Autumn is such a calm season.
The leaves turn beautiful hues of yellow, orange and red and remind us of Mother Nature’s powerful influence.
Prior to the pandemic, students were starting over with new classes, new teachers and many new friends. Families bonded together in front of cozy fireplaces, wearing warm clothes and enjoying seasonal dishes; and let’s not forget sports and attending sporting events outside in the crisp autumn breeze with friends and family. What I have learned for sure is the autumn season provides hope and excitement to begin anew as cooler winds provide relief from intense heat waves.
The Halifax County School District has experienced intense heat waves during our COVID-19 journey which began eight months ago. We closed schools, businesses and churches and challenged district administration to provide instruction in the face of significant barriers.
We quickly provided more than 2,100 Chromebooks to 100% of our student body. Today, many of the Chromebooks have been broken, however our proactive stance by insuring them has saved our parents $16,000 in replacement costs. We also provided laptops to every teacher along with a state-of-the-art interactive board and asked that they teach remotely from their classrooms.
We created process maps to explain how we were going to deal with positive COVID-19 cases, delivery of meals, and instruction implementation. We leveraged our partnerships to map locations in our communities that offer free internet and connected families with companies that offered low cost internet.
Internet access is a challenge not only in Halifax but across rural school districts in America. HCS prides itself as being a resilient community where we strive to educate our students to be successful global citizens.
When COVID-19 hit, we pivoted to view our challenges as opportunities. The gaps in access to the internet and instruction only provided us with another opportunity to leverage our partnerships to reimagine Halifax County Schools.
We started with our Park & Learn sites — Everetts/William R. Davie, Inborden/Enfield Middle, Hollister, Pittman and Scotland Neck. Internet wireless access points were installed outside of each building to provide free access to the internet. In addition, we provided hotspots to students who do not have reliable internet access at home.
In communities where internet access is unavailable, HCS deployed four bus WiFi Rangers. We are currently working with the NC Student Connectivity initiative and have requested an additional 500 hotspots through this grant funding program. Thanks to the NC Business Committee for Education and Gov. Roy Cooper’s Hometown Strong initiative for partnering with MCNC to provide community hotspots to fill the gaps and help get more students connected to the internet.
This is called the NC Student Connect initiative. We will be receiving six hotspots and subscription costs for one full year at no charge to Halifax County Schools. These devices will be placed in communities where high speed fiber is not available to the residents. These areas are Northwest, Southeast, Littleton and Enfield.
The Halifax County School District has experienced an abundance of change since the pandemic. I applaud students, teachers, staff and the community for adapting to unforeseen challenges.
Autumn 2020 brings a welcomed change as animals prepare for the winter by storing food, farmers gather their harvest and we retreat inside to continue to plan and create a safe and nurturing environment for our students in the days and months ahead. I believe that autumn offers us a reminder to reconnect and strive for greater initiatives and opportunities for our greatest treasure: the students of Halifax County Schools. I love autumn!
Eric Cunningham is the superintendent of Halifax County Schools.