Isabel LohmanKnoxville News Sentinel
As students across the country go back to school, reopening plans differ. For some Knoxville-area private schools, an emphasis on student safety coupled with fostering student emotional growth are at the forefront of plans. Students at Christian Academy of Knoxville, Grace Christian Academy, Knoxville Catholic High School and Webb School of Knoxville begin school this week. It's no secret that private schools and public schools are different. While Knox County Schools received CARES Act money, some of those funds were also distributed to private schools. Private schools were also eligible to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
While about 30% of Knox County Schools' students chose to do virtual learning for the semester, only about 6.4% of Knoxville Catholic students are learning completely through virtual learning, according to Knoxville Catholic spokeswoman Pam Rhoades. At Christian Academy of Knoxville, school leaders are equipped to do distance learning but as of right now, the school plans on doing in-person learning, said CAK spokeswoman Julya Johnson. Johnson said when COVID-19 became a concern last spring, students switched to virtual learning with relative ease because every student already had a device. At KCS, students were given optional learning packets but not all students had a Chromebook device. This year, all KCS students will have a laptop or computer.
If CAK goes virtual again, there would be live instruction and independent work time, similar to what KCS has promised parents. For younger kids at CAK, they can "wiggle and move" while doing a scavenger hunt around their home. "Our teachers are really well-equipped and well-prepared for that because we did do that last year and it was a very smooth transition," Johnson said. At Knoxville Catholic, there is a team of about nine people who have worked all summer to plan ways to improve the virtual learning experience, Rhoades said. At that school and at Webb, there are plans to use Swivl cameras that help film teachers as they present their lesson plans. Webb has four stages including a relaxed social distancing phase, a phase where students alternate attending in-person class, a phase where students can learn virtually and a phase where all students learn virtually, according the school's website. At Grace Christian Academy, students will learn in-person and switch to online if the school deems it necessary, according to the school's website. Knoxville Catholic students use a staggered schedule similar to some public school districts outside Knox County. Another difference between private and public schools is the class size. While Knox County Schools said it aims to practice social distancing when possible, Johnson said the average class size at CAK is 15 people. A faith-based curriculum also means that teachers can pray with students for spiritual support, Johnson said. At Knoxville Catholic, there is a new hire in the guidance department whose job is to guide first-year students and help them develop academic, social and emotional skills. "We are a smaller community with the students that we have," Rhoades said. "We're really trying to make sure our students have a personalized education."