When Bill Thorpe became superintendent of Trigg County Public Schools in January, he never expected that within just a few months the school district would encounter an unprecedented time in public education. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the nation have had to quickly figure out how to transition from face-to-face instruction to remote learning.
Fortunately, for Trigg County students and educators, they were already ahead of the game in comparison to many other schools across the country.
In 2017, the board of education elected to implement non-traditional instruction (NTI) for days when poor road conditions or other issues made it unsafe for students to physically come to school. Since that time, the district has only used a handful of NTI days, also called SnowMazing Days. These days allow students to continue learning with fewer interruptions during the instructional year.
Trigg County students have a variety of ways to complete their NTI work at home. In the fall semester each year, students receive black “SnowMazing” folders. Inside the folders are packets of printed work distributed for each day of learning that takes place out of school. Many teachers also load their assignments and resources online for students who have computer and internet access at home.
Traditionally, teachers only assign work related to skills that the students have already been exposed to in class, allowing students extra time to practice and extend their learning. While students complete assignments from home, teachers are busy making contact with each of their students remotely, giving feedback and planning instruction.
On March 16, when in-person instruction was suspended in an effort to promote social distancing, the district was all set to implement NTI days for the weeks that traditional school would not be in session. Students were originally scheduled to return on March 30, but that date quickly changed based on recommendations from Gov. Andy Beshear. Now, students will not be returning to class until at least May 4. This created new challenges for Trigg County Public Schools — how to keep teachers connected with their students, how to make sure all students have access to meals and supplies that they would normally get at school, and how to provide new instruction during NTI days.
“I have been amazed by how this community comes together to support each other. I’ve seen it many times already since I have been in Trigg, and right now more than ever,” Thorpe said, reflecting on how the school community has responded. “Our teachers are working hard and teaching in ways they’ve never had to before. They’re making sure their students have the learning opportunities and support that they need, and they are doing this while taking care of their own families.”
The teachers and instructional staff in the district are reaching out to their students every day to provide support and instruction. They have even begun teaching virtually through programs such as Zoom, Google Meet and posting video lessons.
One parent said, “Thank you to all the teachers and staff who are going out of their way to help these kids when they need it! There’s many that have gone above and beyond, and I want you to know it’s not gone unseen or unappreciated! This situation is new for everyone and the amount of support this school system has given the students is outstanding.”
“I have to really brag about our food service and transportation departments. As of April 8, we have served and delivered 42,858 meals,” Thorpe said.
When the decision was made to close the buildings and utilize NTI days, the school system was concerned about the many students who depend on the breakfast and lunch they are served at school each day.
“We had to make sure that no child in our community goes hungry,” said Trigg County Food Service Director Paula Dickerson. “We had to find a way to get food to our families. We’ve asked our food service employees and bus drivers to work long, hard hours to make this happen, and they have. They do whatever it takes to take care of our kids. It’s just what we do.”
According to Thorpe, this doesn’t include the number of meals and supplies that have been donated by local churches through the Backpack Program. The Lighthouse Family Resource Center and Horizon Youth Service Center have delivered these items to each of our families in need. Students usually receive these donations on Friday afternoons to make sure they have meals over the weekend.
“We had to make sure that these families still get what they need. We are so thankful to our churches and community for helping these students,” said Ashley Hunter, Lighthouse FRC director.
Thorpe also shared that it has been a team effort.
“Our administrators are leading through uncharted territory and making decisions to protect and support our students and staff. There’s no handbook on how to do this, and we are coming together as a team to figure it out,” he said. “Our custodians and maintenance staff are working hard to clean and sanitize all of our buildings so that students can return as soon as it is safe to be close to each other again. Office personnel are working behind the scenes to keep everything running and be available for all of the needs that arise. I’m proud of our team and blessed to be part of a community that takes care of each other.”