• Powell Esports Team
    Breaks News Ground

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 11/6/2020


    As esports gain popularity across the country, students at Powell High School are at the forefront of the growing trend.

    PHS science teacher Tyler Thompson launched the school’s esports team in 2018, and earlier this year the Panthers won their first trophy, taking second place in a tournament sponsored by the High School Esports League.

    The fall season is currently underway, and the expectations for team members are similar to those for a more traditional school sport. Thompson said his players have to practice four times a week, for about an hour per session, and that he has to make sure new recruits understand the commitment that’s required.

    “It’s not just playing a video game,” he said. “It is actually a sport, there is practice involved, there’s all these different strategies that you have to do. You have to commit quite a bit of time to make sure that you’re actually competitive.”

    The HSEL’s Fall Major tournament provides an 8-week regular season and the option to compete in 12 games, including Minecraft, Madden 21, Rocket League and Call of Duty.

    Senior Colby Bruno was part of the two-person Powell team that came in second during HSEL’s Spring Major Tournament, while playing Call of Duty, and said he grew up gaming with his older brothers.

    The difference in playing on a school team, he said, is the level of friendship and teamwork. “You can play with your brothers but it’s just all for fun,” he said. “With a team you get to play competitively. You get to practice, you get to really help each other get better and see each other improve overall. And then eventually you can play in tournaments, win money and even make it your career if you take it that seriously.”

    Esports aren’t just for high schools. Many universities now offer club teams, including the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

    Thompson said the HSEL offers a $1,000 college scholarship to students who win their championships, and speculated that colleges may one day offer full scholarships for esports, in the same way that they do for traditional sports.

    Brien Tolson, a senior at Powell, said he plans to attend UT and major in biology, while continuing to play video games on the side.

    As a team captain, Tolson said esports has helped him develop leadership skills and patience when things don’t go well immediately.

    “I have to make sure I don’t get frustrated, because we're all learning together,” he said.

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  • Central High Celebrates
    Heroism Of Graduate

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 10/9/2020
    Community leaders gathered on Oct. 9 to remember Mary Frances Housley, a Central High School graduate who died in 1951, while trying ot rescue passengers from a plane crash.
    Community leaders gathered on Oct. 9 to remember Mary Frances Housley, a Central High School graduate who died in 1951, while rescuing passengers from a plane crash. 

    Members of the Fountain City community gathered on Friday morning to celebrate the heroism of a Central High School alumna who died nearly 70 years ago.

    Mary Frances Housley graduated from Central in 1944 and went on to work as a flight attendant for National Airlines.

    On Jan. 14, 1951, the 24-year-old was the lone flight attendant on a flight from Newark, N.J., to Philadelphia, Pa., which crashed upon landing during icy conditions.

    Housley helped 10 passengers escape from the burning plane, and her body was later found inside the aircraft, shielding a 4-month-old girl who could not be rescued.

    At a ceremony on Oct. 9, CHS health science teacher Chris Hammond and students from the school’s HOSA / Future Health Professionals club unveiled a historical marker along Tazewell Pike, near the corner of Forestal Drive.

    The event included Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, CHS Principal Andrew Brown and other dignitaries, along with Housley’s nephew.

    During the ceremony, Hammond shared the story of that day in 1951, and thanked community donors who provided funds to commemorate “a hero that was forgotten, but is now remembered.”

    “I hope that her sacrifice and her story will continue to inspire young men and women in future generations,” Hammond said.


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  • Sarah Moore Greene Launches
    Global Leadership Focus

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 10/8/2020
    Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy's is launching a new Global Leadership theme, including Spanish-language instruction for all students.
    Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy is launching a new Global Leadership theme, including Spanish-language instruction for all students.  (Photo/Justin Johnson)

    A Knox County elementary school is embracing a new mission aimed at preparing students for success on the global stage.

    Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy this week is celebrating its new magnet theme of Global Leadership. As part of that transition, students at the school will receive additional programming related to international issues, and Sarah Moore Greene has already begun an encore class in which students are learning Spanish.

