Editor’s note: This is part three of a series.
Last month, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that all school districts throughout the state would remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Messenger has reached out to all five Greene County school districts to provide updates on COVID-19’s impact on the 2019-2020 school year. In this final installment, we focus on Jefferson-Morgan School District.
Superintendent Joseph Orr and J-M High School Principal Brandon Robinson said the district’s graduation ceremony this year is still being discussed following the recent encouragement by Wolf and the state Department of Health for all schools to stay as close as possible to their respective original date for the ceremony, and for the time being refrain from holding large public gatherings for the services.
Robinson said he has repeatedly met with senior class officers to gain the students’ perspectives on the issue.
“The officers sent out a survey to the seniors to ask them whether they wanted to hold graduation on the original date of June 3 in some alternative capacity, or if they wanted to wait and hopefully be able to hold it later in the hopes that things will change,” he said. “There was also discussion of holding a possible parade for the graduates … but the survey results strongly indicated that they want a traditional ceremony and they want to wait.”
Orr added that three other alternative dates have been discussed — June 24, July 8 and July 15.
“We value their feedback, and we are listening to them, because we recognize that this is their celebration,” Orr said.
As for the ongoing instruction plan for the 750 students in grades kindergarten through 12, Orr said students are continuing to receive instruction via online and paper packets.
“One thing I am very proud of is how our staff and administration have worked together to quickly and efficiently put our education plan in place in such an unprecedented time, and seeing it not only continue but thrive,” Orr said. “It’s gratifying to see how everyone in the district has responded, how everyone is working together and going above and beyond to seamlessly do what is best for our students.”
Orr said the district has addressed internet access concerns by not only providing paper packets but also assisting with making technology available.
“It’s not just the lack of internet access, it’s also the issue of students not having proper electronic devices readily available to them,” he said. So, we’ve addressed that. Students have been able to come in and sign out Chromebooks – we’ve signed out between 70 and 80 – as well as portable hot spots. We continue to remain flexible in addressing any and all possible issues.”
As for the district’s ongoing “Grab and Go” lunch program, Orr said an average of more than 300 lunches are being distributed each day, with half of those lunches being delivered. Parents are still able to utilize the curbside pickup option.
Orr and Robinson commended the volunteers assisting with the free lunch program, as well as the restaurants that have donated for the cause.
Regarding the prom, Orr said options are still being discussed.
“We have moved the prom a couple of times already, and we’re looking at July 30 as the last possible date we can hold it,” he said. “We held a virtual ‘Quarantine Ball’ on April 25 to try and give these kids some sense of normalcy, and it was well received. We will do everything we can to give our senior a prom they deserve.”
Robinson agreed, adding that many students already bought prom dresses and made special plans for the event.
“Their prom is very important to them,” he said.
Orr said he has been pleased to receive positive reactions as to how the district is responding to the pandemic.
“I cannot tell you how many community members have complimented the district about the commitment put forth by our teachers in doing the very best they can for our students,” he said. “This has truly been a community effort. Everyone – the faculty, parents, support staff, volunteers and community – has been understanding, flexible and wholly dedicated to the same cause.”
Robinson agreed, adding, “We always talk about the importance of connectivity between staff and students, about helping them, talking to them, having them trust us … and all of that has happened during this pandemic, with parents and the community stepping up as well. “
“I am awfully, awfully proud of how everyone has come together for the benefit of our kids,” Orr said. “It has been an absolutely amazing and a joy to watch.”