Chatham County schools prioritizing health and safety during Plan B shift

Siler City, NC – In brand-new, crispy-white Nikes, a student stood on a floor marking at Virginia Cross Elementary School. Nikki Murchison, the school’s assistant principal, helped the kid understand that if he’s standing on a marking at the same time another student is on the next marking, then they’d find themselves properly distanced and doing their part to limit the spread of COVID-19.

photo courtesy of Chatham County Schools

“We’re trying to stay six feet apart,” Murchison explained to the young man. 

It wasn’t the first day of school. That was Aug. 17. 

This was Oct. 19, the first day of Plan B in Chatham County Schools. The Chatham County Board of Education voted to have some of the school system’s students return to campuses for in-person instruction two days a week mixed with two days of remote instruction. That’s for students in prekindergarten, kindergarten, first grade and second grade, as well as the district’s extended-content standards students.  

So instead of Day 1, it was more like Day 1.5.

Virginia Cross Elementary School student Camdyn Dark shows off his work in Jarrett Corden's kindergarten class.

“Excited to have kids in the building,” said Dr. Larry Savage, the principal at Chatham Grove Elementary School. 

While students across the district showed up in new sneakers and new dresses accented with “Frozen”-themed face coverings and all, Chatham Grove is a brand-new school. So Day 1.5 meant Savage finally was able to get some use out of those new desks, get his Gators outside to break in the new playgrounds.

Back at Virginia Cross, it seems to always come down to firsts for kindergarten teacher Jarrett Corder: A couple years ago was his first time running his own classroom. This school year is his first time running one during a pandemic. 

And Day 1.5 was the first time Corder saw his 2020-21 students in person. Everything was virtual prior to that. Yet the guy cleary is a pro when it comes to building relationships, online or otherwise. It’s the way his name comes out of the mouths of his kindergarteners with a certain familiarity, like when one asked if they were going outside. 

“We will do some play. It will look a little different,” Corder said. “We’re gonna play on the playground we saw this morning.”

Corder said his students looked different to him in person, seemed tiny. Virginia Cross educator Heidi Hayes said the same thing.

“They’re so small,” Hayes said.

If TV supposedly adds 10 pounds to folks, then kindergarteners apparently gain a few inches in Zoom rooms, which is fertile ground for the imagination. Yet Day 1.5 did allow a Chatham Grove student to confirm to his mom that the teacher actually does wear shoes. 

Hayes, who teaches English as a second language, has been an educator for two decades. The really neat thing about Day 1.5 was again occupying the same physical space with students, she said. The hard part was resisting the urge to hug them — social distancing, Hayes said. 

Corder was working in person with just a portion of his students on Day 1.5, a Monday. He’d get them Tuesday before sharing the classroom with a different set of students on Thursday and Friday. Corder grabbed his laptop and pulled up his Thursday-Friday cohort to give them a peek at what classroom life was like for the Monday-Tuesday crew.

When Corder’s Thursday-Friday students showed up, they would discover that the Monday-Tuesday creatives had taken the initiative to name the classroom sink, uh, Lion. 

“The sink is your friend,” said Corder, who did a masterful job demonstrating proper handwashing technique, explaining that all they need is two pumps of soap — not eight pumps, not 20, just two — to get their kindergarten hands COVID-19 clean.