It Wasn’t Supposed To End This Way

The Corona Times – June 20, 2020

by Chris Hollifield
(originally submitted on June 15, 2020, his last day as a Mitchell County teacher)

I’ve put off writing this for months. Couldn’t bring myself to write it. So here goes.

I have taught school for 31 years – all at Harris Middle School. March 2020. There hadn’t much snow this winter, other than that things were relatively normal for that time of the school year. My students were working on their Mitchell County books that we were creating in collaboration with Penland School. Basketball tournaments were starting. Everyone was prepped for March Madness.  But back in January we began to hear about a virus on the never-ending daily news cycle, just something going on somewhere else in the world. By February the virus had reached the west coast of the United States and was beginning to spread. Everyone was beginning to talk about it – wondering when and if it would reach here. There was an alarm that everyone felt, I think, but didn’t want to believe this could be happening.

Then the shutdowns began – this was serious.  The eighth-grade trip to the Outer Banks, a ritual, a rite of passage for years was in the back of our minds as teachers. Nah, this couldn’t be happening. We can’t cancel that trip, too much preparation. The kids had asked for a couple of weeks – “will they cancel the trip”? I couldn’t bear to tell them I’m afraid they will.  I think it was the first week in March, the Mitchell County Board of Education met, and cancelled all Spring trips. (Although deep down we knew this was for the best.) That next morning, we gathered the students together, and I think they knew deep down, what this was going to be about. They cried – devastated. We were devastated. As teachers we knew for some kids this would be the trip of a lifetime. For some – the first time to see the ocean. Could we reschedule? Maybe things won’t be as bad as we had feared? No one knew.

I had been pondering retirement for about a year. I could go, I could draw full retirement, I was on year 31.  After much thought and prayer, I had decided to retire, the pandemic wasn’t the issue. It was just time. On March 5, I went to the board office to begin the process. The next week “COVID” rumors were rampant. North Carolina had an increasing number of cases. Decisions had to be made. Other than that it was kind of a normal week. We continued to work on our Mitchell County books, but thoughts of what could happen were always there. On Friday, March 13, speculations were coming true. We didn’t know if we would be back on Monday. Teachers sent what they could home, not knowing what we were going to be dealing with. The ACC Tournament had been cancelled that week. The end of the world might be here.

The last “socially distanced” faculty meeting of the 2020 school year on March 20, 2020.

The last “socially distanced” faculty meeting of the 2020 school year on March 20, 2020.

On Saturday, March 14, my phone rang and my wife said the governor was holding a news conference at 4:00PM. I knew something big was about to hit. The governor doesn’t have news conferences on Saturday afternoon. All North Carolina schools closed until at least the middle of April. Unbelievable. I listened. Stunned. The governor had made feeding the students and making sure their wellbeing came first. Education – in a new form, wasn’t the top priority. The next week, March 16-20, teachers had 5 work-days to come up with a “remote learning” plan. We were “one to one” (all kids have Mac books) this will be easy. NO – in hindsight – it wasn’t easy. We were to check on students daily and make sure they had food, and were doing ok, and if they had other needs. We did that daily and we taught as much as we could using the computers that we were fortunate to have. Our students are very knowledgeable about the programs that teachers use – that really wasn’t an issue. There were glitches. Some students didn’t have internet or poor signals. We dealt with those things. But it was so hard not to see them in person. I will never forget what Randy Buchanan, who was principal at that time, said about computers – which were in their infancy as far as their usefulness in the classroom 30 years ago; “You will never replace a teacher at the front of the classroom with a book, doesn’t matter if it’s a Sears and Roebuck Catalog.” I’ve thought about that a million times in the last 4 months. I don’t think anyone who’s not a teacher can truly understand this. To be honest, it was the worst thing I’ve had to do in 31 years. Deadlines came and went, but bottom line, we weren’t going back to school this year. That in-person connection couldn’t be bridged through an electronic device as hard as we tried.

Students and parents line up for the drive through part of graduation.

Students and parents line up for the drive through part of graduation.

Mrs. Sam Sirois speaks during the 8th grades award ceremony on Facebook Live on May 29, 2020

Mrs. Sam Sirois speaks during the 8th grades award ceremony on Facebook Live on May 29, 2020.

We got through it. And after an eternity it was May. It’s the end of the year, their eight grade year. Big awards, 8th grade graduation. Cancelled! What could we do? As many other districts did, we decided to do a Facebook Live Awards Ceremony and a “drive-through” graduation. We had a process. Six feet apart. Gloves. Certain timetable for arrival. No contact. Let them step out of car and pick up their awards and completion certificates, all nearly placed in Zip Lock bags. This is when it hit hard. We stood there and watched from a distance as almost 80 students showed up, dressed up at their appointed time. There were tears. They wanted to tell us goodbye. They wanted hugs. Some busted out in tears and barely managed to get out of their vehicles as we told them goodbye – one last time.

31 years. This class will always remain special because they were my last class, but it wasn’t supposed to end this way.

HMS students turn in their Mac books before receiving their awards and certificates on May 29, 2020.

HMS students turn in their Mac books before receiving their awards and certificates on May 29, 2020.

 

Students put together a Tik Tok video for their teachers at the end of the year.

We Want to Tell Your Story

If you have stories, images, or videos that you would like to include in The Corona Times, please e-mail mitchellnchistory@gmail.com with your stories and files for inclusion. If you have problems sending us videos, please e-mail and we will make arrangements for you to upload the video to us.

About the Numbers

You will note a series of numbers contained in the blog. They document the spread of virus through confirmed cases by the federal Centers for Disease Control and by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. These are the official totals provided by state and local government at the date of the post and do not include estimates or cases not confirmed by these agencies. This is our effort to provide an accurate gauge of confirmed virus spread as it continues during the pandemic.

51,389

Cases in North Carolina
6/20/20

1,212

Deaths in North Carolina
6/20/20

883

Current Hospitalizations
in North Carolina
6/20/20

5,606

Cases in Western North Carolina
6/20/20

25

Cases in Mitchell County
6/20/20

148

Deaths in
Western North Carolina
6/20/20

2,215,618

Cases in the United States
6/20/20

119,055

Deaths in the United States
6/20/20