Facing an unusual situation, schools have been forced to find alternative routes to educate students since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic started to gain traction in the U.S.

The Cherokee Nation was quick to begin developing an approach to combat the respiratory illness, and subsequently closed up its properties and had Sequoyah Schools transition students to virtual learning. And as with the many sweeping changes to everyday lives, it’s taken some effort to work around challenges that arose with the coronavirus.

“Some of the issues we faced in the beginning as we changed to distance learning focused on Internet connectivity for students, but students and faculty members are learning how to navigate our learning management system much better,” Sequoyah High School Principal Natalie Cloud said. “We also appreciate the Bureau of Indian Education, which has taken care of any and all resources and connectivity needed to make this transition.”

At the beginning of the fall semester, courses remained online for Sequoyah students, but they’ve been allowed to attend classes on campus once a week if they choose to do so. The safety of the students and the community, however, remains at the forefront.

“Keeping our students and their families safe is of the utmost importance during this pandemic,” Cloud said. “We are currently testing all students when they come on campus, and all faculty and staff members are testing. We feel like this is the safest option for our school and our community.”

In-person learning offers more chances for interactive activities, group projects, and face-to-face interactions. The absence of a teacher in person to ask questions or receive clarity, said Cloud, is the single-most challenging issue for the teenagers at Sequoyah. Younger generations are often more adept at technology than their predecessors, though, so they’re learning to manage the new way of going to school.

“Students are learning to email their teachers, ask for one-on-one virtual appointments, and to take charge of their learning environments,” said Cloud. “Some of our students are also juggling a part-time job, while completing assignments and deadlines. This has presented them with an opportunity to learn great job skills that will benefit them in their future occupations and careers.”

Once it's over, Cloud said the school will be proud of its perseverance and the strength of it students, who have faced an extraordinary challenge this year.

Despite the lack of on-campus learning, Sequoyah Schools has wanted to ensure that students are still provided nutritious meals. As part of the Child Nutrition Program, the school is offering grab-and-go meals to students on campus the days they may attend. Meanwhile, the have set up a drive-thru meal pickup for any child under 18. They do not have to be Sequoyah students.

“It is always important for healthy meals to be available for our students,” said Cloud. “A good meal drives mental focus and awareness for the student to excel in school work.”

On Mondays and Wednesdays, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., parents, students or legal guardians can pick up the meals. On Monday’s pickup, meals for Tuesday are included in the bag. Wednesday’s pickup also has meals for Thursday and Friday. Each week, there is at least one hot meal provided. Recently the students enjoyed turkey shepherd pie, a hot roll, pumpkin pie and milk.

The school averages around 2,000 meals a week, and those who work the drive-thru system make sure nobody goes hungry.

“We don’t turn anybody away,” Althena Wildcat said.

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