Orientation for Knox County students: New year, new school, new protocols

Education

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The first day of school for Knox County students is just around the corner, and Knox County Schools high and middle schools hosted orientation so the transitioning freshman and sixth graders get a feel for their new campus.

Halls High incoming freshmen were welcomed with a pep rally. Cheerleaders and members of the marching band cheered and played fight songs to pump up the ninth graders. During the pep rally, the freshman heard from their ninth-grade principal, the head principal, and their guidance counselor. Head Principal Spencer Long said freshman orientation was important for the new students, especially with the kind of year they had last year.

“Get a tour of the building and get a preview at their schedules and find out who their homeroom teacher is before the chaos of the official start of the school year, which is Monday,” Long said. Some ninth-graders appreciate the chance to get accustomed to the new school.

“I think I’ll be more prepared because we’re about to take a tour, so I’ll know where all my classes are,” Sophia Elkins said.

Long said he’s talked with his teachers about how important it is to pick things back up this year and get the students caught back up. He said with the virtual learning and social distancing, there was an epidemic of disengagement for students, so teachers are going to work to inspire students and get them engaged again.

“We anticipate that there’s going to be a learning gap to overcome this year. Teachers are aware of that and we’ve structured our master schedule this year to account for those students who need that remediation and need that opportunity to catch back up to their peers,” Long said.

He said students can expect this year to be different than last for a few reasons. One, they won’t have a mask mandate in place.

“Students are still allowed to wear masks and on day one when we have students here, we’re going to tell them that they have that opportunity if they like to and that those who choose not to should not ridicule those that do wear masks,” Long said.

Elkins was excited about that new aspect of school for the 2021-2022 year. “I’m really happy. I’m glad we’re not wearing masks. That’s fun because we get to see our teachers and our friends’ faces,” Elkins said.

Long said students can also expect some extra peers in their classrooms this year since a quarter of their classmates won’t be online. “We’ve already started anticipating that our classrooms are going to need more desks in them this year. Um, because, whereas we had 900 at any given day in our building last year, we’re going to open our doors to more like 1,300 this year,” Long said.

Long was also excited to offer some new classes and extracurricular activities this year, like driver’s education and a break dancing club hosted by a new teacher. He told the freshman students extracurricular activities were the best way to really enjoy high school.

“You can come to school and do the minimum, which is attended class and pass classes and that kind of thing. But, to really get the most out of your high school experience, you’ve got to invest in extracurricular activities, whether it’s fine arts, music, sports. Any of those things. That’s what makes the experience of high school meaningful,” Long said.

Besides more tailored classes of her choosing, extracurricular fun was one thing freshman Bailey Roberts was ready for. “Definitely looking forward to sports. I love sports and like, the football games and everything like that,” Roberts said.

Long said there were some aspects of last year his schools will keep because they learned they were beneficial. “Like our common circle area is still going to be directional, we’re still gonna have you know, hygiene signage and stuff like that in the restrooms and in some of the common areas,” Long said.

Although one more teaching assistant needs to be hired, as well as another teacher and the main office is still under renovation, Long said they are ready for the new year. “Teachers have been here all week, and now that students are finally here that excitement is here. So, we’re happy to finally see them,” Long said.

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