Local charter school says students are flourishing in face-to-face learning without plexiglass barriers

Horry County charter school flourishes in face-to-face learning without plexiglass barriers

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - As Horry County Schools continue to install plexiglass barriers in its classrooms, one local charter is taking a different approach to keep students safe during face-to-face learning.

On Monday night, HCS announced they hope to have plexiglass installations completed inside all middle and high schools by March 15. This is one of the final steps before those students enrolled in the brick and mortar program return to the school grounds for five days of face-to-face instruction.

The Palmetto Academy for Learning Motorsports in Horry County has been utilizing a very similar reopening plan compared to HCS, which allows students to enroll in a traditional learning program or participate in a virtual environment at home.

The charter students participating in face-to-face instruction come to the school grounds four days a week and do one day of virtual learning at home.

PALM Charter High School principal Avery Moore says the school created a realistic reopening plan based on safety measures that could keep kids in the classroom. He says the plan was focused on three criteria:

  • Keeping morale up for staff and students
  • Safety during a pandemic
  • Student engagement

Because it’s a vocational high school that utilizes lots of hands-on learning, Moore said plexiglass was not the best option for its students.

“We don’t have a large amount of money to go out and buy plexiglass, but luckily we were able to take advantage of our small setting,” Moore said. “I will say, it looks odd in the classroom to have every single desk with large amounts of plexiglass in there. I don’t know how some of the students are going to listen with so much glass between the front of the room to the back of the room.”

Instead, Moore says staff members are following a structured, daily routine of safety protocols to ensure face-to-face learning can take place safely, while allowing students to achieve academic success.

All students are required to get a temperature check before walking through the doors. They also must wear a mask and maintain a healthy distance from one another.

The only time students would not be wearing a mask is when they’re in this space. And of course, that’s when students are spaced out eating lunch.

Diane Bauer is mathematics teacher and graduation coach at PALM Charter High School. Sanitizing calculators and keeping students spaced apart in the classroom is part of her daily norm.

She says the school’s safety plan is what’s helping students flourish during the pandemic, as they’re able to keep their minds on learning.

“I didn’t have anyone who failed the face-to-face [program] last semester,” Bauer said. “They’re in the classroom and we did different things to keep them safe.”

There are about 200 students enrolled at PALM Charter High School. The majority of those students are participating in face-to-face instruction.

Moore says so far, they’ve had four confirmed COVID-19 cases total for students since the school year began in September. All four cases were staff members.

He says one of the biggest things that helps them stay ahead during the pandemic and contain any spread is effective communication with staff members. He says that response is based on South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control guidelines and communication between school staff and parents.

“As soon as there is the indication a student has been exposed, there’s communication with the parent,” Moore said. “Parents have been very good with communicating with our nurse. That really is a proactive approach to keeping everybody safe, if you’re able to keep that two-way communication between us and the parents about possible exposure and all those types of things.”

He also says the smaller size of the school population contributes to their success of containing any potential virus threat.

“COVID has brought education to its knees,” Moore said. “If there is this type of scare in the future, mega-schools are going to have to shut down again whereas these smaller schools are really able to put a spin on it and take it and control it much easier than like a city of a school.”

“Hands on learning is what we’re all about at PALM and we couldn’t have that without face-to-face,” Bauer said.

Moore says anyone with questions about the school or how to enroll can contact him directly by calling the school at (843) 903-6600.

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