    The school previously offered a media and communications magnet theme, but principal Robin Curry said that as communications technology has become integrated into everyday life, that theme became less of a distinguishing factor.

    Curry said the change is a good fit with the school’s namesake, civil rights leader Sarah Moore Greene. “It was her vision for children in this community to broaden their horizons and be exposed to the world beyond this community. So it just kind of fit within the global aspect of leadership.”

    Curry noted that in addition to Spanish, SMG has students who speak Kirundi and Swahili, and said the magnet theme will help provide a bridge to the community.

    Instructional coach Amanda Gentry helped identify Global Leadership as a theme for the school, and said it grew out of conversations about what they wanted for students. “We wanted to make sure that we were offering the opportunities for our students that will allow them to reach that global level. And we knew that leadership was part of that, teaching them those life skills now that are going to help them be successful on a global level later on in life.”

    As part of the theme, each of the school’s grade levels will adopt a continent, while each teacher within that grade level will adopt a specific country. Students will get an in-depth understanding of those countries and continents, with an eye toward embedding that knowledge into other areas of instruction. The school will also offer after-school clubs that integrate cultural and artistic traditions from countries around the world.

    The principal said SMG’s population of English-language learners is about 20 percent, and that one long-term goal is to offer English lessons for families, or even Spanish-language lessons.

    Perhaps the biggest immediate impact is the Spanish-language instruction for students, which is offered on a rotating basis. Students spend one week out of every six working with a Spanish teacher, who also exposes them to various aspects of Spanish culture and language. That opportunity is already enriching the school’s interactions, not only in the hallways but even in the car line.

    “Students jump out of the car in the morning and say, ‘Hola!’” Curry said.

    To commemorate the new theme, Sarah Moore Greene is hosting a virtual celebration on Thursday, Oct. 8, at 4:30 p.m. For more details, visit their website.

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  • Drum Majors Step Up
    In Unusual Band Season

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 10/2/2020
    Jadejsha Arnold is one of two drum majors at Carter High School. Arnold, along with fellow drum major Ploomie Messer, has taken on new leadership responsibilities during an unusual school year.
    Jadejsha Arnold is one of two drum majors at Carter High School. Arnold, along with fellow drum major Ploomie Messer, has taken on new leadership responsibilities during an unusual school year.  

    The COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges for schools across the country, but at Carter High School it gave a pair of student leaders the opportunity to step up.

    Seniors Jadejsha Arnold and Ploomie Messer are the drum majors for the CHS marching band. That role always involves a significant measure of responsibility, but it became even more important this fall when CHS band director Spence Milligan had to step aside temporarily for a quarantine period.

    Arnold and Messer took on a much larger role in teaching the marching portion of the show -- also known as “drill” -- and used Microsoft Teams to communicate with Milligan during practices.

    “They taught two tunes worth of drill that they did over the last five days by themselves,” the director said. “Of course they had a [substitute teacher] out here with them, but they did the work. So it was really cool and shows you what kind of leadership they have.”

    Arnold and Messer took different paths to the drum major’s podium, but each has thrived in a role that requires a combination of technical chops, people skills and leadership ability.

    Messer grew up around music as the daughter of CHS’s former band director and current principal, Angie Messer. “Ever since I can remember, ever since I've walked, I've been surrounded by Friday Night Lights and with the band,” she said. “It’s just been really fun.”

    She said the two drum majors work well together because Arnold’s easy-going personality helps Messer stay calm in stressful situations.

    She also noted that there’s a huge difference between playing in the band and taking on a leadership role.“When you're a leader like drum major, you’re kind of like the quarterback. You’ve got to see all the parts and you’ve got to make sure every part is moving to make it all ... come together and work right.”

    That complexity is one of the biggest challenges for band performers, and Arnold -- who was a middle school choir student before switching to flute -- said it’s important for leaders to be prepared in advance for questions that team members might have.

    While it can sometimes be challenging to provide instruction or correction, she said mistakes can make a big impact at competitions or performances: “It would probably be something small that we fixed in practice and we just slipped up on. But it’s still very seeable.”

    Both drum majors have a background in athletics -- Arnold in soccer and track, Messer in softball -- and Milligan said that has helped them understand the importance of hard work and discipline.

