COVID-19 One Year Later: Local school districts adapt to the pandemic

Local News

WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — School districts have expereinced the unique situation of trying to stay as normal as possible when it comes to instruction during an unforeseen pandemic.

As students across Texoma enjoy spring break this year, it’s hard not to reflect on what spring break looked like just a year ago.

Jared Smith, an 8th grade english teacher at City View Junior High School, remembers it like it was yesterday.

“It comes up time for spring break. It’s like alright we get our rest, and what’s all this they’re talking about on the news?” Smith said. “I mean people are blowing this out of proportion, we have no idea what’s coming for us…. What little we knew.”

Mike Rucker, president of the Wichita Falls Independent School District School Board, echoed Smith’s sentiments, noting how this pandemic is unlike anything he’s seen in his lifetime.

“When I was a kid, the worst thing I could think of was getting chickenpox,” Rucker said. “That’s nothing compared to what these kids went through this year.”

School wouldn’t return to what we knew as normal after that break.

Most did not return to business-as-usual; end of the year parties, sports seasons, graduations — all canceled or modified significantly.

But COVID-19 stuck around through the heat of summer and the new school year was fast approaching, so WFISD Superintendent Michael Kuhrt got to work with the school board and others from around the community, looking for options.

“We were going to have to have school every other day for students,” Kuhrt said. “Group kids according to co-hort, and you only are exposed to those kids that are apart of your cohort group.”

All while monitoring the day-to-day changes from the CDC and TEA on what it would look like.

“Luckily as we continued to just be patient and flexible and watch that progress, we really didn’t have to do that,” Kuhrt said.

Both WFISD and City View ISD stayed in school, not missing a day of classes due to the pandemic.

But, in his first year of teaching, Smith said it was like being thrown down a river without a paddle.

“It was just a mad scramble for where do I fit? Where do I go?” Smith said.

Smith was on spring break while student teaching in Azle at this time last year.

Then, the pandemic hit and Smith found a home at City View, his first year of teaching full of jugs of hand sanitizer and face masks.

“That sense of mystery, that sense of confusion, that sense of ‘well this has never happened before,” Smith said. “I don’t know if anyone is equipped for it.”

But it gave Smith an opportunity to turn it into a learning experience, looping it into the requirement to teach informational and argumentative texts.

“It has actually lead to some fairly interesting lesson plans, being able to bring in how a mask works, what the virus is,” Smith said.

After it all, Smith may not look back on his first year teaching in one of the worst years to date the way one might expect.

“I’ve been saying this for a while, i think this is the best and worst possbile year to be a first year teacher,” Smith said. “Because after this… Bring it on!”

It may be a different school district, but Kuhrt said he found the same resilience in his staff at WFISD>

“They came to work every day, and did a great job,” Kuhrt said. “They care about kids, they still made it fun, they still made it personal, they still developed relationships with students, even if it was behind a mask.”

And one of those employees at work every day, WFISD Communications Officer Ashley Thomas, said her job was transformed, just like many other jobs were.

“Having had this experience has allowed I think everybody here that we can still do our job,” Thomas said. “But it might just look a little different than it used to.”

Through the worst of times, Kuhrt and Thomas both credit the community for sticking together and protecting each other.

“This isn’t the time to stop doing those things, because it is still a serious situation for those families that are struggling with loss,” Thomas said.

As they watched what everyone once knew as normal change.

“A place where it’s necessarily not okay to be okay,” Smith said. “Because every generation has survived some kind of world-changing event, and this just happens to be theirs.”

“And she goes ‘I just wish I could see somebody smile’,” Rucker said. “And I get that, and it’ll happen one of these days.”

Hopefully, one day soon, as schools inch back towards a sense of normalcy — and this generation takes on the world… Post-pandemic.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing how these students, who i’ve had the smallest hand in helping through, change the world after this because if they can get through this,” Smith said. “Nothing is stopping them… Just nothing.”

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