It’s back to school time for
Gaston County Schools
It’s back-to-school time in Gaston County! On Monday, August 23, approximately 29,000 students (pre-kindergarten through high school) and more than 1,900 teachers in Gaston County Schools returned to class at the district’s 56 schools to begin the 2021-2022 year.
Students, parents, and school employees are looking ahead to the new academic year with enthusiasm and optimism and hopes of experiencing a school routine that is as normal as possible while still navigating the effects of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. It is the goal of all teachers and school employees to see students grow and thrive this school year, according to Superintendent of Schools W. Jeffrey Booker.
Here is a look at some back-to-school information for students, parents, and employees.
Academic achievement is a priority
In an effort to mitigate learning loss as a result of the pandemic, schools will concentrate attention on helping students to build on what they learned last year. With a focus on small-group enrichment lessons and activities, teachers will be able to review materials and concepts in subjects like math and reading and personalize learning to address content areas where students need the most help. Schools also will offer various programs to support students socially, emotionally, and behaviorally.
Additional highlights include a new program for pre-kindergarten students that teaches them about social and behavior skills, students in the fifth grade will engage in career awareness opportunities through the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, and the district’s Composer program, which is designed for students who demonstrate qualities of being academically/intellectually gifted, expands to all Title I elementary schools.
COVID-19 protocols and procedures
On Monday, August 16, the Gaston County Board of Education voted to require face coverings/masks for people inside school buildings and central office buildings. The requirement is for students, employees, parents, and visitors while they are inside a Gaston County Schools facility regardless of vaccination status.
The requirement goes into effect immediately and continues through September 20 when the Board of Education meets again and plans to review the decision.
Factors that contributed to the decision include the high transmission rate of the COVID-19 Delta variant and the high COVID-19 positivity rate in Gaston County. Additionally, wearing face coverings/masks indoors is expected to reduce the number of students/employees who are required to quarantine when there is a confirmed case. Students/drivers are required to wear a face covering/mask while riding on a school bus or activity bus in accordance with federal requirements for public transportation.
When there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 among students and employees, Gaston County Schools will follow the quarantine procedures that are outlined in the “StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit” beginning on page 14. Parents and employees are encouraged to review the procedures so they are aware of what steps will be taken when quarantine becomes necessary.
Like last year, the district will post on its website a weekly count by school of the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases among students and employees, and schools will send a weekly e-mail to parents and employees to provide a summary of the number of confirmed cases. When there is the need for quarantining students, the school will contact the affected families to provide them with information/instructions. If the closure of a classroom or school becomes necessary, the school will provide information/instructions for parents and employees. When students are away from school because of quarantine, they will have coursework/assignments available in the Schoology or Canvas learning management system.
Schools will encourage social distancing when possible. Students will be reminded to wash their hands frequently, hand sanitizer will be available, and students/staff will be asked to follow one-way traffic flow in hallways where feasible. Upon arrival at school, students will report directly to class rather than congregating in a common area – this practice was in place last school year. Parents/students and employees are asked to conduct a COVID-19 symptom screening each morning at home before coming to school.
Field trips will not take place during the first nine weeks of school, and non-essential visitors will be limited in school buildings. Athletic events will be held as scheduled.
School schedule and bus transportation
Schools will operate five days a week using the start/end times that were implemented last year. Elementary schools will operate from 7:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Middle schools and high schools will operate from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. (Parents should check with their child’s school for the exact schedule as start/end times for some schools may vary by 5-10 minutes.)
With a “two-tier schedule,” bus drivers are able to run two routes (rather than just one) in the morning and in the afternoon – an elementary route first and then a middle school or a high school route. The process is intended to get students to school and back home in a timely manner and ensure that there are enough bus drivers.
Please note that students/drivers are required to wear a face covering/mask while riding on a school bus or activity bus per federal requirements for public transportation. Buses will be cleaned/disinfected after morning and afternoon routes. Every school bus has a four-camera system, which will aid in monitoring behavior and safety and COVID-19 contact tracing.
Parents will receive information from their child’s school about bus routes, pick-up and drop-off times, etc.
Continued focus on school safety
In addition to encouraging health and safety procedures related to COVID-19 (such as frequent handwashing, use of hand sanitizer, frequent cleaning/sanitizing, social distancing when possible, etc.), schools will follow its protocol to keep the school environment safe and secure for students and employees.
Schools will continue the practice of random metal detection screenings for students and staff. Additionally, metal detection screenings and bag checks will be in place for athletic events such as high school football games. It is recommended that spectators do not bring bags to athletic events – doing so slows down the entrance line because the bags need to be checked.
Schools also will conduct evacuation, lockdown, and tornado/severe weather drills periodically. The internal, two-way radio communication system used by schools is being upgraded with the replacement of analog “walkie talkies” with digital ones.
A new high school and a new middle school campus
For the first time, Gaston County Schools is welcoming students to the new Belmont Middle School campus and the Gaston Early College of Medical Sciences.
Belmont Middle is the newest school in Gaston County. It is located at 1020 South Point Road and is less than a half-mile away from South Point High School. It cost approximately $40 million to build the school, which replaces the historic school building on Central Avenue near downtown Belmont.
The Gaston Early College of Medical Sciences is located on the Gaston College campus in Dallas. The new high school is designed to develop a future workforce to meet the growing demand for healthcare professionals in Gaston County. Students have the opportunity to obtain a high school diploma and associate degree in preparation for a medical-related career.
The grand opening celebration for Belmont Middle School was held on August 15. An open house program for the Gaston Early College of Medical Sciences will be held in September.
It’s worth mentioning
Here are some additional items that are worth mentioning as students and teachers head back to school:
Students will receive breakfast and lunch meals free-of-charge. This is made possible again this year through the USDA’s National School Lunch Program. New menu items include chicken wings for middle schools and high schools and chicken drummies for elementary schools. Some schools have chosen to implement the “grab and go” breakfast option for students.
Students will be issued a Chromebook computer for use at school and at home. Providing a computing device for each student was done for the first time when the pandemic began to support remote/virtual learning.
Each school will be assigned a full-time nurse to provide additional health-related support and care for students. Previously, some nurses were assigned to two schools.
Motorists are reminded of heavy traffic near schools in the early morning and mid-afternoon hours. It is important for motorists to decrease speed in school zones, watch for pedestrians, and use caution when they see a school bus.
If parents have a question or concern, they are encouraged to contact their child’s teacher or the school principal to discuss the issue or schedule a meeting. Parents are reminded to make sure that their child’s school has up-to-date contact information (home address, telephone number, and e-mail address).