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Spotlight on Cynthiana: How Harrison County Schools are pivoting in a pandemic

Posted at 5:50 PM, Nov 16, 2020

CYNTHIANA, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kentucky has many communities that are unique in their own way.

Cynthiana is just over 28 miles northeast of Lexington. The city of about 6,200 people is located along the banks of the South Fork of the Licking River and is known for its small town charm. It's also where Post-It notepads are produced.

Back in March, Kentucky's very first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Harrison County. It was the first school district to adapt education and meal plans in a pandemic.

Students did return to the classroom earlier this fall, and last week, we visited the middle school to see how everyone was adjusting. However, as we found out in the time since, the reality of COVID-19 has forced students and teachers to adapt once again.

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Harrison County Middle School band practices in the cafeteria on November 10, 2020

After more than six months of silence inside Harrison County Middle School, the band was finally back together. The players are happy to be hitting notes instead of the "play" button on Google Classroom. While the band plays on, Principal Mike McIntire greeted students in the halls while enforcing social distancing.

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Principal Mike McIntire waits for students to change classes on November 10, 2020.

"We learn about science, and we learn about social studies, we learn about reading. We learn about math. But the social interaction of what they've been starved from since March 6," said McIntire.

Inside one classroom, we found first year teacher Shelby White.

"They always tell ya you just have to learn by experience, so this is definitely the experience," said White.

She doesn't have her dream of a full classroom yet. But having a dozen students spaced out in front of her was a welcome change.

"When you're teaching them, and it looks like they're struggling a little bit, and then you just see the light go off in their head. And you see that it clicks, and you see that you're making a difference in their education," said White.

An important part of education is nutrition.

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Harrison County Middle School staff members assemble lunches for students on November 10, 2020.

Next door to the makeshift band room, the staff was preparing hundreds of lunches for students on, and off, campus.

Since lunches are prepared in the cafeteria, the students were eating in the gym when we visited. Principal McIntire says this is where the kids eat lunch because it's more room for them to spread out. They can sit at a table with their friends, take their mask down, socialize a little bit while they eat.

"(Socializing) It is something that they can latch on to and say, you know what, this is somewhat like it was before," said McIntire.

McIntire repeated over and over that the health of students comes first. That's why temperature checks and smaller class pods are the new normal, but so is adapting.

The same day we visited last week, a surge of COVID-19 cases in the community elevated Harrison County to the red zone. On Monday, all students returned to virtual learning.

"We have seen this before. We have done this before. So it's a step in the wrong direction, but at least we're comfortable with what we're doing," said McIntire.

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No students were in the classrooms of Harrison County Middle School on November 16, 2020 due to spread of COVID-19.