|It’s back to school time in Gaston County!
Students return to class on Wednesday, August 17 to begin a new yearIt’s back-to-school time in Gaston County! On Wednesday, August 17, approximately 30,000 students (pre-kindergarten through high school) and more than 1,900 teachers in Gaston County Schools will return to class at the district’s 56 schools to begin the 2022-2023 year.
Students, parents, and school employees are looking ahead to the new academic year with enthusiasm and optimism. It is the goal of all teachers and school employees to see students grow and thrive this school year, according to Superintendent of Schools W. Jeffrey Booker.
“We are very excited to welcome students back to school for the 2022-2023 academic year,” stated Booker, who is this year’s Southwest Region Superintendent of the Year. “Our teachers and school employees have been working diligently to prepare for the new year, which will bring many enriching and wonderful opportunities for our students. While we realize that COVID-19 is still a part of our day-to-day life, we are hopeful that this year will be as close to normal as possible. We also look forward to this year being a time when we can celebrate everything about our schools and take pride in all that our students and teachers will accomplish to make this year one of our best.”
Five Back-To-School Highlights
Here are five back-to-school highlights for students, parents, and school employees:
▪ The first day is Wednesday, August 17
The first day of school for students is Wednesday, August 17. In March, the Board of Education adopted the 2022-2023 school calendar with an earlier start date to allow students to complete mid-year exams prior to the winter break. The Board’s decision is in response to a school calendar survey that indicates approximately 70 percent of respondents (students, parents, employees, and others) favor a school calendar with the first semester ending in December and the second semester beginning in January. Additionally, an earlier start date is necessary to have a similar number of days in the semesters.
The August 17 start date also means students will get out of school earlier. The last day of school is Wednesday, May 24, 2023, and high school graduation day is Friday, May 26, 2023.
▪ School schedule and bus transportation
Schools will follow the start/end times that were in place last year. Elementary schools will operate from 7:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Middle schools and high schools will operate from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Parents should check with their child’s school for the exact schedule as start/end times for some schools may vary.
The start/end times coincide with the two-tier model used for bus transportation. The two-tier model makes it possible for bus drivers to complete two routes rather than just one in the morning and in the afternoon – a driver has an elementary route first and then a middle school or a high school route. The process is intended to get students to school and back home in a timely manner and ensure that there are enough bus drivers.
Parents will receive information from their child’s school about bus routes, pick-up and drop-off times, bus rules and expectations, etc. If a parent has a question or concern about bus transportation, the parent is encouraged to contact the school office and/or the principal.
Motorists are reminded about the possibility of heavy traffic near schools in the early morning and mid-afternoon hours. It is important for motorists to decrease speed in school zones, watch for pedestrians, and use caution when they see a school bus. Whenever a school bus is stopped (with stop sign extended and red lights flashing) to pick up or drop off students, motorists must stop for the bus – it is unlawful to pass a stopped school bus.
▪ Information about COVID-19
On June 24, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction sunset the “StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit,” which provided COVID-19 guidance for public schools. Now, schools are advised to reference the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Operational Guidance for K-12 Schools for information about how to lower the risk of COVID-19 in school settings.
In Gaston County, schools continue to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 while striving to operate normally. Schools will emphasize the importance of frequent handwashing or use of hand sanitizer, regular cleaning especially in classrooms and common areas, and continued use of air purification units. The wearing of a mask is optional; however, schools will have masks available for anyone wanting to wear one.
If a student or employee is sick (exhibiting symptoms of fever, vomiting, and/or diarrhea), the person is advised to stay at home and consult a healthcare professional. Traditionally, a student or employee who is sick may return to school/work 24 hours after he or she no longer exhibits symptoms of fever, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. If a person tests positive or shows symptoms related to COVID-19, it is recommended that the person isolate at home for five days. The person may return to school/work after five days and is advised to wear a mask for five days once returning to school/work. Anytime a student is away from school because of illness, the parent should send a note to the school so the absence can be recorded as excused.
▪ Continued focus on school safety
Providing a safe learning environment for students and employees remains a priority for Gaston County Schools. The school district is proud of its strong partnership with the Gaston County Police Department, the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office, and the city law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement in Gaston County has made a commitment to do everything possible to ensure that schools are secure and personnel are prepared should any type of emergency situation occur.
Each school follows its comprehensive safety plan; as part of the plan, schools conduct evacuation, lockdown, fire, and tornado/severe weather exercises periodically. All schools are assigned a police resource officer, which provides a direct link between the school and law enforcement.
