GLOUCESTER, Va. – A statewide workgroup called Virginia LEARNS, which was formed in February, is meant to get students back in the classroom and back on track.
As of Monday, students at Gloucester County Public Schools have the option to learn inside their classrooms four days a week, up from two, and that’s a relief for senior Bonnie Wilson.
“It’s really nice to be able to see my friends,” Wilson said. “I know that a lot of them have been struggling over the last couple months. Obviously, COVID has taken a toll on everybody, but being able to see them and talk to them and give high fives is awesome.”
Three feet of social distancing between desks and other CDC measures have helped schools to safely reopen.
“The goal has always been for us to have students back into the building and to make sure we continue learning,” said Gloucester High School Principal Craig Reed.
GCPS Superintendent Dr. Walter Clemons said learning virtually for some hasn’t been easy during the pandemic.
“I think there have been some kids who’ve been able to thrive remotely and thrive in the hybrid model, but there have also been kids who’ve struggled,” he said.
Al Grant, an ROTC instructor at the high school, said he’s noticed a change in students’ grades.
“I think you’ve definitely seen some holes and some dips in learning,” he said. “There are some fall-offs because you’re asking parents to do the job of a teacher.”
Those challenges are why the Virginia LEARNS workgroup compiled input from educators, parents, mental health experts and other stakeholders to create recommendations on how to identify learning gaps and get kids back on track.
Dr. Linda Reviea, who is the special projects coordinator for the Virginia Department of Education, served on the state’s workgroup.
“One size does not fit all,” Reviea said. “We know that, so we’re encouraging schools to use this resource as a guidance, not a mandate.”
LEARNS is an acronym for Leading, Engaging, Assessing, Recovering, Nurturing and Succeeding. The group’s guidance also provides a framework for schools that aligns with CDC guidelines on how to reopen safely while meeting the needs of all students.
“That would include areas like equity, student and staff well-being, curriculum, instruction, assessment,” said Reviea.
The Virginia LEARNS team compiled available resources for leaders and staff to ensure access to funding and technology are not barriers.
At Gloucester schools, Dr. Clemons said bringing kids back into the building is the first step.
“Teachers are where the buck stops,” he said. “They have a huge impact on shaping and impacting our students and the relationships, and what they give in a face-to-face setting can’t be underscored. That’s what school is about - to have that face to face interaction with students and teachers, and we’re excited about what that’s going to bring for us.”
In the meantime, Wilson is looking forward to ending her senior year with a little sense of normalcy.
“Right now, I’m excited about a graduation,” she said. “You walk down the hallway and hear seniors talking about, ‘Oh my gosh, we get to have a graduation and we get to wear caps and gowns,’ and those are things kids didn’t think they’d be able to do at the beginning of this year.”
Starting in the fall, Gloucester schools expects to have kids back in the building five days a week.