West Iredell High School Principal Ellyn Gaither welcomed students back to school on Wednesday and posed for pictures with them on the football field.

BY KARISSA MILLER

Senior Matthew Goins said he had no hesitation about returning to in-person classes on Wednesday with the rest of the West Iredell High School student body in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m glad to be back — glad to see my friends and take my classes,” said Goins, who also participates in the Career Academy Technical School’s automotive cooperative program.

Goins said his teachers and principal have played an important role in his life.

“I’ve come a long way since middle school. Always in trouble,” he recalled. “ROTC beats the stupid out of you.”

Goins said it is hard to not hug his teachers, but like many of his classmates he’s embracing the air hug and waving. He said he’s excited to be back at school five days a week.

“It’s my last year. I’m going to make the best of it. I want to go out swinging,” Goins said.

The entire school was abuzz with the same excitement Wednesday morning.

Principal Ellyn Gaither said if all students show up, they are expecting around 550 students each day. Before that, there were around 300 to 400 students on split days.

“Our teachers want our kids back. It’s good socially and mentally not only for our kids, but also for our teachers. You go into teaching to actually physically see them, to teach them, to care for them and you can see a whole lot on their face when they come in that door.”

“A lot of kids this is their safe place for seven and a half hours. They are getting two good meals and getting an education,” she added.

Gaither said she will use morning announcements to remind students that they can receive free breakfast and lunch due to a special USDA waiver for all schools. She especially wants to encourage students to stop in the cafeteria for breakfast to get them fueled for the day.

At West Iredell, students will still be able to eat inside their school cafeteria. Gaither said she has stretched lunch out into four different time blocks.

However, seats are social distanced and students are encouraged to put their masks back on when not eating or drinking.

She mentioned that the biggest change is that Wednesdays are no longer remote learning days for all students.

For teacher Pagra Yang, the switch to five days a week means making adjustments.

She can no longer use Wednesday to tutor her remote students. She said some of those students don’t have reliable Internet at home and that they would come into the school on that day.

“I’m very nervous about going to five days, but I’m very glad that we are coming back five days. It especially helps the students who need it. It helps them with their mental health, too. That’s why a lot of us are pushing for them to come back,” Yang said.

Journalism and English teacher Bill Cutler agreed.

“Teachers are just as excited to get back to in-person classroom as families and students are. We are all on the same page there. It’s the best for students and it’s the best for teachers,” he said.

Cutler is thankful that the school system made getting a COVID-19 vaccination an easy process. He also said that he has faith and confidence in the school’s plan to keep everyone safe.

Cutler is a synchronous teacher. Synchronous learning is where a virtual student at home and a student in-person are learning the same thing at the same time.

“It keeps me and the students structured around a traditional class schedule. My students at home know that at 8:20 they will be talking to me at home,” Cutler said.

“A lot of students aren’t used to self-directed or self-motivated learning and not approaching it through the synchronous method makes it easier for students to lapse or fall behind,” he added.

While there have been a lot of negatives about the pandemic and its quarantines for schools, Gaither shared some positives that have come out of it for her teachers.

“It’s helped our teachers to look at how they teach and to improve some technology issues that they may have been scared of. They have hit it full force and are doing well with it,” Gaither said.

She mentioned that many teachers are going to continue using those strategies to incorporate technology when things return to “normal.”

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