Administrators and others staff buzzed around the gymnasium of Bel Air High School on Thursday, preparing bags of textbooks, laptops and folders of paperwork to be sent home with students starting next week.
The supplies will be needed as all students in Harford County will be learning virtually for at least the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year, as classrooms remained closed due to concerns over the novel coronavirus. Some students will be going to Learning Support Centers set up inside some of the school buildings, but will still be receiving online instruction from their teachers remotely.
Bel Air High Assistant Principal Al Johnson said about 10 volunteers had been gathering in the gym, bringing in books and others supplies, organizing them by department and grade, then taking an assembly line approach to putting it all together for the individual students, who will drop by the school next week to pick them up.
“We grab a schedule and then from that, we know which teacher wants what book, and that’s labeled on a stack and we just go around and pick up the necessary supplies and put them in the bag,” Johnson said. “Then at the end is the laptop. Some students opted out, so we have that list, so we scan in the laptop, put a label on it with their name, stick it in the bag, then alphabetize by grade.”
Each volunteer has a different task. Some were packing bags, Johnson said, others were sorting and scanning documents to be distributed.
Jillian Lader, a spokesperson for Harford County Public Schools, said similar work was being done at other buildings putting together materials for students to pick up before classes begin Sept. 8.
When students come to pick up supplies, they’ll also receive a folder worth of information related to the start of the school year which parents or guardians will have to fill out and return.
“It’s everything they usually get in their opening day packets when they’re in school, they still have to fill out and do those,” BAHS Principal Greg Komondor.
Parents will also receive a digital copy from the school system, giving them two opportunities to fill out the necessary paperwork, he said.
Math teacher Allison Benfield was one of the volunteers helping out Thursday. In addition to the paperwork that needs to be returned to the school, each packet will have materials from Common Core classes — English, social studies, science and math — as well as materials from any electives students will be taking.
“We reached out to those department chairs and those supervisors, and sent home whatever they would need for those courses as well,” Benfield said.
Volunteering to gather the materials has helped Benfield get into the mindset of the school year and classes starting up soon, even if it’s going to be a lot different than what educators — and students — are used to.
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“I think it’s exciting for us to gear up and prepare for our students,” she said. “We know that our kids are going to go home with all these resources, so that they are going to be better prepared for the fall.”
Benfield said it was also a welcome change to be around colleagues and friends from school, and they were making sure to keep things lighthearted as they worked.
“We’ve had fun races of the carts, setting all this stuff up, we’ve had [music] jams from all different generations because we have all different generations helping us pack and do everything,” she said. “We have a nice mix from our brand new teachers to our support staff that this is their retirement gigs.”
The newest member of the math department at Bel Air was among the volunteers Thursday, and Benfield, the department’s chair, said it was a good opportunity to prep new staff coming in who haven’t taught before and get them comfortable with the resources available.
“It’s been fun to build those relationships and get them prepared — these are the resources your kids are going to have, these are some of the different things you can do with some of them and have some of those conversations and get them excited about being part of our team,” Benfield said.
“We’re prepping them to be ready to work with our kids, just as we would on a regular basis, but a little different look to it.”
Aegis Editor S. Wayne Carter Jr. contributed to this article.