Half a dozen kids at W. M. Anderson Primary are sitting behind plastic shields. In week three of the new school year their computers are open and their focus is on a screen that shows a lesson. Above the lesson plan is a lineup of boxes, each displaying a classmate. Each student is capable of chiming in with a question or answer.
The class is guided by their teacher, Tawanna Bright. She’s dressed in a colorful dress, which reflects her brightly decorated classroom. Bright wanted it to be as homey as possible; a tactic to make the children feel comfortable in their new environment. “I want them to feel at home because I feel we are a family,” she said.
First grader Zoey Smith sits behind a shield in Bright’s classroom. She is dressed in pink and her outfit matches her pink backpack. As she listens to the lesson and she wishes to answer a question she raises her hand, just as in a normal classroom setting. The kids at home who are studying virtually, do the same; just another day at school for the first grader. “I like class because she (Bright) helps us,” said Smith. “I can see everybody on the camera.”
Fellow student Rashard McAlister has his notebook open. It’s covered in words he’s written during class. “Tyler” who is at home, recites the school’s mission statement. On the count of three everyone from home and in the classroom say a word in unison then clap also in unison. They discuss seven habits. Rashard says being proactive means being in charge of ourselves. It’s time to take a break so Rashard is keeping an eye on the board. “It’s some songs you can dance to,” he said. The children jump up and enjoy dancing to the song Sharpen the Saw.
Nearly all of the 400 students that attend Anderson Primary are being taught virtually. Across the district, it’s estimated that 80% of students attend class from home. Anderson Primary Principal Dr. Reagan Miles said not seeing the halls packed with children is different, but seeing them on the screen is the next best thing. “I’ve walked into the classrooms while they’re having their conferences and I say hey and we speak for a few minutes,” said Miles. “It’s been a different experience for sure but I think the educators in general are very resilient. Anything that gets thrown at us, we take it maneuver around it and move forward because in education you have to be ready for whatever is given to you.”
Bright has visited some of the homes of her students. She takes a photo with the child and displays it on a board in her room. She plans to continue till she sees every child in person. “We’re all one big happy family in our classroom,” she said. Bright agrees teaching in this manner is a challenge but she and the kids are adapting. “It’s new and it’s different but it’s going to be a really good year.”