The Transylvania Times -

Reopening Risks, Rewards

 

Last updated 8/12/2020 at 4:20pm



On Monday, Transylvania County Schools and Brevard College will hold their first in-person classes since school buildings closed last March. The reopenings involve risk but also rewards.

Both entities, as well as Brevard Academy, which opened yesterday, are to be commended for their collaboration with Transylvania Public Health in implementing protocols to protect students, teachers, staff, volunteers, visitors and the community at large. They have all spent an inordinate amount of time trying to make their reopenings as safe as possible.

The risks for Transylvania County Schools appear to be fewer than those for Brevard College. For one, the younger children are, the less likely they seem to contract COVID-19. As Elaine Russell of Transylvania Public Health reported Monday evening, there have been only three local cases of COVID-19 in children ages 5-10 and just four cases in children ages 11-13. As a general rule, with COVID-19, the number and severity of cases appears to increase with age.

As a result, the greatest danger of reopening the local schools and college is to the adults who work daily with these students. Even though both entities are going to take students’ temperatures daily, many young people are asymptomatic and may not have high temperatures.

Two steps taken by the local schools should reduce the chance of teachers contracting the virus. Since roughly 30 percent of the students have opted to learn from home, teachers will come into direct contact with 30 percent fewer students. By going with an A/B schedule, the number of students coming to school on any given day has been reduced by half, making it easier for students to social distance.

At the college, only 10-15 percent of classes will be online, so most teachers will have direct contact with all of their students. The benefit for college professors, however, is that they typically spend just an hour or two with each class and maintaining social distancing in the classroom should not be difficult.

The biggest difference between the two entities is what will happen after school. Many parents, particularly those who have elementary age children, will monitor their children’s activities to keep them safe.

College students, on the other hand, have little to no adult supervision when they are not in the classroom or playing field. That is one of the educational components of being in college, to learn to be independent and be responsible for one’s actions. Oftentimes those lessons are learned by making mistakes.

Another significant difference is that roughly half of Brevard College’s students come from outside the region. According to Russell, the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in July was the result of visitors coming into the county with the disease and local residents traveling outside the county and returning with it. With so many students coming from outside this region, it’s likely some of them may be asymptomatic carriers of the disease.

While Brevard College appears to face greater risks in reopening, like many private colleges, it did not have much choice. They do not have state funds to rely upon. Since private colleges typically cost more than public universities, students and parents expect the private school education to be worth the cost. If one college doesn’t offer what they want, they will find another one that does. Brevard College focuses on experiential education, learning by doing. The college’s Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education program, in which students go into the wilderness for days and weeks at time, can’t be done online.

The benefits and rewards of students being in a classroom have become more apparent since closed schools down in March. Students learn better when they are in small classrooms with supportive instructors. They need the opportunity to socialize with their peers. The schools and colleges provide emotional and psychological support, as well as a venue for physical activity. The benefits of students being in the classroom are multiple and profound.

Since our schools and the college are part of our community, our well-being and their well-being are inextricably linked. If we, as a community, do our part to contain the coronavirus, then maybe the mitigation steps taken by our educational institutions will be able to prevent any large outbreaks that cause classes or schools to shut down. If that is the case, then there is a chance the rewards of reopening will outweigh the risks. For the sake of everyone, we hope they do.

 
 

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