By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
Just as administrators, teachers and students had to adjust to the abrupt end to their school year in a matter of a few short days, they are now finding themselves faced with planning for, literally, any possible scenario when it’s time for school to reopen in the fall.
Will the state’s children and teachers be back in the classroom? Will they remain home to take their lessons online under the watchful eye of their parents?
Or will they be faced with a combination of both?
And what about the college students? Will they be back on campus or working on their degrees via laptop?
“We are going to be ready for anything,” Mineral County Schools superintendent Troy Ravenscroft told the News Tribune recently.
We are going to plan for the best and be prepared for the worst.”
Obviously, the decision has not yet been made whether students will return to the classroom - either on the public school level or the collegiate level. And truth be told, that decision may not be made until the last minute.
“We are working on multiple scenarios,” said Lucas Taylor, dean of student experiences at WVU Potomac State College. “Students could be back on campus as normal, but a modified normal, with all the social distancing guidelines in place. Or classes could all be online, or we could have more of a hybrid.
“Things are changing on a weekly basis,” he added.
Dean of academic affairs Greg Ochoa points out that, as a campus of West Virginia University, Potomac State has the planning and expertise of the university to follow.
“We’re lucky being part of the WVU organization; we’ll have the WVU plan and tweak it to fit our operation here,” he said.
Ravenscroft says he is hopeful the year will be as normal as possible for Mineral County Schools, with the addition of more stringent sanitation.
Before the pandemic they had already planned to purchase some equipment which would mist the inside of the school buildings every evening to “help knock down flu germs.”
That equipment is now more important than ever.
“They do a ton of space really quickly, and can even mist the buses,” he said.
At Potomac State, extra measures will also be taken to clean and sanitize the dorm rooms, dining halls and classrooms.
“The safety of the students, faculty and staff is most important,” Taylor said.
According to Taylor, traffic flow will be controlled in the dining halls, and the college will “try to use our outdoor space as much as possible” when the weather permits.
Classrooms, according to Ochoa, will only be filled to 50% capacity, which may cause the instructors to adopt a split schedule that would have half the students in class one day a week and outside the classroom on the second day, working on “engaging material presented in another way.” That material could include a videotaped lecture by the instructor, support videos, or hands-on assignments, among other media.
While the first half of the class is doing work outside the classroom, the second half of the students would be back in class for face-to-face time with the instructor.
No matter what the teaching model, however, when the students are interacting with each other or their instructors, Taylor feels that protective masks “are an inevitability.”
The county school system will also be beefing up its ability to utilize online learning. The problem, of course, is the availability of internet in the area.
“We’re working on some contingency plans for maybe providing internet access,” he said, admitting that they will have to “get creative” in finding ways to expand service.
Just how creative Mineral County or Potomac State might have to get remains to be seen, but all three administrators believe their institutions will be ready.
“We’ll do our best to adjust to whatever we need to,” Ravenscroft said.
“Our entire institution changed everything in the matter of two weeks,” Taylor said. “That’s a great testament to the agility of our faculty, staff and students.
“It shows an ability to be innovative … and that’s excellent for whatever we need to do in the future.”