    “They constantly are cheering on the team with the band kids, just letting them know, ‘Hey, you’re doing great, let’s keep going.’”

    Drum major Ploomie Messer said the role is similar to being a quarterback:
    Drum major Ploomie Messer said the role is similar to being a quarterback: "You’ve got to see all the parts and you’ve got to make sure every part is moving to make it all ... come together and work right.”  
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  • Bearden Grad Wins
    Peyton Manning Scholarship

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 9/17/2020
    Christiane Alvarez was recently named one of this year's four recipients of the Peyton Manning Scholarship at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
    Christiane Alvarez was recently named one of this year's four recipients of the Peyton Manning Scholarship at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.  

    A Bearden High School graduate who is hoping to combat addiction and substance abuse in Appalachia is getting an assist from a Rocky Top legend.

    Last month, University of Tennessee-Knoxville freshman Christiane Alvarez was announced as one of this year’s four winners of the Peyton Manning Scholarship.

    The award is endowed by the former UT quarterback, and has been given to a total of 45 students since 1998.

    Alvarez graduated from Bearden last December, and is planning to study neuroscience and anthropology. Through a family member’s struggle with addiction, she met a variety of people who were in rehab and said she wants to help children and teenagers who are coming out of households marked by substance abuse.

    “Seeing other people who struggle … once you see that you can’t really turn around and turn a blind eye, especially if I have the ability to do something about it,” she said. “That’s why I’m going to college, that’s why we learn and study so we can get in positions to help those that we couldn’t before.”

    Alvarez is hoping to become a research scientist, and has already done internships at UTK and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, as well as volunteering at Susannah’s House, a Knoxville-based outpatient recovery program for mothers.

    Alvarez and the other winners will participate in UTK’s Haslam Scholars program, which provides a full scholarship as well as leadership training and the opportunity to study abroad.

    This year’s winners were honored in a Zoom call on Aug. 17, featuring the students, their families, UT leaders and Manning himself.

    While not necessarily a sports fan, Alvarez said she has great respect for Manning because of his commitment to making a difference, and said that while speaking to the former quarterback on Zoom, “I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m going to remember this conversation for the rest of my life.’”

    She also experienced Manning’s attention to detail, which became famous during an 18-year career in the NFL.

    “He said my name, and the best part is that no one ever pronounces my name right -- and that’s okay -- but Peyton Manning pronounced my name right!”  (Alvarez explained that her first name is pronounced like “Christianity”, without the “-ity.”)

    Alvarez said her favorite time at Bearden was her junior year, which included math teacher Catherine Buckner, physics teacher William Schult and former BHS teacher Kathryn Waddell.

    Buckner, who taught Alvarez in AP calculus, said her former student was not only an outstanding scholar, but a humble person.

    “She would never ever talk about how good she was at math or this or that or the other, she was just so appreciative. When she would leave the class she would always say thank you, and they don’t all do that.”

    Alvarez also recalled that in her early years at Bearden, she visited with guidance counselor Beverly Anderson and told her about the things she wanted to do, like attending UT, working at ORNL and volunteering with a nonprofit.

    “And now I get to turn around and tell her, all of those things we talked about, they actually came to fruition.”

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  • Twin Brothers Commit To Play
    Football At West Point

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 9/4/2020


    For Kalib and Liam Fortner, a journey that began with flag football and back-to-back state championships will continue next year at West Point.

    The Central High School seniors are twin brothers who were born 17 minutes apart. Earlier this year, both received offers to play football at the U.S. Military Academy, the prestigious service academy that prepares cadets to serve as Army officers.

    The twins have shared their meals, their clothes and their rooms all their lives, and Liam said they never really thought about attending different universities. Attending West Point together, he said, means that “you’ve got a best friend that’s going 10 hours away with you.”

    Kalib Fortner is an outside linebacker who was an All State selection in each of the last two years, and recorded 10 sacks last year.

    Liam Fortner is a wide receiver who earned all-region honors last year, and who scored four touchdowns in the Bobcats’ first two games of this season.

