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Navigating ‘uncharted territory’: Upshur County Schools’ staff rallies to provide food, a sense of normalcy for students

BUCKHANNON – When Upshur County School officials learned the schools would be closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they did not panic.

Instead, they tried to put into place all the things that students would need – and then focused on when and how to get the items to their students.

My Buckhannon spoke with Upshur County Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus to find out how the first week went. Stankus said Upshur County Schools administration and personnel are working to support not only the students, but also the teachers and school staff.

“As we are navigating in unprecedented times, we must place health and safety at the forefront of all that we do,” Stankus said. “Our priorities for the first week were to feed and educate our children.”

And that was a big accomplishment. Stankus reported that this week, meals served went from 1,486 on Monday to 5,404 on Friday. She said on Tuesday 2,467 meals were distributed, 3,668 on Wednesday and 4,918 on Thursday.

Stankus said Upshur County is looking for innovative and creative ways to teach students.

“We are in uncharted territory, but we have educators who are willing and anxious to see that our students are educated,” she said.

Stankus commended the staff of Upshur County Schools for “taking the bull by the horns” and making sure students were taken care of.

“The staff of Upshur County Schools has done outstanding work this week with their efforts to provide basic needs for our students in the form of breakfasts and lunches,” she said. “Our cooks, bus drivers, aides, secretaries, custodians and professional employees have just been amazing!”

The next step while schools are closed for social distancing is to provide to students with learning opportunities. Stankus said the staff and administration is working to provide students with the education they deserve and to do so to the best of their ability.

“As a community we will work together to assure our children are successfully educated in order to improve our community. We want to provide the opportunity for each student to grow socially and academically each day,” Stankus said. “In doing so, we are developing both new and creative ways to enable students to access the curriculum, master the standards and continue with their learning.”

She said they are supporting students and educators in all these efforts.

“Again, we know that this has never been done before and that the situation is fluid and constantly changing,” Stankus said. “Therefore, we ask for patience from our community as we respond to mandates and expectations.”

Stankus outlined some of the new strategies to assist teachers and students to reach their goals:

Monday through Wednesday, teachers and administration contacted every student to complete a survey regarding meals and internet accessibility to determine the needs.

As of Thursday, teachers are providing lesson plans to administration by Monday of each week reflecting their new approach to teaching and learning.

Plans must include ways to provide instruction to students with internet access as well as those without internet access.

High school teachers will make at least two contacts with each student during a week and a third contact will be made by Student Services. Elementary teachers will make a minimum of three contacts with each of their students. These contacts may be a combination of individual or group contacts and can be made by in a variety of ways.

Stankus said times are trying and she appreciates how well everyone is responding by creating something entirely new in such a short period.

“Our goal is to support our students, our faculty and our staff in these efforts,” she said. “Above all, as we continue to educate our children, we want the learning to be innovative, creative and we want it to be uncomplicated.”

Beginning on Monday, March 23, Stankus said the preparation and distribution of food will be changing. Specifically, there will be three meal prep sites, which include Buckhannon-Upshur High School, Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School and Buckhannon Academy Elementary School.

“Beginning Monday, March 23, volunteers will report from 8 to 10 a.m. to one of the three sites to assist with meal packaging and food loading,” she said. “Buses will deliver multiple meals – two breakfasts and two lunches for each child – on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Buses will leave from the three schools beginning at 10 a.m. and follow their regular routes as well as making food drops to the remainder of the schools for curbside meals. Curbside meals will be offered from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at all school sites on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”

Stankus said she and members of the Upshur County School Staff have been inspired throughout this past week, which has been a challenging time for everyone.

“Our employees have stepped up to meet the needs of our children and community during this most difficult time,” she said. “For this, we are most grateful. Times such as this prove that schools do more than educate. In times of crisis, our big yellow school bus has become the symbol of normalcy in our community. It provides hope and security for all of us. Together we will continue to make a difference and be Upshur Strong.”

“We appreciate your patience and positivity,” Stankus added. “Thanks for the positive comments and support on social media. This inspires the important work we do for families. We are all in this together and we want to do what we can to serve our students, communities and the families of Upshur County.”

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