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Unusual school year coming to an end in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The graduates who make up the Pocahontas County High School Class of 2020 will be getting deliveries on Wednesday.

School officials in a decorated school bus were scheduled to leave the high school at 7 a.m. with a load of diplomas, awards and celebratory yard signs for all 70 graduates.

“We’ve got the routes figured out,” said Superintendent Terrence Beam who will be on the bus with Pocahontas County Board of Education President Joe Walker, Pocahontas County High Principal Joseph Riley and others.

“It’ll take us all day (to get to all of the graduates) and some of these kids have already gotten jobs, like at Watoga State Park, so we’re going to be delivering their diplomas and their awards to their workplace, but it’s just kind of what we have to do right now.”

For all students in Pocahontas County, the end of this most unusual school year comes on Friday.

It’ll mark the close of months of off-site instruction in the coronavirus pandemic that have been hampered by broadband limitations in Pocahontas County, including in the quiet zone near the Green Bank Observatory.

Reliable internet access has also been an issue in Wetzel County where hotspots have been set up at school sites.

The final day for instruction for Wetzel County students is on June 4.

As of now, students are scheduled to return to classrooms in Wetzel County on Aug. 27.

“I don’t know,” said Superintendent Ed Toman when asked on May 19 what that in-person instruction could look like under the ongoing coronavirus threat.

“I don’t know whether we’ll be phasing things in or if we’re going to do a couple of days in and the rest remotely. I’m so unsure on that.”

Across West Virginia, the last time students were in school was on March 13, bringing high school careers for seniors to an abrupt end.

For those in Wetzel County’s Class of 2020, “The kids have been incredible,” said Toman. “I just feel for them and what they had to miss with all their experiences as a senior.”

Graduation ceremonies have been pushed back in Wetzel County to July 24 for Valley High, July 25 for Hundred High, July 30 for Magnolia High and July 31 for Paden City High.

Details for the ceremonies were still to be determined based on crowd restrictions in place at the time.

On June 20, an in-person graduation ceremony was planned for Pocahontas County High’s Class of 2020.

Three options for the ceremony were being considered there, including a possible outdoor ceremony on the football field, but those plans had also not been finalized as of Tuesday.

“This was such a wonderful class of students,” said Beam.

The new school year was scheduled to begin for students in Pocahontas County on Aug. 17 and, Beam said, the plan was to resume in-person classes then.

“We’re planning, but we’re also beginning preliminary conversations about how we bring this back gradually if we have to,” he said.

“Some of these students are going to be out of school now for six months and some of them couldn’t afford to be out of school six months. Some of these kids were struggling anyway.”

He said online lessons and packet instruction have limitations.

“When they miss this much dedicated instruction, day-to-day and face-to-face, it’s going to take a toll and so we’re going to have to be patient with them and work extremely hard to try to make things better,” Beam told MetroNews.

“If anything, it’s taught us that we need to be better prepared in the future for situations like this.”

In Wetzel County, Toman said he and his faculty and staff members have been missing the students.

“We’re in this business for kids and not being around them is difficult,” he said.

“You can Zoom, you can do the Teams, you can do all the social media contacts, but not being around them, that’s the thing that hurts.”

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