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Luau marks end of school year at Ketron

Rick Wagner • May 22, 2020 at 12:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Why were people wearing hula skirts and leis in the Bloomingdale community Thursday morning in the rain?

Almost 4,600 miles from the islands that make up the 50th U.S. state, a rainy Thursday drive-thru event may not have been the end of the school year anyone had in mind for 2019-20 when classes began last fall, but Ketron Elementary School faculty, staff and students had a Hawaiian luau-themed event just the same. The luau replaced the traditional graduation for the fifth-graders heading to middle school.

The almost 700-student pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade school had parents drive students by the front of the school from 9 a.m. to noon on Thursday. It was a reverse parade answer to earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic school shutdown, when teachers in early April held a parade of their own along bus routes for the county’s largest-enrollment elementary school.

“We’re handing out report cards and personal belongings and end-of-year gifts,” third-grade teacher Catherine Whitson said mid-morning of an event designed to end the school year in style.

“We’re just trying to bring a smile,” Whitson said of the event to bring “somewhat of a normal” time back to the students and teachers. “We love them and will miss them.”

WHEN WILL NORMAL RETURN?

Whitson said she hopes school in August begins and stays in-person, if health conditions and governments allow.

“We became teachers because we love kids and being around them. Online just isn’t the same,” Whitson said.

Something else that she said isn’t lost on teachers and students is the date when they were last together.

 “The last time we were together was the day before spring break,” Whitson said. That was on Friday the 13th, which looking back, she said, was the “last normal day” of the school year.

Dayton Myers, a graduating fifth-grader in the car line, said he plans to attend Innovation Academy in Blountville in the fall and said he has fond memories of Ketron teachers and staff. 

“It’s (online school) not fun. I miss it here,” Dayton said. “It’s a really great school. I like it.”

The event received support from The Remnant Church, which until the pandemic had been meeting in the school on Sundays. Todd Potter and others from the church provided a free Chick-fil-A lunch to the teachers from the six grade levels, Principal Sherri DeVault said, adding that Food City provided some gift certificates to be given out to families.

WHY WERE PLANTS GIVEN OUT TO SOME?

Over at the pre-K tent, teachers Tracy Pannell and Freddie Correll gave out plants to their students in the line. Correll said the plants tied in to an in-person lesson they taught before the pandemic turned school virtual. In 20 years of teaching, Correll said, this year has been the most difficult and different — challenging but also rewarding.

Thursday’s event “gives teachers and kids a little bit of closure to the year,” she said.

First-grade teacher Angie Sybert said online activities during the pandemic for her students included a “fort night” online and a virtual visit from a zookeeper who graduated from Sullivan Central High.

VIRTUAL SCHOOL BONUS: PRESIDENTIAL TRIVIA?

As for advantages of going above and beyond normal instruction, she said one of her students learned to recite the names of all the U.S. presidents and facts about them because his mother was working from home and taught him. 

“He just took off with it. Now he knows all the presidents and facts about them,” Sybert said of the 6-year-old student.

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