By Jill Penley
One size does not fit all. Such has become more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic than perhaps ever before. Information, services, and resources have increasingly moved online in the past few years, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused the process to become the norm. Soon after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency on March 12, Johnson County Schools responded by announcing the closure of schools on March 17, which was supposed to be temporary.
“After seeing the new guidance from the CDC regarding limiting events to 50 people or less plus knowing the Governor was going to recommend schools, we felt like it was the best and safest position to have for our students and staff,” said Dr. Mischelle Simcox, Director of Schools, at the time.
The “temporary” closure ultimately encompassed the remainder of the school year. There were no confirmed cases of the virus in Johnson County at that time. Tennessee had confirmed 52 cases of COVID-19 out of its population of 6 million people. Those cases were in ten of the state’s 95 counties, with the vast majority in Nashville and neighboring Williamson County.
The only confirmed case in East Tennessee, when the governor urged every school district in Tennessee “to close as soon as practically possible” to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, was in Sullivan County. The hope among administrators, educators, and parents was when fall arrived, and it was time for school to resume, the pandemic would be in the past. It turns out that was wishful thinking.
On August 1, Johnson County had 141 cases of COVID-19, and school officials across the state were faced with the difficult situation of having to prepare for several eventualities as the time drew near for schools to resume and the COVID-19 pandemic continued to infect residents.
Over the past month, schools across the United States have had to quickly shift to remote learning to adhere to state and federal recommendations regarding social distancing and community spread to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Despite the many tools at teachers’ disposal, many of their students cannot connect due to a lack of computers, stable internet connections, or support at home to keep them focused on schoolwork. And even when they are able to log on, students still struggle in a variety of ways to follow along in their new learning environment — something teachers are finding that no amount of apps can help them resolve.
The community immediately offered support to students, parents, and educators, and at least one local church stepped up in a really big way. First Christian Church in Mountain City not only offered their Christian Life Center to those in need of fast internet, but they also provide tutoring.
There are tables set up throughout the building to allow for social distancing, and they disinfect and thoroughly clean each surface daily to ensure the health and safety of each individual who enters the building.
“We are a church that’s for our community first and foremost,” said Associate Pastor of First Christian Church, Andrew Norman. “We are a church that wants to serve Mountain City and Johnson County, and that doesn’t mean just serving the people who we see on Sunday mornings.”