Sequoyah High School students started the semester with only the option of virtual learning, and now they have the choice of attending classes on campus once a week.

No students are living on campus, according to Corey Bunch, executive director of Cherokee Nation Education Services.

"Academic success is a high priority for us and it was always our goal to return to campus when we felt we could do so safely. Many of our students and teachers do better with the curriculum when they can work together in person," said Bunch.

With the new schedule, which started Oct. 19, freshmen are on site Mondays; sophomores on Tuesdays; juniors on Wednesdays; and seniors on Thursdays.

"Fridays are reserved for parents and others who need to meet with our faculty or staff. We are also offering all students the option to be fully virtual; otherwise, all students are virtual on their non-in-person days," said Bunch. "Any student who chooses to be virtual or who is recommended to quarantine has the same options. Every student and faculty member at Sequoyah Schools has been issued a laptop computer and a 'MiFi' box, if needed, to complete school work virtually. Whether in person or virtual, our teachers are still taking attendance and giving daily instruction."

The primary platform for delivery of online assignments and lessons is on Blackboard, which is what most students will use when they go to college, according to Bunch. And when students are learning in a virtual environment, they must find ways to be more motivated to complete their work.

"We want to do everything within our power to ensure students don't fall behind. Our teachers still meet frequently through online platforms with our students and are sending out daily lessons," he said. "If we have a student who is struggling, we ask them to meet with us one-on-one on Fridays for additional help. For those who begin to have truancy issues, we make phone calls and-or home visits to help find solutions and ensure we are doing all we can to keep students on track and successful."

Tribal leaders have worked with Cherokee Nation Health Services to ensure the best protocols are in place to keep students and staff safe.

"From the start of this health crisis, we have worked tirelessly to ensure our decisions are based on medical science, facts, and compassion. That has been Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.'s goal," said Bunch. "Because we have consistently taken this approach, Cherokee Nation Education Services has been a leader among educational institutes across the state, and we will continue to be a leader by constantly evaluating the situation and making decisions that keep our students, staff and communities as safe as possible."

SHS students receive a rapid COVID-19 test each morning when they arrive on campus. Faculty and staff are tested weekly.

"We worked with CNHS to train and implement safe and confidential protocols to both administer the tests and to give out results," said Bunch. "If a student is negative, they receive an armband, but are monitored for symptoms throughout the day. If a student or staff member tests positive, they will be notified in a confidential manner and given guidance by our school nurse on recommended steps."

Because SHS students are not staying on campus, extra staff are available to help with cleaning and sanitizing throughout the day.

"This also allows us to have extra help in our cafeteria operations. Our food service staff also sends home meals for the week with those who attend in-person classes, or offers drive-thru meals to those who are virtual," said Bunch.

SHS administrators are cautiously bringing back extracurricular activities, but only after careful planning and on a limited basis, according to Bunch.

"We will continually monitor and evaluate all activities as they do come back to keep our students and staff as safe as possible; however, we will not engage in any school-to-school competitions in-person until COVID-19 vaccines become available," he said.

Bunch said one pleasant outcome of the situation is how willing and ready the SHS faculty and staff have been to do whatever it takes.

"They are constantly giving up their own time and resources to go above and beyond to meet the needs of our students. Of course, we see this take place each and every year, but they've really made us proud in how they have adapted to this virtual environment and the needs of our students during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Bunch. "I'm so proud of each of them - staff and students - for doing their part to help keep our communities safe in these unusual circumstances."

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