'I miss them:' Triangle teachers on starting a new school year virtually

Educators in the Wake County Public School System and Durham Public Schools are on campus this week, teaching virtually or preparing to start the new school year virtually Monday.

"This past week, we have focused a lot on technology training, making sure that teachers have all of the tools that they need to effectively teach our students when they start back up on Monday," said Kaitlin Page, teacher at Willow Springs Elementary School.

Page will be teaching fourth grade in the Wake County Public School System's Virtual Academy.

While educators understand the health and safety reasons behind virtual teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, they can't help but feel the emotions of not seeing their students in person.

"I miss them," teacher Melissa Leeds said. "I miss seeing their faces and I tell them that every day."

Leeds teaches at City of Medicine Academy, a science and health magnet school for high school students in Durham Public Schools. They started virtually last Friday.

Leeds said it is difficult to see all the empty chairs and know they're going to be empty for some time.

"I literally walked in this building today and it was just like, 'I really just want to see them,'" Leeds said. "I want to be able to hug them. I want to be able to tell them that the world's going to be OK one day."

Principal Dr. Jackie Tobias said she was in tears when she first went back into the building for the new school year.

"The quietness is deafening," Tobias said. "Just being in the building and it is so quiet. You walk upstairs. You hear nothing. You look in the classrooms. You see nothing. It is extremely heartbreaking. And while we're connecting with them because that is not lost, we still connect with them. A human touch, a human 'hello,' is a very important thing."

Dr. Tobias said educators have the option of teaching from home.

Carrie Briggs is a fifth-grade teacher at Stories Creek Elementary School in Roxboro. Person County Schools students will get in-person instruction two days a week, starting Monday.

"Of course, I have concerns," Briggs said. "I don't want anyone to get (COVID-19). But it's the reality right now. I don't feel like our school could be set up any safer. We've got social distancing, mask rules, hand-washing rules and the kids need to get back. So, I feel very safe. I feel like we're bringing them into a pretty safe environment."

Briggs said she is excited to be back on campus.

"I have missed being here," Briggs said. "I have missed being a teacher being with the students. That's what we do."

Wake County Public School System schools on modified calendars started virtually Thursday and those on traditional and year-round calendars start virtually Monday.

Page has this advice for parents:

"Try and simulate as much of a classroom environment as you can. That doesn't mean go out and buy a whole bunch of posters and everything like you see in a classroom but give them their own space and try (to) be as encouraging as you can."
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