Special Education teachers, students adapting to pandemic

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) — Choosing in-person or virtual learning can be a tough choice for parents. It’s especially difficult for parents of special education students who require more attention and personalized classes.

Like many high school students in Columbia County, Tonya Noble’s son is on a split schedule. He goes to campus some days and learns from home the others. But, the changing schedule is especially difficult for him because he’s autistic.

“He’s always had that one-on-one support in the classroom,” Noble said. “Not having it has been very difficult on him.”

Hundreds of other special education students in Richmond and Columbia Counties have had to adapt since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Those going to campus have to follow the same health and safety guidelines as other students, such as wearing masks, which can be hard to get used to.

“When students realize they have to be safe so they can help their friends, then they’re a lot more compliant,” Dr. Teri Pettyjohn, Columbia County School District’s special services director, said.

But, those leaning virtually are missing out on social interactions, which are so important for them.

“For most of our kids, they learn vicariously,” Pettyjohn said. “They learn by watching their peers. If it’s from a distance-learning model, that doesn’t exist.”

Changing times have been extremely hard on teachers, who are trying to find different ways to connect with their students, either through a face mask or computer screen. Danielle Burdyck, the chair of the Academy of Richmond County’s Special Education Department, tells NewsChannel 6 she’s “had to become more versatile” in her virtual teaching style. While the pandemic has been hard on her students, she says she’s seen them grow in ways she didn’t expect.

“Many of the students are stepping up,” Burdyck said. “They’re learning to advocate more for themselves. They’ll reference the accommodations they need. That’s an important life skill they need.”

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