Jeremiah School, following City Schools lead, adjusting to new normal

Jonathan Roberts • Mar 29, 2020 at 12:00 PM

Following the lead of Johnson City Schools and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, the Jeremiah School — a faith-based nonprofit school for children with autism — is canceling in-person classes until at least April 24.

“It’s pretty difficult for us because we’re not like a typical school where it’s mainly academics, and the kids at a typical school are probably more capable of working independently,” Jo Cullen, the Jeremiah School’s principal said. “For us, academics is only like one-third of our curriculum — we’ve got the whole social skills, life skills and therapies.”

“It’s really hard,” Cullen continued. “You really can’t replicate school at home for our kids.”

Like all Tennessee schools, the Jeremiah School doesn’t have any choice to suspend classes after the governor suspended schools until April 24. Fortunately for teachers and faculty, the students have been on spring break for the last two weeks, giving them more time to prepare for the transition to remote teaching. Cullen said they will likely give students more “project-based” work while they’re out of class, in addition to doing weekly counseling sessions and bi-weekly classroom lessons on Zoom, a remote conferencing platform.

“A lot of children with autism are routine-bound — they don’t like change,” Cullen said. “To suddenly rip away the thing that gives them the most routine ... it piles a lot of extra pressure and stress on the student and also on the families.”

Angel Foskey — whose son, John David, attends Jeremiah School — said it will take some adjusting to, but said her son had previously been homeschooled and used online learning software, giving her some measure of confidence he’ll be able to adapt in short order.

“I think for him it might not be as difficult as it would be for other people,” Angel Foskey said. “He also has four brothers at home that are going to be doing their schoolwork at the same time he’s doing his as well.”

As for the novel coronavirus pandemic that shuttered schools in the first place, Foskey said she’d spoken with her children — ages 7, 10, 13, 15 and 17 — about it, and has been stressing things like hand-washing and avoiding touching their face.

“They understand that it’s important we stay home as much as we can, try to keep things clean and just weather the storm as best we can,” Foskey said.

Cullen, meanwhile, said the loss of physical classes is “pretty devastating for everybody,” but that she’s hoping for a return to class before too long, though she doesn’t expect that to happen.

“I hope so, I so hope so,” Cullen said of returning to classes. “I have a feeling a it might not happen — I suspect we won’t, but I very much hope we do.”

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