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Younger students adjusted to life without school, friends

Top photo, rising kindergartener Draysun Metcalf enjoys the time spent at school before COVID-19 led to the closing of Unicoi County schools. Above, rising sixth grader Ella Manful said she missed the time she would have spent with her classmates. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

When schools closed due to COVID-19, seniors all around the region missed out on several rites of passage, such as prom or graduation.

However, the seniors were not the only students who lost something due to COVID-19. Students of all ages throughout Unicoi County lost many opportunities from the unexpected closure of area schools.

“All of our students missed out the best and in my opinion the most important time of year for schools,” Unicoi County School Executive Director John English said. “They missed out on those end of the year parties and those field trips that are a fundamental milestone for all students.”

It was that lack of closure that pushed local resident and proud grandmother Teresa Combs to reach out to The Erwin Record.

“Our family is extremely proud of our kids,” Combs said. “My granddaughter Ava was a fifth grader at Rock Creek Elementary. She has always been a straight A student, won several awards, achieved a high score on her yearly tests, and worked hard all her school life. We contribute her success to the great teachers at Rock Creek. I hated to see her efforts ignored and would like to continue her achieving and learning momentum.”

According to Combs, Ava and her sisters miss their friends.

“She has expressed how much she misses school and her friends,” Combs said. “Also, I have a granddaughter, Adelyn, who was in preschool. She was just learning to love school and had a very positive outlook each day she went. She also expresses sadness that she is not able to connect with her teachers and friends everyday at the Learning Center. My middle granddaughter, Amelia, was born with Down Syndrome and attends Love Chapel Elementary.  Before the pandemic, she was progressing successfully in her learning skills. This was due to the wonderful instruction she received from her classes daily. Attending school helped her feel like she was just ‘one of the kids.’ This was very important for her attitude about learning and social acceptance.”

For rising kindergartener Draysun Metcalf, missing school has caused some sadness.

“Draysun, really misses his teacher,” Draysun’s dad, Jamie Harris said. “He also misses going to school. He will get his backpack and say, ‘Bye, bye.’ I’m thankful he’s too young to understand what is truly happening. He knows something is different, when he sees his doctor and school staff through video meetings instead of in person.”

According to Community Learning Center kindergartener Liam Baker, COVID-19 has caused him to miss his friends, teachers and his school but he is making the most of the situation.

“I miss my friends, my teachers, and my school but it’s okay because I’ve gotten to see my friends online and at their houses,” Baker said.

For rising sixth grader Ella Manful, COVID-19 has prevented closure for her fifth grade year but she realizes how blessed she and the citizens of Unicoi County are.

“I went to Rock Creek Elementary School this past year and I miss seeing my classmates and all of the faculty and staff,” Manful said. “I miss being welcomed to school by Dr. Graham. Lastly, I miss my class because since we are such a small class we are a family. I feel that I didn’t get to fully say goodbye to everyone and the school, but Dr. Graham and our teachers are making plans for us to get together soon. During this time, I feel very blessed to live in a small town that has not been heavily affected. My heart goes out to all of the families that live in larger cities that have been affected by the virus.”

Manful said she is thankful to those who made the best of a bad situation.

“I would like to give a shout out to all of our amazing and hard-working faculty and staff at Rock Creek,” Manful said. “They are always willing to help out.”

For Metcalf, he wants some very special instructors to know that they have been missed. “Draysun sends his love to his teacher, Ms. Armstrong and his friends,” Harris said.

According to Baker, there are two very special people he would like to give a shout out to.

“I’m thankful for Ms. Jen and Ms. Amy,” Baker said.

The 2020-21 Unicoi County School year is scheduled to begin on Aug. 10.