Highly contagious swine flu has made its mark on the first month of school in Northeast Mississippi, keeping a higher than usual number of students out of classes.
Mississippi is one of six states that is reporting widespread influenza activity, according to the Center for Disease Control. Widespread flu in August and early September is unusual.
The challenge then for teachers is catching up students who have been absent in higher numbers thanks to swine flu.
According to personnel at local schools, the key to keeping students on track is having parents pick up assignments for students to work on at home and having teachers spend extra time with those students once they return.
“For the parents that call in and tell us that the children are sick, we start to collect their homework, assignments and class work and put it in a folder that parents can pick up each day,” said Linda Clifton, principal at Tupelo Middle School. “They know their work and when they have a test.”
Several schools are also developing systems that will allow parents and students to electronically see the work that they have missed.
Clifton said parents at Tupelo Middle School have the opportunity to sign up for e-mails that contain lesson plans and that the school is developing Web sites that will contain lesson plans and homework assignments.
Lisa Franks, Elementary Curriculum coordinator for Lee County Schools, also said that parents at schools in her district can get assignments e-mailed to them and that many of them can sign up for online accounts that provide access to assignments.
Kara Courtney, who teaches art in the Baldwyn School District, said that in addition to sending home assignments, she prints out slides from a PowerPoint presentation of that day’s lesson and sends those home as well as some supplies that can be kept in a packet like color pencils or oil pastels.
Parents shouldn’t push their children to do too much work while sick, however. Children should not return to school until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours. These last 24 hours can be a good time for children to begin catching up on work.
“I would not force any child in a febrile state to do any kind of work,” said Julie Word, school nurse at Joyner and Rankin Elementary Schools. “When the child feels like it, then they can start doing work. But don’t push it.”
Once students do return to school, the next challenge is working with them to make sure they get caught up on what they’ve missed.
All of the teachers and administrators interviewed said that teachers will come in early, stay late or find time during the day in order to work with those students.
They also said students are given time to get readjusted.
“The teachers want the students to be successful so they are going to work with them as much as they can,” said Summer Hamblin, school counselor at Baldwyn High School. Hamblin also said that for the couple of days when high numbers of students were missing because of flu, teachers were able to modify their lesson plans and review the following day in order to catch up more students.
Saltillo Primary School Counselor Kelly Wigginton said that her kindergarten through second-grade school was prepared for swine-flu related absences because younger children tend to miss more sick days in general.
“We’re used to the common flu and chicken pox,” Wigginton said. “At our level, we’re used to multiple day absences. A lot of children at the kindergarten level, this is their first exposure to a major environment. They are going to catch anything.”
Wigginton said that the school will prepare packets of work for parents of sick students to pick up and will find time during the school day to work with those children after they return.
Franks also said the timing of the flu was ideal in that it came in the first month of school, a time that many teachers use for reviewing the lessons of the previous year.
“If there is a good time for it to hit, this would be it,” Franks said. “We just hope that it doesn’t stick around and that the regular flu season will be mild.”
Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal