Remote learning to allow for snow day flexibility

With winter quickly approaching, Watauga County Schools would like to remind families how the district makes and communicates decisions about the operation of school during inclement weather.

This year, thanks to additional equipment and student laptops purchased in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the district plans to utilize remote learning on certain school days that would have otherwise been cancelled and later made up due to inclement weather.

Superintendent Scott Elliott said the districts’ period of remote learning in the fall had prepared WCS with the equipment and experience it needed to operate school remotely on snow days this winter.

“Our experience with remote learning has given us the opportunity for the first time to hold school remotely on days that winter weather would have ordinarily forced us to close our doors,” Elliott said. “While remote learning can’t fully replace what our students experience in our classrooms in person, it will give us much needed flexibility to mitigate the impact missing 15 to 20 days a year because of inclement weather can have on instruction.”

Elliott said that using remote learning to replace snow days this year would eliminate the need for Saturday school, protect Christmas and Spring break and help ensure that the school year would not need to be extended into late June to make-up for snow days. However, remote days will not completely eliminate the need to make up all the days Watauga Schools typically miss each year.

This year, the North Carolina General Assembly mandated that school districts build five remote learning days into their calendars. Watauga County Schools used the first of those required days to close school buildings for students on Election Day. Elliott said the remaining four would be used to cover snow days — especially before Christmas break so that exams could be given at the high school before students went home for the holidays.

“If we find that these remote learning days are successful, we have the option to use more if we need to,” Elliott said. “We’ve had a very productive experience with remote learning in the past, and if we see those high levels of participation and good use of time continue going forward, it’s my hope we will be able to use remote learning even further to limit the number of days missed.”
However, Elliott warned that if the days are not used effectively, then remote learning on snow days will be limited moving forward.

While WCS has been able to provide take home devices to many students over the course of this year — along with more than 200 wifi hotspots provided to homes with no landline internet access — Elliott said there were still pockets the community for whom high speed internet access was simply not available.

“Remote learning this year has made it more clear than ever that a number of families across our county face significant challenges accessing high speed internet,” Elliott said. “Teachers will work with students who won’t be able to access the internet at home to prepare materials to supplement their remote learning days. It’s not necessarily an ideal solution, but until high speed internet infrastructure is extended into rural communities across Watauga, our staff will do everything possible to ensure our students have equal access to the materials they need to learn.”

Elliott said that, while remote learning days provided much needed flexibility in long and often severe winters, it was still his priority to get students into school buildings in person when it is safe to do so. The district will still continue with it’s long implemented standards for early morning road checks and close contact with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va. on days with inclement weather.

When bad weather begins overnight, the process for making decisions about the operation of school kicks off at 3 a.m. when Elliott and Transportation Director Jeff Lyons begin the process of gathering information about road conditions and the most current weather forecast.

By 3:30 a.m., a road check team consisting of Elliott, Lyons, and other staff members begins driving assigned routes to check road conditions throughout Watauga County. Lyons and Elliott both routinely participate in a morning live conference call with National Weather Service meteorologists in Blacksburg, VA at 4:30 a.m.

In an average winter, crews are on the road approximately 40 mornings.

The final decision about school schedules and bus routes is based on information gathered from the road check team, NCDOT, local law enforcement and the latest weather forecasts.

That decision is normally made before the first school bus departs at 5:25 a.m. and is announced in several ways: a statement at the top of all pages of school websites at www.wataugaschools.org; via local media outlets; by automated phone messages, email, and text messages to parents; via Twitter at @WataugaSchools; and through a recorded snow line message at (828) 264-0200.

If you have questions about the limited bus routes for your school, you can get more information at wataugaschools.org/limitedroutes, or by contacting the WCS Transportation Department at (828) 264-6391.

Watauga County Schools are closed an average of approximately 15 days per year for snow and ice, with wide variation around that average. The number of days missed has ranged from a low of four days in 1990-91 to a peak of 39 days in 1977-78. The system missed 20 days for weather last school year.

Elliott said as winter weather approaches, it’s important that parents update their contact information with their school’s front office, as that information will be used to announce closing, delay and emergency information.

WCS – Returning to in-person instruction

A message from Watauga County Schools, Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott, regarding the opening of schools for K-3 Students. You can find more information at wataugaschools.org/coronavirus.

Home School Physical Education Program 2020-2021 academic year

The Appalachian State University Physical Education (PE) Program is pleased to continue its commitment to offering the Home School Physical Education Program for the 2020-21 academic year.  

Appalachian Home School PE Program (5 – 12 year olds)

Dates: September 8 – November 13 (online)

Meets: Tuesdays synchronously via Zoom from 1:00 p.m. – 1:50 p.m.; Thursdays asynchronously via a Fundamental Motor Skill & Family Physical Activity Challenge

Annual Cost: Fall 2020 $0 per child; Spring 2021 $30 per child (includes t-shirt)

The Appalachian Home School PE Program is a part of the Appalachian Health and Physical Education (HPE) Program.  Dr. Brooke Towner will oversee the program.  Dr. Towner is an assistant professor in the Appalachian HPE program, is a Certified Physical Education Teacher, and has physical education experience in both public school and recreational settings. 

We use the innovative SPARK physical education curriculum in our PE program. For more information on the SPARK curriculum, check out their website at http://www.sparkpe.org.  

The Fall 2020 Appalachian Home School PE Program Plan: 

  • The Appalachian Homeschool PE Program will be held in an online format. 
  • On Tuesdays, all age groups will meet on Zoom (an online video conferencing tool) for a 20 – 25 minute lesson instructed by an Appalachian student or teaching pair. 
    • Dr. Towner will attend all Zoom lessons.
  • On Thursdays, the Appalachian student or teaching pair will post an optional online Fundamental Motor Skill and Family Challenge PE activity using FlipGrid (an online tool for posting video responses). 
    • The Appalachian student or partner pair will provide feedback to the students that chose to participate. The FlipGrid will be moderated so only Dr. Towner and the Appalachian student or teach pair have access to the FlipGrid. Dr. Towner will monitor all Flipgrids.

For Fall 2020 the Home School PE Program will not offer the Play Pen or Parent Walking Group 

Registration:                                                                                 

Go to: https://appstate.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_1zEb2hHYa1R475j

Or visit: https://pehomeschool.appstate.edu/  and select the REGISTER ONLINE NOW! 

Registration DEADLINE: September 7th, 2020 (late registrations will be accepted as long as slots are still available) 

For more information, go to https://pehomeschool.appstate.edu/ or contact Dr. Brooke Towner at 828-262-8558, email townerbc@appstate.edu

School and sports physicals: Important whether learning in-person or remotely

We appreciate Dr. Kyle Wilson from AppFamily Medicine sharing this information with us.

Now more than ever, it is important that all school-aged children and adolescents obtain a school or sports physical. One of the primary benefits of this visit is to help students and their families better understand how they can stay well as our nation continues to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

A school physical is designed to cover many different components that make up a student’s overall health and wellbeing.

  • screening students for heart related problems
  • assessing vaccination status
  • addressing conditions that could require a treatment plan prior to returning to school
  • vision and hearing screening
  • addressing potential developmental and behavioral concerns
  • other factors that affect a student’s well-being and educational success.

Getting ready for the school/sports physical visit

Prior to the visit, it will be helpful to think through your student’s past medical history and existing medical problems. Filling out any patient paperwork for your provider will help guide you on what type of information to include.

An important part of a student’s medical history includes family history of any potential heart-related problems as well as specific pediatric diseases. It will be helpful if parents or guardians are able to tell the provider if the patient has any family members who have passed away at a young age due to a heart-related condition. This will help the provider assess the student’s risk of heart-related issues.

Setting students up for success

Another important part of a school physical involves addressing the student’s exercise tolerance. Does the student become mildly short of breath upon exercising only for a few minutes? Can the student participate in exercise activities similar to other students in his or her class? Questions like these can help the provider assess many different things such as screening the patient for asthma and musculoskeletal disorders.

The school physical also provides the opportunity for parents or guardians to discuss potential concerns regarding the student’s behavior or development. Learning disorders often go unidentified through adolescence. It is important that each student is empowered with the opportunity to perform at his or her best level. The doctor can help identify, manage and make any assessment referrals for possible conditions such as hearing and vision loss, ADHD, learning disabilities, and more.

Occasionally, accommodations are needed so that students can meet their academic potential. Earlier identification gives opportunities for earlier interventions, if needed. A school physical is an excellent opportunity to better understand how the student can ultimately be given the best chance to meet his or her aspirations.

We can help

At AppFamily Medicine, Baker Center for Primary Care, and Davant Medical Clinic*, we desire to be a medical home for the entire family – infant, pediatric, adolescent and adult (*Davant Medical Clinic sees patients 6 years and older). This includes helping students and their families get ready for the coming academic school year and have confidence that students’ medical needs are addressed. We look forward to serving you and your family as the coming academic year approaches with its own particular challenges.

Call your child’s primary care provider or one of the following practices to schedule a school physical. You can also request an appointment online.

Holston Camp Announces School Day Camp for K-5

Holston Presbytery Camp and Retreat Center announces a STUDENT DAY CAMP. The camp will meet from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm, Monday through Friday for 9 weeks. This program coincides with the Avery and Watauga County school system’s 9-week virtual learning schedule from Monday, August 17 to Friday, October 16, 2020.

HPCRC will provide adult supervision for students to accomplish their class assignments on their own computer devices. Holston Camp will enroll at least 24 elementary-age students (K-5) which will be divided into two groups according to grade, in two separate buildings. Both buildings will have Wi-Fi, bathroom access, and classroom furnishings.

The STUDENT DAY CAMP will serve local Avery and Watauga parents of elementary school children (K-5) who either have work responsibilities or would prefer a small class size with the benefit of outdoor recreation. Face covers are required along with observing proper social distance, hygiene, and sanitation. Students must provide their own computer and face covering.

Supervision is provided by adult staff with at least a bachelor’s degree conferred by a college or university. They are trained and experienced in various aspects of care and management of children, including but not limited to first aid, safety, behavior issues, and recreation.

HPCRC will provide shuttle (pickup only) located at Lowes Foods (4000 NC Highway 105 S) and Avery County Morrison Library in Newland for an additional fee.  

“Our emphasis is to provide children a safe space to learn while enjoying the benefits of outdoor activities at campus by Wildcat Lake,” says Jim Austin, Director of HPCRC. “We understand some parents must work and need a full-time daycare, and others may prefer a smaller class size for their children to mitigate risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

HPCRC will provided guided outdoor actives such as nature play, field games, archery, hiking, swimming, biking, boating, rock climbing, and zip-lines. Arts and crafts will also be available.

HPCRC will serve breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack to student campers.

Austin said, “Holston has successfully completed a summer of overnight and day camps for children despite the COVID pandemic. Children quickly adapted to masks, social distancing, and hand-washing. Mostly, they just want to be with each other and play outside. Now, we offer parents an alternative to in-class issues by providing a full day of supervised care.”

STUDENT DAY CAMP registration is now open for children in grades K-5. The cost is $1,575 for 9 weeks. Payments by check or cash for the total tuition made before August 14, receive a 10% discount. Enrollment is limited. See www.HolstonCenter.org for details and registration.

Remote Learning Center Option – Registration Open

Are you looking for a safe place for your child to work and learn on remote learning days this upcoming school year?

The Big Blue Center for Expressive Arts opened registration for their remote learning center. Please note that assistants will be available to keep kids on task and to help with remote learning. Space is very limited to keep kids physically distanced. The location for the center is 174 Old East King St, Boone, NC 28607.

-WiFi available
-Extra precautions and cleaning to provide as safe a space as possible (temperature checks, masks when not 6 feet apart, extra hand washing, no shared supplies, etc.)

Example of Daily Routine (with a lot of flexibility to meet children’s needs):
Remote Learning 8-8:30
Stretch and Bathroom Break 8:30-8:40
Remote Learning 8:40-9:10
Activity and Bathroom Break 9:10-9:40
Remote Learning 9:40-10:10
Snack and Bathroom Break 10:10-10:30
Remote Learning 10:30-11
Activity and Bathroom Break 11-11:30
Remote Learning/Quiet Freetime 11:30-12

What to bring each day:
Laptop and/or school work for the day (including all supplies needed)
Snack (I will let you know closer to time if there are any allergies we need to be aware of)
Water Bottle (no sugary drinks)
Mask

Please register here! Questions can be directed to their Facebook page.

Watauga High School to hold Eighth Grade Parent Nights

Watauga High School is set to host its annual Eighth-Grade Parents Nights from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. on February 10th and 11th. Hosted at WHS, the sessions are intended for rising Freshman and their parents to gain insight and information on the transition from middle to high school.

Students from Green Valley, Blowing Rock, Parkway and Bethel are invited to attend on Feb. 10. The session for students from Hardin Park, Valle Crucis, Cove Creek and Mabel will be held on Feb. 11. Homeschool, Grace Academy and Two Rivers students may elect to attend either session.

The sessions will start with an assembly hosted by next year’s Freshman Counselor Samantha Elam that gives families a brief overview of operations at Watauga High School.

“At the assembly, we will go over what students and parents can expect starting high school at Watauga,” Elam said. “We cover the daily bell schedule, our attendance policies and expectations as well as FLEX — our daily block when students can get help on projects and assignments or seek individual assistance from teachers in a particular content area.”

Elam said parents and students could also expect to learn about the Watauga Innovation Academy — Watauga County’s Schools innovative high school that allows students to earn college credit alongside their high school course work.

Information will also be provided on athletic eligibility and other extracurricular activities available to students.

After the assembly, families are invited to tour the high school and attend an academics fair where teachers from each department will be on hand to answer questions about their subject area.

For more information on Eighth-Grade Parents nights, call Watauga High School at (828) 264-2407 or speak to your child’s middle school counselor.

Watauga County Schools expands agriculture classes to middle school

Riley Ellison, Autumn Scott and Mark Spaulding work with their teacher Benjamin Brown to harvest dried green beans at the school’s vegetable patch.

At Mabel School, sixth-graders in Benjamin Brown’s agriculture class are stationed in the school’s vegetable patch. The field that plays host to the small garden shares duty as a playground for Mabel’s younger students, but the sprinting group of seven-year-olds in the distance are no distraction to Brown’s middle-schoolers, who are hard at work harvesting dried green beans to be replanted in the Spring.

The students are among the first groups at Mabel and Cove Creek schools to take advantage of agriculture classes at the middle school level, which until this school year, were only available at Watauga High School.

While WHS has a long tradition of strong agricultural education and one of the most successful FFA programs in the state, it’s Brown’s hope that by expanding the program to students in middle school, Watauga County Schools can improve ag education across the district and further connect younger students to their world.

“We have become so distant from the sources of our food — most people have little to no experience with the food growing process,” Brown said. “Our ag education program is focused on educating students on where their food comes from and the hard work and effort that is put into producing the food most people just buy at the grocery store.”

Brown said while it was important to expand his student’s understanding of the complex processes that bring food to our tables and to give them hands on experience in the field, each of his students seemed to connect with different aspects of ag education according to their interests.

“My sixth grade students are connecting the most with the plant science topics,” Brown said. “Every time I bring up gardening they are eager to share their own experiences and learn more about good gardening practices. My seventh-graders are starting to understand and become engaged with the reasons we need to preserve our land and resources to ensure a healthier earth. Currently, they are connecting with those ideas on a global scale looking at the amount of land, water and food imports and exports for different countries all across the world.”

Brown said his ag classes offer today’s middle-schoolers a much broader and more technologically connected focus than similar studies might have in the past.

“Most people assume agriculture education is the same as it was 20 years ago, and while in some ways that is true, so much has changed,” Brown said. “Agriculture is a viable field for everyone who is interested and everyone can have an important role to play in the field, no matter their interests.”

Mabel sixth-grader Channing Jeffers presents his plans to effectively raise green beans to his class.

Brown said Ag classes weren’t limited to students interested in farming — the field had expanded to touch almost every aspect of modern life.

“Agriculture as a whole is an exponentially growing field, so the secondary education opportunities are increasing. Students interested in agriculture can do anything from welding to advanced biochemical research — the opportunities are endless. These classes give students hands-on Ag skills they can use to improve their lives, whether they take them for fun or they want to feed their families.”

Currently, Watauga County Schools offers ag classes at the middle school level at Cove Creek and Mabel School, but Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott said the system hoped to expand the program in the future.

“We are very pleased with the reception our new agriculture classes have gotten at the middle school level,” Elliott said. “As a district we are committed to sustainability and environmental education on several fronts, so we were proud to be able to bring these programs to our middle school students.”

Watauga High School Announces Fall Pacer Clinic

For all students in grades K-8 (September 24th – 26th)

Performance: September 27th at the WHS Football Game vs. South Caldwell

Click HERE to register for the Fall Clinic

Watauga High School to issue hotspots to students with no home internet access

Access to reliable high speed internet at home is something many people take for granted across the country, but Watauga County, like many rural communities, is home to some areas where broadband internet is not readily available.

Watauga High School Senior Bailey Whitehead-Price and Junior Aaron Mutio work on their school chromebooks during an art class.

Watauga County Schools — which provides computers to every student in eighth through twelfth grade to take home — recently received a grant from the 1Million Project that hopes to address internet access issues for Watauga High School students at home.

The 1Million Project grant will issue WCS students without home internet access with a wireless cellular hotspot that allows for a high speed internet connection from any location free of charge.

Providing internet coverage all hours of the day, the devices operate on cellular network technology that may cover areas across the county that hard-wired networks haven’t yet reached.

WHS Students were polled about their level of internet access at the start of the school year as their computers were issued. More than 100 high schoolers indicated they did not have broadband access in their home.

Watuaga County Schools Technology Director Nancy Zeiss, who led the effort to bring the 1Million Project grant to the system, said ensuring student’s access to high speed internet was vital to a modern education.

“It’s increasingly important that our students are able to reliably access the internet from home,” Zeiss said. “Through their own self-reporting and conversations with teachers and counselors, we hope to get these devices in the hands of students who need them most. I think it will have a tremendous impact for those students who have struggled to access online school work from home in the past.”

Watauga High School is set to hold an information session for families who indicated interest in receiving a hotspot at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 27 in the WHS auditorium. The meeting will provide an overview of the program and allow interested students to sign up for a device.

Zeiss said she hoped to have the devices in student hands in early September.

For more information, call the Watauga High School help desk at (828) 264-2407, Ext. 12209.