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HUNT COLUMN: Waiting to exhale

By Cathy Hunt
Troup County School Board Chairwoman

If you were in tune with the universe last week, you might have heard an enormous cosmic sigh.

Was it the mighty wind of Pentecost? Was it the emergence of the Brood X cicadas? Was it the powerful gust that Mother Nature blew across Callaway Stadium in the middle of Troup High’s graduation ceremony?

Perhaps. But the sigh of which I speak was the collective exhalation of school personnel everywhere who have figuratively been holding their breath since August.

Last summer, we were in the grips of fear and uncertainty as we pondered what the 2020-2021 school year would look like. Decisions fraught with controversy had to be made and planned for. Some staff and parents were rightfully afraid of being exposed to Covid and wanted school to be all-virtual. Other parents begged us to open the schools because they needed to work or otherwise felt unequipped to guide their children’s learning at home.

Ultimately, we offered both options so families could choose what was best for them. Our teachers were brave and stepped up to do what was needed. We delayed school a week to train instructors on a new virtual platform and to make certain we were doing all we could to keep everyone safe and well in our buildings. The board decided to mandate masks, which made a lot of people happy (especially the teachers — we were asking much of them and it was the right thing to do) and others very unhappy. We wondered if mask enforcement would be problematic. But our students, even the littlest, have done a great job of complying.

I am amazed and thankful that we had no outbreaks of sickness so severe that we had to shut down the system. A school here and there closed for a day or two because of numerous cases among staff. Hundreds of adults and students had to deal with quarantines. Our Covid numbers were the worst after holidays when people gathered outside of school. I came to believe that going to school was much safer than being out and about in an unstructured way.

This was a tremendously stressful year for educators, and I can’t say enough about how proud I am of all who determinedly made it through. While numerous systems in our country stayed all virtual all year, Troup County “had school” from the beginning. The challenges could easily have been overwhelming, but we persevered. I can imagine that last week many people sighed, as I did, “We made it. The year like no other is over.”

However, the road to recovery runs on. Right now the system is taking a big breath to gear up for more intense, imaginative, and wide-ranging summer programs than we’ve ever had. More on that later. Excuse me while I go outside without my mask and inhale some sweet fresh air.