Schools will continue the practice of random metal detection screenings for students and staff. Additionally, metal detection screenings and bag checks will be in place for athletic events and extracurricular activities such as high school football games. Spectators are discouraged from bringing bags to events – doing so slows down the entrance line because the bags have to be checked. It is important to remind the public that no weapons of any kind, including pocket knives, are allowed on school campuses, and the use of tobacco/vape products is prohibited.
▪ Breakfast and lunch prices are in effect
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government made breakfast and lunch meals available free-of-charge for all students during the past two school years. The free meals ended June 30, and Congress did not renew the program. Therefore, meal prices are in effect this year.
Breakfast is $1.40 for students (all grade levels) and $2.00 for adults. Lunch is $2.90 for students in grades K-5 and $3.00 for students in grades 6-12. The price for adults is $4.00. There is no charge for students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals (the 40 cents charge for reduced-price meals has been waived).
More information about school nutrition, including how parents can apply for free or reduced-price meals for their child, is available on the Gaston County Schools website. Click here for the link.
Five more topics that deserve attention
Here are five more topics that deserve attention as students and teachers head back to class:
▪ Summer learning opportunities for students
Learning did not stop over the summer just because students were out of school. Gaston County Schools hosted numerous enrichment camps and programs to support students and keep a focus on academics.
More than 2,000 students in elementary school participated in the literacy and Lego STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) camps. Middle school students attended the Accelerated Gaston program that provided lessons and activities related to English/language arts, science, math, and career exploration. Middle schoolers also had the opportunity to attend Camp Captivate that provided hands-on activities related to STEAM. At the high school level, students were involved in academic preparation camps that offered activities in reading, math, science, art, physical education, and Career and Technical Education (CTE) as well as SAT/ACT preparation camps.
Additionally, students with special needs (disabilities in the areas of vision, hearing, occupational therapy, and cognitive learning) participated in activities such as swimming, field trips, and working in the aquaponics/greenhouse program at Webb Street School. Students identified as academically and/or intellectually gifted participated in Lego STEAM and Gifted Mind camps that enhanced their creativity and problem-solving skills. Even students who have not been to school before got in on the summer camp action. More than 50 pre-kindergarten students attended the “Kindergarten, Here We Come!” program to help with the transition from pre-kindergarten to kindergarten.
▪ Teachers were learning this summer, too
Numerous professional development programs and opportunities were made available over the summer for teachers and other school employees. The training is designed to enhance an employee’s knowledge, skills, and expertise in a particular area or field so the teacher/employee can continue to provide a quality learning experience for students.
Elementary school principals and teachers started the state-mandated LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) training, which will be conducted over the next two years. At the middle school level, administrators, teachers, and central level staff attended the PLC Institute in Charlotte that highlighted the importance of planning, teamwork, collaboration, and data analysis through the professional learning community (PLC) concept. For high school teachers involved in the district’s ninth grade camp, they were able to participate in professional development in the areas of math and reading. School counselors and other student services personnel participated in professional development that focused on strategies to support students’ well-being and their emotional and mental health.
Additionally, Gaston County Schools conducted the annual Teaching and Learning Conference and Secretaries Conference to provide workshops and training, and the school district offered support for employees involved in two professional development programs that are a part of the Superintendent’s Leadership Academy: one program that prepares teacher assistants to become teachers and one program that prepares teachers to become school/central level administrators.
▪ New Chromebooks for student use
Each student is issued a Chromebook computer for use at school and at home. Providing a computing device for students was done for the first time when the COVID-19 pandemic began to support remote/virtual learning. This summer, more than 10,000 new Chromebooks were distributed to schools to replace outdated ones. Providing Chromebooks for students extends learning beyond the classroom and gives them access to academic/school resources anytime.
▪ School renovation and repair projects
Thanks to the school bonds that were approved in 2018, various repair and renovation projects have been completed or are in progress at schools across the county. The projects include roofing, lighting, flooring, life safety, HVAC, parking lot, and other upgrades. Additionally, plans are under way to build a new school to replace Grier Middle School in Gastonia. The groundbreaking ceremony is expected to take place next spring.
▪ Questions, concerns, and up-to-date information
If parents have a question or concern, they are encouraged to contact their child’s teacher or the school principal to discuss the issue or schedule a meeting. Parents are reminded to make sure that their child’s school has up-to-date contact information (home address, telephone number, e-mail address, etc.) on file. Parents should contact the school office to provide updates.
Gaston County Schools www.gaston.k12.nc.us (704) 866-6100