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LESSONS LEARNED | Eustace ISD educating through a pandemic

Over the next few weeks, the Morning Loop's Dana Hughey reflects on local school's biggest Lessons Learned from 2020 while educating through a pandemic.

Schools across East Texas are just weeks away from wrapping up a fall semester that students, teachers and school leaders have never experienced before.

There's so much to reflect upon in education as we move toward 2021. At Eustace ISD, students just returned to campus after an extended Thanksgiving break due to COVID.

"It's been challenging," said Dr. Coy Holcombe, Eustace ISD Superintendent. "It's been exceedingly frustrating sometimes for, I know for our staff, our students and our parents. I know it has, but all together, we have really worked together and, you know, I just really appreciate everybody's input cooperation and teamwork on this."

We have all heard it takes a village to raise a child. Never before has that seemed more true. Parents are depending on districts to get students caught up from the COVID slide last spring...

"In March, we all of this first started happening I learned that our staff can adapt to a new type of learning very quickly and that they were not afraid to do that at all and they jumped right in and they did a remarkable job with that," said Dr. Holcombe.

 At times during the year, teachers have also had to depend on students and parents to keep up with virtual lesson plans. 

"I learned that our community also can adapt very quickly and you know, it really helped bring the school and community together a little bit and working, for not only the education, but you know providing food to everyone and making sure their needs were met," explained Dr. Holcombe.

At all times, everyone depending on each other to try and stay healthy during the pandemic.

"It used to be that, you know, we would say we were going to close and do some deep cleaning for flu or whatnot," said Dr. Holcombe. "Now, we're doing that deep cleaning every day and we're spraying every day. That's one of the big things that we've tried to do this year."

Dr. Holcombe says they haven't had issues getting students to wear masks or had huge outbreaks, but they're not immune to COVID and quarantines.

"Unfortunately at lunchtime, or whatever, they can't wear their masks and so we've found, we've had to quarantine students because they were around an exposed case at lunchtime," said Dr. Holcombe. "So, it's even if you're doing everything right, there's still some places that you just can't cover everything."

Another lesson learned that they've tried to address, but runs deeper than just buying laptops and hot spots for children, is the digital divide in East Texas.

"We're a fairly rural district, and outside of the Eustace city limits, there is not a lot of internet service, reliable internet service," explained Dr. Holcombe. "It's just we're not in a good place for a good internet signal and so that, in and of itself was one of our biggest challenges, making sure that somehow someway even the students that didn't have internet service, got their lessons."

But possibly the biggest lesson learned, not just in Eustace, but for so many schools, is just how important embracing technology is to reach students.

"We've got a bunch of teachers now that they're not afraid to try new things and they're not afraid to venture out into use the technology that they have available to them to enhance their lessons in the classroom," said Dr. Holcombe.

Dr. Holcombe says it's a teaching tool that won't be going away when the pandemic does.

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