    Coach Nick Craney said the twins are key leaders in a program that has won state championships in each of the last two seasons.

    “They’re examples for the guys around them,” Craney said. “And not just visual examples but they’re vocal examples, two kids that will correct things that need to be corrected on the field and in the weight room and in the locker room.”

    That leadership ability will serve them well at West Point, a program in which preparation for Division I football is combined with the intense challenges of military training and rigorous academics. After graduating from the service academy, cadets are commissioned as officers in the U.S. Army and serve for five years.

    Liam said he may pursue aviation during his time at West Point, while Kalib is considering engineering.

    And both brothers said the military commitment is similar to the bonds that come with playing on a football team.

    “I like to fight for my brothers out here on the field,” said Kalib. “So going out and fighting for everybody in the United States, it’s an honor. And I’m really glad I get this opportunity to do that for everybody.”

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  • Principals Prepare For
    Virtual Learning

    Posted by Josh Flory on 8/24/2020
    Megan O'Dell, principal of Brickey-McCloud Elementary School, is helping her school get ready for in-school instruction and the district's new virtual learning program.
    Megan O'Dell, principal of Brickey-McCloud Elementary School, is helping her school get ready for in-school instruction and the district's new virtual learning program.  

    The start of classes on Aug. 24 will mark a milestone for Knox County Schools, as the district launches a virtual learning program for more than 18,000 students across the county.

    In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, KCS gave families two options for learning during the fall semester: in-person, on-campus instruction with enhanced health and safety protections, or a robust virtual program that will closely align with the rigor of a traditional classroom.

    Each school will have a virtual learning program, while the district has also expanded its QuEST program to cover courses that are not available in schools.

    In recent weeks principals and teachers across the district have been getting ready. Megan O’Dell, principal at Brickey-McCloud Elementary, said one of the biggest challenges has been making sure that students and teachers feel included no matter which type of instruction they’re receiving.

    Even a simple tradition like the morning announcements has to be structured in a way that’s accessible for everyone, and O’Dell said it’s a little like running two schools in one. “Everything we do we have to think about ‘How are we including our in-person and our virtual students?’” she said.

    At Vine Middle School, approximately half of the school’s students signed up for the virtual learning program, and principal Desiree Jones said it was a daunting task to align student and teacher schedules to accommodate that shift.

    Jones said Vine’s tagline for the upcoming school year is “Focused and Flexible”, adding that she has been reminding her staff that “you’re amazing.”

    “They know how to connect with kids, they know how to establish those relationships,” Jones said. “And we just need to be cognizant that even though it is a brand-new format and platform, that we still know how to teach. … It’s just giving yourself the grace and the space to bring that to the forefront of your mind.”

    A school day in the virtual program will look a little different at each school, but all students can expect to use Microsoft Teams for live instruction and class meetings, along with Canvas as a digital backpack for assignments.

    Some instruction will happen in real time, while other lessons will be available for students to pursue as their schedule permits. Virtual students will also have time away from their Chromebooks for activities including reading, lunch and exercise.

    Debbie Sayers, principal at Bearden High School, said one of the most important things students can do to prepare for virtual instruction is to create a comfortable learning space where they can focus: “So whether that’s inside, whether that’s outside, a place where they can be engaged -- and lying down on the couch is probably not a good idea.”

    In one sense, the virtual program will also be an opportunity for teachers to demonstrate life lessons that they have worked to instill in their students.

    Sayers said Bearden has tried to emphasize the importance of letting teachers experiment with new strategies. If they work, she said, teachers can share them, and if they don’t work they can either tweak the experiment and try again, or just move on to a new strategy.

    “That’s the same kind of thing we want to see in our kids,” she said, “that willingness to try and know that it’s okay to fail, as long as we learn something from it and then move on.”

    And while COVID-19 has been a tremendous challenge, the chance to embrace virtual learning could be a positive in some ways.

    As the district provides Chromebooks to every K-12 student through its new 1:1 initiative, there will be more opportunities for all students to utilize online instruction, including on days when school buildings are closed for inclement weather or illness.

