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Unicoi County students begin class visits

Sisters Greta Bailey, back, Laurel Bailey, left, and their mother, Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Fain, were among the many families who visited with their teachers on Monday, Aug. 17. Unicoi County students will collect their learning devices this week as virtual learning begins due to COVID-19. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The 2020-21 school year is officially underway as Unicoi County students began a staggered approach to picking up and learning how to use the devices they will utilize to complete assignments on Monday, Aug. 17.

All students will begin the year in Unicoi County Schools Virtual Academy, but according to Unicoi County Schools Director John English, the hope is to offer a more traditional classroom for the students that want to attend, some time after Labor Day.

“We have a number of students and their families that wish to return to a physical classroom as soon as possible, and we hope to be able to offer that as soon as possible,” English said.

According to English, the first day was a success for his staff and their students.

“We had a really good day,” English said. “Having children back in our buildings was awesome. They bring great energy. The staff really enjoyed meeting with students and families.”

Over at Rock Creek Elementary, the transition went smoothly.

“We had a great day at Rock Creek,” teacher Kelly Pate said. “Families came in small groups to pick up devices and learn about our virtual learning plans. Families seemed eager to hear our plans and students were excited, too. It was wonderful to have families in our building even only a couple at a time and it was a great reminder of why what we are doing is so important.”

At Unicoi County Middle School, more than 100 students received their Chromebooks and instruction on day one.

“Today was great for us,” UCMS Principal Jordan Simmons said. “We had over 125 students come in throughout the day in staggered one hour blocks. Students came in with a parent, got to meet their teachers, received their Chromebooks, and were given the tools, guidance, and expectations for virtual learning. It was so great to see students in the building again. Our teachers have worked incredibly hard to prepare for these meetings, and we really hope this face-to-face time has helped ease some of the anxiety our families are feeling about online learning.”

For Unicoi County High School students, the use of Chromebooks as an instructional tool is nothing new.

“Although online classes may seem like a setback at first, this experience is an opportunity where we as the student body can grow into better learners, doers, and leaders,” UCHS student Trent White said. “Through this adversity, I think we will be able to go back to in-person classes with a more gracious perspective. I can’t wait to get back in the classroom with my friends and teachers. Virtual education is a powerful tool, but nothing is the same as in-person learning. We’ve used the Chromebooks for a little over a year now, so transitioning into online classes shouldn’t be too daunting for students. We’re definitely eager to see what all the Chromebooks are capable of, seeing that they’ll be the most essential tool this year.”

A decision of if, or when, those students who wish to return to a physical classroom may do so is scheduled to be made by Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 4 p.m. The proposed scheduled return date for those wishing to return to a physical classroom will be Tuesday, Sept. 8.

The virtual academy will be available throughout the school year, according to officials.

For more updates and information please follow Unicoi County Schools News and Announcements on Facebook, or visit unicoi schools.com.