By Stefanie Jackson – The Accomack school board voted 8-1 Tuesday night to make face masks optional for students on school buses, following new mask guidelines issued Feb. 25 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Superintendent Chris Holland noted that, according to Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) requirements, bus drivers and other school staff still must wear masks on buses and in school buildings.
However, the school division’s position on face masks for employees could change. DOLI posted a response on its frequently asked questions page March 2 stating that unless otherwise noted, employees do not need to wear masks if their COVID-19 community levels, as defined by the CDC, are low or medium.
As of Feb. 25, the COVID-19 community level for Accomack County was low, according to the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/covid-by-county.html
The school board’s decision to make masks optional for students on school buses occurred one week after Accomack schools implemented a measure making masks optional for students in school buildings.
Holland also reported that as of Feb. 15, Accomack schools had only nine students and two staff members who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Director of Secondary Education Karen Taylor discussed Accomack schools’ work with Eastern Shore Community College (ESCC) to implement two new programs, the Passport and the Uniform Certificate of General Studies, which are a 16-credit program and 32-credit program, respectively.
Starting with the 2022-2023 school year, any senior who graduates with 16 to 32 credits will receive one of the two certificates, and any dual-enrollment course (a class taken through the partnership of Accomack schools and ESCC) will be transferable to any public Virginia university or college.
As of the 2023-2024 school year, seniors will be able to graduate from high school and receive both a diploma and an associate degree.
Taylor reported that an EMT instructor is still needed to teach in Accomack County, preferably in a central location.
ESCC found an instructor who lives in Northampton County and can teach EMT courses at Northampton Middle School, but that would be “a long hike” for Chincoteague and Arcadia high school students, and the classes will be at night, Taylor noted.
The goal is to start the EMT program, which is in “high demand,” next school year, she said.
Taylor also discussed Junior Achievement, a nonprofit that teaches young people financial literacy, workforce readiness, and entrepreneurship. The organization has an Eastern Shore branch in Salisbury, Md.
Taylor said the Accomack school division has worked with Junior Achievement previously, but that partnership was interrupted due to COVID-19.
This year Accomack’s eighth graders – about 400 students – have the opportunity to participate in Junior Achievement’s Inspire Experience, which provides students hands-on activities associated with careers of interest to students, who get to try equipment or tools that would be used on the job.
For example, a student interested in nursing may take a blood pressure reading, or a student interested in welding can practice walking across a beam from one welding site to another.
Accomack’s day for eighth graders to participate in the career simulations, to be held at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, is Wednesday, March 30.
Assistant Superintendent Rhonda Hall presented the school board with a chart comparing Accomack students’ current grade levels with the last grades in which they experienced a “normal school year.” – before the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, third graders, who will take the cumulative Standards of Learning or SOL tests for the first time this year, haven’t had a normal school year since kindergarten, Hall said.
She wanted to show the school board “a visual of what challenges our teachers are dealing with.”
Hall also updated the school board on the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Students in third through fifth grade have completed a questionnaire that will help the bullying prevention team determine the percentage of students being bullied or bullying others and where bullying is happening. “That’s a big question,” she said.
Early Childhood Education Coordinator Belinda Rippon announced that Accomack elementary schools’ new science, technology, engineering, and math or STEM centers, made possible by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, will open within the next few weeks.
Teachers can sign up their classes to use the STEM centers, which also will be available after school.
Rippon said her department is considering adding STEM and computer lab time to the next school year’s weekly rotation of specials, which has previously included art, music, physical education, and the library.
Accomack County Public Schools has agreed to the request of the Virginia Space Flight Academy in Wallops Island to be included in a grant proposal the organization is writing.
The grant would allow 10 Accomack students in fifth through eighth grade to be enrolled in three STEM Academy modules on astronomy, aerospace, and coding and robotics.
The students also would take a field trip to meet STEM professionals during behind-the-scenes tours of the NASA Wallops Flight Facility and the Rocket Lab facility and do hands-on STEM activities at the NASA Visitors Center.
Five of the 10 students would be selected to receive a full scholarship to the academy’s Space Adventure Camp.
Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program data revealed that about 46% of Accomack kindergarteners are ready for kindergarten, compared to about 57% of kindergarteners statewide.
The kindergarten-readiness rates are based on assessments including the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screener or PALS and assessments in math, self-regulation, and social skills, Rippon said.
Accomack elementary schools started after-school programs in February, which target varying ranges of grade levels based on each school’s needs. The numbers of students participating are 12 at Chincoteague Elementary, 54 at Kegotank Elementary, 59 at Accawmacke Elementary, 80 at Pungoteague Elementary, and 124 at Metompkin Elementary.
Metompkin’s after-school program has attracted more students by including a wide variety of clubs for topics such as STEM, Lego robotics, and even Pokemon cards – which incorporates math and reading skills. There also are clubs for science, history, music, and manners and etiquette, Rippon said.