    O’Dell, of Brickey-McCloud, said teachers in the virtual learning program are “paving the path” and will be a great resource for other teachers as the district utilizes online instruction in the future. “They’re getting to test out things ahead of time where they’re going to be the leaders of this virtual path and can help their teammates and their colleagues along the way who have questions,” she said.

    And in some cases, students may enjoy the chance to learn online. Jones, of Vine Middle, said virtual learning will help put some of her students on a trajectory for even more success.

    “Some students will take this and run to higher heights with it.”

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  • A-E Community
    Remembers Rep. John Lewis

    Posted by JOSHUA FLORY on 8/24/2020
    McArthur Douglas, a volunteer chaperone with the Project Grade Brother To Brother mentoring group at Austin-East High School, poses with U.S. Rep. John Lewis during a trip in 2011.
    McArthur Douglas, a volunteer chaperone with the Project Grad Brother To Brother mentoring group at Austin-East High School, poses with U.S. Rep. John Lewis during a trip to Washington, D.C. in 2011.  

    The recent death of John Lewis, a longtime U.S. Representative and an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, brought back a special memory for one member of the Austin-East High School community.

    Jesse Jones is a Project Grad Student and Family Support Coach at Austin-East, and in 2011 he helped lead a trip to Washington, D.C. for eight A-E students who were part of a mentoring group called Brother To Brother.

    The trip was sponsored by Carolyn and Will Minter, and Jones said the group met civil rights and political leaders from both near and far. In addition to Lewis, Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, the group unexpectedly met Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown in a hallway.

    The chance meeting with Brown reinforced a message that Jones had emphasized to students throughout the trip, about the importance of carrying themselves with respect.

    “(The mayor) stopped on a dime and took a picture with our young men,” Jones recalled, “and I looked around and I said, ‘You see that? … You never know who knows you.’”

    One of the most vivid memories was seeing Lewis, a Georgia Congressman who passed away on July 17 and whose body lay in state at the U.S. Capitol last week.

    The congressman posed for a picture with McArthur Douglas, a volunteer chaperone on the trip, and Jones said the group understood that they were in the presence of greatness, even though Lewis didn’t carry himself with arrogance.

    Jones said the Congressman’s legacy was one of boldness in standing up for what was right: “He was a bold and brave fighter for civil rights who wasn’t afraid, as you heard, to get into good trouble.”

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  • Chromebook Distribution
    Will Enhance Learning

    Posted by JOSHUA FLORY on 7/30/2020
    Under the district's new 1:1 initiative, K-2 students will receive touchscreen Chromebooks while students in Grades 3-12 will receive laptops.
    Under the district's new 1:1 initiative, K-2 students will receive touchscreen Chromebooks while students in Grades 3-12 will receive laptops.  

    Providing a Chromebook to every KCS student is a complicated task, but preparations have begun at schools across the county.

    In May of this year, the Knox County Board of Education and Knox County Commissioners approved a 1:1 plan that will make a Chromebook computer available to every KCS student in Grades K-12, starting in the fall semester.

    The initiative was made possible by federal funding provided through the CARES Act. The goal is to help teachers enhance their instruction through the use of technology, whether they’re teaching in the district’s new virtual learning program or returning to schools for in-person, on-campus instruction.

    Gail Byard, the district’s Chief Technology Officer, said KCS has been receiving shipments of Chromebooks in quantities of about 2,500 computers each.

    “This probably would have been a two-year rollout in normal circumstances and we’re doing this in about 3-4 months, so it’s definitely fast-tracked,” Byard said. “As quickly as we get them into the warehouse, we turn around and distribute them to the schools.”

    Two different devices will be provided to students this year. For Grades K-2, the Chromebooks will be touch-screen devices with keyboards that can be flipped to the back, replicating the look and feel of a tablet. For Grades 3-12, laptop-style Chromebooks will be provided, using traditional keyboards.

    IT Infrastructure Manager Freddie Cox said the devices will feature web-based applications, with three primary systems used by students: Aspen to communicate with teachers, Canvas as a “digital backpack” for assignments and content, and Microsoft Teams as a virtual classroom.

