pandemic was Peyton and other teachers felt that family engagement had strengthened during these trying times.