By Lyra Bordelon
The Greenbrier County Board of Education got bleak, but expected, feedback of the first full semester of mixed remote and in-person learning for the county’s middle and high schools on Thursday, February 25.
The Local School Improvement Council presentations showed a higher rate of class failure than in previous years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a mixed schedule. For example, 63 percent of all Greenbrier East High School freshmen are failing a class, with 87 students failing four classes.
Despite this, as each school’s principal noted, the county’s middle and high schools are returning to a five-day-a-week schedule beginning March 1, per guidance from the West Virginia Department of Education. This offers some light at the end of the tunnel for the worried educators.
“I’m very proud of what all of our schools have gone through in the last year,” said Board President Jeanie Wyatt. “We can see some failures going on, but hopefully with getting back we can take care of all of that and get our kids on the right track.”
Western Greenbrier Middle School, explained Principal Marsha Podfiadlik, has 217 in-person and 72 remote students. As this school year has gone on, and the school has dealt with several COVID-19 shut downs, students seem to be struggling.
“The trend was [that] the first nine weeks, they did really well with it,” said Podfiadlik. “The second nine weeks was when the inconsistency started. That’s when it started falling apart. … That was an overall trend for every content area.”
Podfiadlik explained that a common theme with in-person students is to have a majority either passing with flying colors or failing the class. For example, in sixth grade English grades, 41 percent of students have an A while 25 percent have an F. These rough numbers were consistent across grade levels.
“It’s not a matter if they didn’t understand it, they just simply did not turn it in,” Podfiadlik said. “They work the two days they’re in the building, we even took our time in flex to help students work on work they were missing, … in short of hitting that submit button for them, this was the result.”
However, in reaching out to parents of students with failing grades, many corrected quickly.
“The parents are like ‘I’m so sorry, I’ll take care of it,’ then that student does turn in work the next week,” Podfiadlik said. “There have been a lot of positives – just seeing the staff come together [has been encouraging].”
Similar to WGMS, Eastern Greenbrier Middle School [EGMS] had difficulties in the first half of the year.
“Our failure rate is high, more than normal,” said EGMS Principal Sue Lee. “We have contacted or attempted to contact every student, every remote student, that is failing a minimum of two classes, [both] parents and students, to work out ways to be successful. I’m looking forward to this time because this will be their time to shine and turn it around for the school year.”
Noting that the school had approximately 600 in-person students, [Sue] hoped the third nine weeks, with more attvacation, would help student outcomes.
“I think sometimes the students really thought it was a vacation,” Lee said. “We’re looking forward to our students being back.”
At Greenbrier West High School, Principal Amy Robertson explained the high schools faced an additional problem to the middle schools.
“I honestly think, unfortunately because of this pandemic, … school has been put on the backburner,” said Robertson. “Many of our older students have gotten jobs and so schoolwork is not important to them. I have told the staff this is going to be a monumental task to retrain their brains and not only get the students but the teachers to understand that education comes first.”
Although many students have failed classes in the first semester, GWHS offers credit recovery for a number of classes. A day was scheduled for counselors to meet with students and form a plan to graduate on time and sign up for these programs. Despite this, many of the students have not yet done so. This includes:
– 64 students needing to recover a math credit, with 44 signed up for credit recovery.
– 93 students needing to recover an English credit, with 44 signed up for credit recovery.
– 102 students needing to recover a Science credit, with 51 signed up for credit recovery.
The possibility of larger classes sizes is also a concern, with [Luin] explaining the school has three core teachers for each core subject. The number of students needing to take specific classes again could pack classrooms.
There are success stories, however – seven GWHS students currently qualify for the PROMISE Scholarship. In addition, the return to school has [Luin] hopeful.
“One of the things I’m most proud of with our students is that we are all aware of how difficult this year has been and I have been overwhelmingly thrilled to death with how our students have been so resilient,” Robertson said. “We have not had any issues with students not wearing their masks. They come to school, they want to be there. That has been very encouraging.”
For the Greenbrier East High Schools’s (GEHS) 330 remote and 368 in-person students, Principal Ben Routson explained “this presentation is definitely different than what we’ve had in the past. I come to you today very concerned about our students.”
– Of the 239 seniors, 45 have failed a class needed to graduate. About half of those with an F are remote learners. Many of these students are entering credit recovery programs offered by GEHS. In addition, 55 students applied for the PROMISE Scholarship, with 14 that are eligible at this time. Russo explained that students who are not eligible could qualify if they improve their test scores.
– In the junior class, 47 students have one F out of 226 total.
The numbers for sophomores and juniors look much bleaker:
– Of the 256 sophomores, 77 have multiple failing grades. Of these, 32 are remote learners.
– Approximately 63 percent of GEHS remote freshmen are failing a class, totaling 131 students, 47 of which are remote learners. In addition, 87 are failing “at least” four classes “currently,” 34 of which are remote learners.
The return to full-time in person classes offers some hope for improvement.
“I’ve been at Greenbrier East for a long time and it’s a great school. It has been since I arrived,” Routson said. “I just can’t say enough about the staff and the students.”
Routson also noted the school’s No Place for Hate pledge program, which has gathered over 800 signatures.
The presentations are expected to continue on March 4 with Greenbrier County Elementary Schools.