Many students have been working as essential workers while schools are out during the coronavirus pandemic.

These students have worked in many places from pharmacy to grocery stores during the time Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee recommended all non-essential business close down.

“In a perfect world or a perfect situation, we always want to protect our youth,” said Monroe County Schools Director DeAnna McClendon about her students working. “I know that many of our families and our students depend on their earnings for things they need to help their families out.”

Sweetwater High School Career and Technical Education Teacher Rodney Bibee has students that, in two different work programs (community service and co-op), have been working amidst the pandemic.

“One of my students is working at the hospital and he is a transporter for COVID-19 tests to the lab in Knoxville,” said Bibee. “You can’t get any more essential than that.”

He has 24 students in work-based learning with all but two considered essential employees.

“I think that is pretty significant,” said Bibee. “Whether they are working at drugstores, for agriculture ... at least our students have the opportunity to continue working.”

He hopes the pandemic teaches students the importance of what they do and how significant their jobs are.

“Even if it is not something that society would consider the most demanding of jobs it is still essential,” said Bibee. “I think this will give them an idea of what it looks like when some people are not working but they had the opportunity to work and make them question what happened to those who have been laid off.”

He believes the pandemic will impact the future career choices of his students.

“What jobs are we going to be able to guarantee that we can still work if something like this were to happen again,” asked Bibee. “We will want to look at what jobs are truly necessary and which ones can be put on hold for a little while.”

A couple of students from Sweetwater High School spoke about what they learned working during the pandemic.

“As far as work being affected (is concerned), we are busier now than usual with getting all equipment serviced and tweaked and getting ready for this summer’s cut of hay,” said Trace Cook, a senior. “We are repairing fences and cleaning off pastures, so there is a lot to be done if not more than usual. As far as future work with being an electrical lineman, I believe that work will stay steady because someone has to keep the lights on.”

Another senior at SHS also stated that her future career plans have not changed.

“Fortunately, as a pharmacy worker, I have been able to continue to work throughout the pandemic,” said Lillie Nichols. “It has made me more thankful for the essential workers who put their lives on the line every day. Hopefully, life will return to some kind of normalcy soon, so my decision to pursue a degree in Dental Hygiene has not changed.”

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