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Longview special education families adjust to learning with COVID-19 restrictions

Many remote learners are performing poorly during the COVID-19 pandemic — as grades reported recently by area school districts show — but special education students can fall even further behind without access to needed services.

Pine Tree ISD parent Megan Vittitow said, during the first month of school, she kept her three children at home — and struggled.

Her son, Jaxson, is in fourth grade at Parkway Elementary School, and her son, Tyler, is in fifth grade at the middle school. Both started the year in speech therapy, but Tyler progressed enough not to need as many sessions.

But Jaxson still did, and she had difficulties helping him from home.

Vittitow said she was able to take her son to face-to-face sessions with a speech therapist at school. The therapist wore a face shield, so Jaxson could see her face but was COVID-19 safety guidelines were still followed.

“The whole virtual thing was not good,” Vittitow said. “It was very stressful with all three kids, and especially Jaxson needing special services. I was questioning if I made the right choice (in remote learning) but my daughter, Maci, has asthma, so I really wanted them to stay home.”

When the district introduced the platform Vizzle for special education students, Vittitow finally found the help she needed.

Pine Tree ISD Director of Special Education Kalli VanMeter said the district purchased the platform for special education students. She said she program lets teachers to upload individualized plans for students based on their needs, and it delivers lessons according to their level. As they pass lessons, the material becomes more difficult.

Vittitow said she noticed Jaxson was less stressed and enjoying his lessons more with the Vizzle platform.

“It wasn’t hard for him. He really enjoyed it, and I was really grateful,” she said. “Even if, God forbid, everything has to get shut down, I’m really glad that platform is there for them.”

Vittitow still opted to send her children back to campus after about a month of remote learning.

Longview ISD parent Tiffany Angus said communication and routine have helped her adjust to at-home learning with her son, Austin.

“The first six weeks was kind of a learning curve,” she said. “The last three weeks we’ve had regular times he meets with his resource teacher. I will say it’s definitely not for everyone, and I wouldn’t say it’s ideal for us.”

Austin, who has Down syndrome, is in second grade at Johnston-McQueen Elementary School. Angus said she pays attention to how his teacher delivers lessons so she can reinforce those techniques at home with him.

“There’s been a lot of positives. It’s not perfect, and we are behind now like a week,” Angus said. “But it’s something that some days or some moments are harder than others, and some days it’s amazing — I can see him learning.”

She said she knew Austin would struggle with wearing a mask and not touching his face all day as well as the social distancing.

Austin goes to campus for occupational therapy and physical therapy but can complete speech therapy online. While they are trying to set a routine, Angus said they sometimes struggle to get the extra therapies and work done.

“I know it’s not easy on the teachers. I know it has its problems, but I’m grateful for it for him,” Angus said. “I think it’s academically helped him a lot, and I hope when he does get back in the classroom it won’t be too much of a leap for him to adjust.”

When Jaxson and Tyler returned to campus at Pine Tree, both said they found it easier than learning at home.

Jaxson said it was hard to work at home, but he liked using Vizzle.

“I figured it out — it was just so difficult at home,” he said. “I couldn’t even know all of it, and I was just frustrated.”

Tyler said his younger brother’s reading is improving at school.

“Something about Jaxson is, he reads but he can’t read a whole lot,” Tyler said. “But whenever he’s reading, he likes to come in my room and ask for some of my chapter books, and he pretty much teaches himself on reading because he figures out whatever the word is and then he reads the books to me.”


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Longview photographer keeps focus on customers' needs

Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series about how locally-owned, small businesses in the Longview area are faring — and in some cases surviving — in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photographer Marc Bailey says he made it through the COVID-19 pandemic using the same principle that has kept his Longview business successful for the past quarter of a century — staying focused on his customers’ needs.

“We always try to make sure that they’re feeling good about the process,” says Bailey, who opened Marc Bailey Photography in 1995. “If they’re worried about the COVID scare, we work with them and let them know they’re going to be the only customers here. It’s going to be you and me and whoever you bring along with you.’”

Bailey, who sometimes moonlights as a YouTube content creator, an inventor or even a comedian, says he hasn’t had any trouble finding smiling faces behind the masks.

“We’re getting a lot of high school seniors coming in with their school logos on their masks,” Bailey says, “and they get some shots with that just for fun, but everything else is pretty normal.”

To help reduce the risk of exposure, and with masks and sanitizer, Bailey says he photographs on location (outside) most of the time and also has started delivering customers’ prints to their vehicles so they don’t have to come inside the business.

“They’ll call when they get close, and I’ll meet them in the parking lot to hand their pictures to them,” Bailey said.

He said after the initial shut down that left him in the dark for about four weeks, business has mostly picked up where it left off.

“Although I haven’t had any large events since COVID, the senior (high school senior portrait) business has been good — probably better than last year’s,” he said. “Maybe after the COVID scare and with all this going on, they’re realizing the importance of photos.”


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Longview Museum of Fine Arts considers move to former bank building

A world-class museum that is the home of fine art. An indoor-outdoor cafe where Longview-area residents can enjoy views of downtown. A cultural arts center that encourages collaboration among local artists and arts organizations.

Those are Tiffany Jehorek’s dreams for the Longview Museum of Fine Arts. Those dreams may soon become a reality for downtown Longview.

The museum is considering moving from its home on Tyler Street into the former Regions Bank building at the corner of Fredonia and Methvin streets in downtown, said Jehorek, who serves as LMFA’s executive director. The move, should it happen, is intended to allow LMFA to increase its space and its presence in downtown and set the city on a path toward having a cultural arts center.

