As you know, Shelby County Schools recently began the school year. Unlike any year before, this school year’s start is virtual. That means that all of us should think deeply about what we can do to support the thousands of virtual learners in our community and the families that are navigating this very new normal. Just this week, I was proud to join Commission Chairman Eddie Jones and Commissioner Tami Sawyer to present a $750,000 check to Shelby County Schools to go towards purchasing headsets and other digital devices for students to use while learning from home.
Shelby County will continue to do its part and in fact Shelby County Government has opened the doors on its own virtual learning academies. Our two virtual learning academies support Shelby County employees who must report to work while their children are in school. We will be able to support nearly 40 elementary school students at our two locations—downtown at 160 N. Main and our East Campus, near Mullins Station.
We are working hard to ensure that our learning academies help students and families. We are also hopeful that the Shelby County Government’s learning academies will serve as a model classroom of some of the best practices for how to design and build a classroom that keeps children safe.
Mayor Harris and Chief of Staff Danielle Inez tour Shelby County Government Virtual Learning Academy while under construction.
In our academies, every desk is 6 feet apart, which helps reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Parents can view their children through a glass wall, but cannot enter the space in order to reduce traffic in and out of the classroom. Every student must arrive each day wearing their mask, which they will use whenever they leave their work space. In their work space, each student has a personal desk enclosed on all sides by sneeze guards. Their desk serves as their home base – complete with a personal storage bin, individual hand sanitizer, individual classroom supplies, and extra disposable masks in case their personal mask is soiled over the course of the school day. Each classroom is equipped with at least one experienced teacher and two additional classroom assistants to support the students through their individual learning on their personal tablet.
The learning academies will be the backdrop for a constant conversation with our public health and medical professionals about how to reduce spread among our community’s children. The learning academies will be the backdrop for our own health department to expand and deepen its emerging specialty in protecting kids and public health pediatrics.
Additionally, as I talk about virtual learning supports that have kicked into high gear recently, let me also shout out the YMCA. The YMCA has partnered with dozens of businesses, community centers, and libraries to stand up virtual learning sites in every corner of Shelby County. We have partnered with them throughout this process and have recently set aside $1 million to support their virtual learning centers for families across our county that need child care while they go to work.
The “Y” also supports the food distribution program for Shelby County Schools to ensure that no child is left hungry during this time. When it comes to our families, the YMCA has demonstrated itself to be a true partner in assessing and addressing the needs of community. To their Chief Operating Officer Brian McLaughlin, and the hundreds of YMCA staff members on the front lines, thank you for answering the call to serve.
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