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Stankus: School system investing in technology, addressing food insecurity since pandemic’s start

BUCKHANNON – The Rotary Club on Buckhannon-Upshur on Tuesday learned how the Upshur County School system has adapted to the pandemic and heard from West Virginia’s Teacher of the Year.

The Rotary club invited the superintendent of Upshur County Schools, Dr. Sara Stankus, to speak during the Feb. 2 virtual Rotary meeting.

“One of the things I want to share today is what we’ve been doing since March, and we have nearly 1,200 students who are full-time remote and we have, in Upshur County about 4,000 students,” Stankus said. “If you think about it, in Upshur County we have about 24,000 people in our entire community, and 4,000 of those are Upshur County students.”

Stankus said the school system had to adapt in March when they were told students would not return to in-person instruction.

“When I came into this position I said, ‘if we do anything with technology, it will be that every student will have a device in their hands, and it will be the same device, so we don’t have to figure it out across the county,’” Stankus said. “We already made that contract with Apple, and we spent $3 million to put a device in every student’s hands, and every teacher’s hands, and then we not only did that, but we made every classroom remote.”

In the month of December, the school system distributed 12,361 hot meals and 10,600 five-day boxes, which were boxes of food that would last for five days.

“In October, $380,432 was spent on food; in November, $295,000; and in December, $349,000,” Stankus said. “In those three months alone, over a million dollars just for food. Now, much of that is reimbursable because we applied for the funding.”

Stankus said rural areas in the county continue to lack a reliable, strong internet connection.

“We still have 1,200 students who are full-time remote, and we collected information from each school and asked families, ‘do you have reliable internet?’ and not just internet, but ‘do you have internet that can upload and play videos?’” Stankus said. “For instance, in Washington District Elementary School, 52 percent of the families in that little school do not have internet, and you think about Rock Cave and some of our more remote schools, 51 percent of those families do not have reliable internet.”

Stankus said they had to get creative and set up hot spots at the schools, where students could download lessons on their devices and complete the work at home.

West Virginia Teacher of the Year Erin Anderson said teacher and students have been thrilled to be back at school.

“I have to tell you, teachers are doing great work right now, and we are by no means failing,” Anderson said. “We are adapting, but like I said last Monday, we can’t, and we won’t use that as an excuse to not do the best for our kids right now. We’re going to use it as an opportunity to show our students and our families how much we value the work that we do for the children of Upshur County and across the state of West Virginia.”

Anderson said this whole experience has made students stronger, but a routine is the best structure for them.

“Students are so happy to be back in school right now,” she said. “They need teachers, they need structure, they need routine, they’re thriving on the schedule,” Anderson said. “They need conversations with other kids, and I’ve said several times with the press and different presentations that our students right now are heroes and they’re so resilient; they’re learning resiliency, and they should be commended for learning so much more than academics.”

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