“I’m excited,” Jehorek said this past week as she looked around the vacant interior at the former Regions Bank, envisioning all that it could become. “I’m excited for what this could mean for Longview.”

With a drive to bring cultural arts to the city, the Junior League of Longview established the Longview Museum of Fine Arts in 1958. The League spent about two decades collecting artwork that it donated to the museum when it was established, Jehorek said. The original Junior League of Longview collection contains about 50 pieces.

LMFA moved to locations throughout the city as it grew in size and popularity. The museum has been at its 15,000-square-foot home on Tyler Street since 1998.

Throughout the years, LMFA has grown its permanent art collection to nearly 1,000 pieces. The museum also plays host to a variety of traveling exhibits and invites artists from across the world to Longview, Jehorek said.

However, a desire to continue creating a more engaging and interconnected museum experience for Longview residents and visitors alike lead the museum to consider a move, Jehorek said.

The 44,000-square-foot former Region Bank building, designed by renowned architect B.W. Crain Jr., became available in October 2019 after Regions moved to a new home on Marshall Avenue.

The former Regions Bank building has many qualities that Jehorek believes would be key in helping LMFA expand its footprint in the city.

“Visibility is one of the main features. It’s situated right across from the courthouse and then you’ve got the sheer size of the building itself. It would be hard to miss,” she said. “The building itself is constructed like a vault. It’s built like a bank. It has such a presence with the mid-century modern soaring ceilings and marble.

“I really think in some ways that building was just made to be an art museum. It also is a building that I think is important in Longview’s history, and so we would take good care of it. As a museum, we conserve art, and that building is a little bit of art.”

The building itself features first-class art, Jehorek said. A 40-foot mosaic counter by abstract Houston artist Herbert Mears graces the length of the main lobby. Additionally, renowned artist Richard Lippold’s signature gold-filled and stainless steel wire “Lone Star” chandelier sculpture hangs in the main lobby. Crain purchased the Lippold piece for $125,000 in 1960, Jehorek said. Both works would become “the hallmark” for LMFA’s permanent collection, she said.

The building itself features four levels. The first floor would be the home of LMFA’s permanent collection and exhibitions, Jehorek said. Should the museum move forward with purchasing the building, Jehorek said she would keep unique bank features such as a former bank vault. The space inside the vault would transform into exhibit space, but museum patrons would walk through the vault door to view the gallery.

On the main floor, Jehorek envisions artwork lining the main walls as well as creating movable walls that could hold additional artwork. Drive-thru bank teller stalls would allow for easy access for loading and unloading artwork for traveling exhibits.

Meanwhile, a space on the first floor that houses safety deposit boxes would become the museum’s vault for its permanent collection when pieces are not on display, she said. Jehorek envisions re-purposing the safety deposit box fronts and asking a local artist to create some sort of a mural that could potentially be displayed at an indoor-outdoor cafe. Jehorek plans to use space outside the building and part of the existing drive-thru to create a cafe. On nice days, patrons could sit outside and enjoy lunch.

The bank’s lower, basement level contains a kitchen that Jehorek said needs a bit of renovation, an auditorium that can seat about 50 people and a conference room that she wants to transform into the new home of ArtWorks Creative Learning Center. ArtWorks is LMFA’s learning center that offers school programs, classes and special events for the community.

Meanwhile, space inside the building’s second and third levels would continue to be rented out to help offset building maintenance costs, Jehorek said. However, she’d like to see some of that space rented to fellow arts organizations that may be looking for an office. The Arts!Longview Cultural District has its office on the building’s second floor.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the building itself could become a cultural arts center, a building for the arts to gather at?” Jehorek said. “Already the cultural arts district office is there, but what if the symphony, the symphonic band or the ballet had an office there? If we’re all there, I think it lends us the ability to cross-promote, to coordinate and to do different programming together.”

Jehorek also envisions some space being rented out to artists who may want or need a work space.

“On the second floor, there are two wings. One wing is pretty full — it’s mostly rented out,” she said. “The other wing has about 15 different office spaces that could be reconfigured to serve another group, or I had thought maybe we might could create some kind of artist cooperative, where they could share space or rent out artist studio space. As an artist, sometimes it’s nice to be in a place where you can share ideas and then go work on your stuff and then go talk to your neighbor.”

As for LMFA’s current space, Jehorek has a wish list for what she’d like to see happen with it.

“Here’s my wish list. If it was my long-range plan, if our building could then become a center for ArtsView Children’s Theatre or Pat Mitchell’s Ballet School, I think how wonderful that would be for them to be able to be in downtown Longview,” she said. “These wood floors are great for dancing, and we already have some stadium seating here that would be good for ArtsView Children’s Theatre.”

While Jehorek said she doesn’t know if the entities would be interested in moving, she would like to see them a little closer to downtown and the existing museum so that more collaboration can happen.

The museum and its board of directors are still considering whether to move, Jehorek said. However, should board members decide to embark on the decision, LMFA will launch a $5 million capital campaign to help make the center a reality. The capital campaign would help pay for building projects and a renovation; however, it would also help establish an endowment and maintenance fund for the building, she said.

“We really think that it could change the heart of Longview, the landscape of our downtown, and really be a tourism driver,” Jehorek said. “We really believe this would be something the community would be proud of.”


Correction

■ A story on Page 5A Saturday about COVID-19 cases in Gregg County reported an incorrect total number of cases. The county has recorded 2,537 total virus cases as of Friday.