NEWLAND — Avery County Schools is adjusting to the two-week-long halt on classroom instruction that has coincided with statewide mandates meant to promote social distancing in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
On Monday, March 16, the school system implemented a food distribution system in order to provide breakfast and lunches to students while they are on hiatus. On the first day, the school system provided more than 515 food packages to students and will begin distributing study packets on Wednesday, March 18. It will also put up course materials online.
Despite the short turnaround, Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman says that teachers and staff, including bus drivers and nutritional service workers, have responded admirably to the sudden changes and evolving circumstances.
“We are going to continue to refine our operations and make sure we are getting [food] out to all of our communities. I really commend our school nutrition team and transportation team and all school-based personnel for rallying together and making today a success in terms of service to our kids,” Brigman said.
School bus drivers are delivering meals along bus routes, while Newland Elementary is serving as the school system’s lone grab-and-go site. Parents will be able to drive by the school between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to pick up meals for their kids.
“[That] was our first day, so we’re still getting information on the impact it had. Hopefully we’ll know more by Friday [March 20]” Brigman said.
While ACS will be providing students with breakfast and lunch, Feeding Avery Families will be providing dinner, along with other meals for the rest of the residents in the county who will need food assistance.
In response to the circumstances, FAF has also implemented a drive-through or “no contact” system for its Friday distributions. MANNA food bags will be provided at the community pantries, as well as bags packed by FAF.
FAF Director Dick Larson says that the organization is expecting an increase in demand and will be needing to resupply about every other day.
“We’ve been working on our community pantries. The ones we have on the school grounds, we beefed them up, put different containers in them and stocked them. We’re going to be checking on those every day. I think we’re going to see those pretty much skyrocket as the reality of all this hits people, and I understand that there’s shortage in grocery stores here and there,” Larson said.
FAF has five community pantries on schools grounds, including Newland Elementary, Avery High School, Banner Elk Elementary, Cranberry Elementary and Riverside Elementary.
“As much as people use them, we will keep them stocked. We will continue our distributions here [at our Newland] center. As long as we have volunteers and food, we will keep going,” Larson said.
The school system is also taking other precautions amid the changes in relation to its staff.
Teachers are operating on optional workdays, giving them the flexibility to work from home or take time off in the event they become sick. Board of Education members said that employees will be compensated and the school system will maintain its payroll over the next two weeks.
“[Staff] are still getting paid, but if they want to come in and help out with food or deep clean the building, they have that option too,” Brigman said. “It’s an honor system. We have to put faith in our people that they are going to be honorable and respect this time they’re given at home to do something creative instructionally. We’ve never been down this road before.”
Teachers are currently preparing study materials that will cover subjects and lessons that have already been addressed during the semester. The school system does not believe it is an appropriate time to be providing new instructional material to students.
“We understand that parents have a lot to do and have to work, and their job is not to go home and instruct their children because they don’t have the time,” Crossnore Elementary Principal Matthew Bentley said. “Everything we’re sending home is stuff we’ve already covered that children can do on their own.”
Teachers are also calling home to check in on their students to see where they can help with the take-home instruction packets that students will be completing.
Schools have also broadcasted their public WiFi networks and turned up coverage, so families can pull into the school parking lots and have coverage to complete online instructions.
The school system is also taking steps to better take care of its students with learning disabilities.
“The more we can connect with folks, the more the community is going to be able to respond,” Career and Technical Education Coordinator Ellis Ayers said.