    Besides providing the tools they need, Cox also said the computers will provide safeguards. “On each of the Chromebooks we do have a filtering application that protects not only from inappropriate material but also things that could pose an IT security risk,” he said. “So we’re looking at it from preventing malware and security problems all the way up to protecting students from harmful content.”

    All devices will be provided free of charge, but families will be given the option to buy insurance for $30. To sign up for a Chromebook, parents must fill out a registration form and an insurance form.

    Once the forms are submitted, each student’s base school will contact them with details about how and when the devices will be distributed. The district will provide a notification if families are eligible for an insurance subsidy. All families who receive free and reduced-price meals qualify for the subsidy, and families can visit LunchApplication.com to apply for free and reduced-price meals.

    In order to best use the laptop, families should ensure their home has access to the internet by the start of school on August 17. More information about standard and low-cost options for internet service are available at this link.

    For more information about the 1:1 program and Frequently Asked Questions, visit www.knoxschools.org/chromebooks.

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  • Vine Middle Hosts
    "Virtual Boost Camp"

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 7/22/2020
    Transportation U, a KCS program that trains new bus drivers for Knox County Schools, recently celebrated its first class of graduates. In this picture, trainer Doug Romig (left) stands with (L to R) Anita King, Bonnie Gillespie and Cheyenne Rickman.
    Melody Hawkins, an 8th-grade science teacher at Vine Middle Magnet School, was director of the school's Virtual Boost Camp this summer.  

    As Knox County Schools gears up to offer virtual learning for many students across the district, one middle school gained some valuable experience over the summer.

    In June, Vine Middle Magnet School hosted a "Virtual Boost Camp" for nearly two dozen incoming 6th-grade students. Besides helping students get acquainted with the expectations of middle school, the camp also aimed to offset some of the lost learning from the spring closure; to offer social and emotional support; and to provide students with familiar faces at their new school. The camp was funded by a TeacherPreneur grant from the Knox Education Foundation (formerly the Great Schools Partnership.)

    “At Vine, we realize that relationships are a huge determining factor in a student feeling like they belong,” said 8th-grade science teacher Melody Hawkins, the camp’s director. “And when students feel like they belong in their classroom and their school, then they are more motivated to try hard things and to interact with productive struggle.”

    The virtual camp took place over a two-week period, with students working on Chromebooks for 90 minutes each day. Students were organized into small groups, and spent each day of the week working online with a different teacher.

    Hawkins said one recurring theme for teachers was how to provide helpful feedback in a virtual setting, where it’s harder to make eye contact. In addition, she said the project highlighted the fact that there will be occasional technology challenges that teachers will need to manage.

    As an example, Hawkins said Vine teachers “were rock stars” when it came to helping students rejoin a class if they had lost connectivity.

    “Once the student got back in, teachers were great at making sure they did a quick review, ‘This is what we covered, this is what you missed,’ or they would lean on another student to review material,” she said. “And that created that camaraderie and that group mentality.”

    When Knox County Schools reopens on Aug. 17, students will have the option of returning to in-person, on-campus instruction or enrolling in a virtual learning program. The deadline to enroll in the virtual program is 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, July 22.

    For teachers and administrators who are providing instruction in the virtual setting, one point of emphasis will be how to build relationships with their students.

    Kalie Bearden, a math interventionist at Vine who participated in this summer’s boot camp, said she planned some icebreaker activities designed to get students talking, including games like “Two Truths and a Lie” and a game in which students had to answer questions such as “Who’s your favorite villain?”, or “What’s the strangest word you know?”

    After playing those games, Bearden said, “I feel like I already have some conversation starters  … and we already have some kind of connection. They’re going to remember that I have guinea pigs and that my dog, Mia, sat in my lap through the whole lesson, and things like that.”

    And for all the differences between online and in-person instruction, some things stay the same.

    “I just think it’s really important for us to figure out ways to be creative and stay in touch with our kids no matter whether they’re virtual or in the school building,” said Bearden. “I think most teachers would agree that one of the keys to successful teaching is building relationships, so we can’t forget that when we go into the virtual world.”


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