Silas Trethewey practices his basketball shots every opportunity he can between studies. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

Silas Trethewey is too young to know whether he’ll go into the family business, but he got a taste of it during a recent Zoom workshop with several poet laureates.

Silas, 14, and a ninth-grade student at Ocracoke School, is the son of the late poet and professor Eric Trethewey and Kelley Shinn, an Ocracoke-based writer.

Silas also is the half-brother of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Natasha Trethewey, who was named United States Poet Laureate in 2012 and in 2013, and she is a former Poet Laureate of Mississippi.

Silas participated in the 2020 Literary ChangeMakers Virtual Summit in September, featuring North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green, a frequent Ocracoke visitor, and Chapel Hill Poet Laureate C.J. Suitt.

Also participating via a pre-recorded video was Joy Harjo, the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States.

Silas didn’t feel intimidated about being in the presence of poetry luminaries as much as the exercise of sharing his innermost thoughts, a hallmark of poetry.

“I kind of went in there with the expectation of not really saying anything because I was kind of nervous about it,” Silas said. “I went out of my comfort zone a little bit.”

At this point, fiction writing is more up his alley, but he enjoyed the Saturday afternoon workshop more than he realized.

“I enjoyed it, but it’s easier for me to write fiction because you can create a similar story and you still share the same thoughts but you don’t really have to say that what you’re experiencing is true,” he said.

His mom, Kelley, noted that even though the COVID-19 pandemic is preventing people from congregating, the virtual world is a way to experience new things, often free of charge.

“That was one that easily presented itself because it’s Jaki and her affinity for Ocracoke,” Shinn said about the event. “Here’s a chance to get off island right here at home and to be exposed to some pretty cool people.”

Silas and Ocracoke students are navigating the new world of virtual learning just like the rest of the country. While he has only four classes, he has more homework.

One of his classes this semester is gym and Coach Adam Burleson, the school’s athletic director, is finding ways to keep the youngsters moving.

“They do different workouts, or different exercises or activities after each Zoom,” Burleson said during one of his six-mile morning walks around the island. “And they share it with me either in an email or their health activity tracker on their phone. They’re supposed to be traveling at least 10,000 steps a day.”

Now students have to report on what they’ve done.

“They’re way more responsible for their actual learning than they’ve ever been,” he said.

Burleson said the school year so far is going well with the adjustments the staff has had to make.

Adam Burleson, aka ‘Coach B,’ stops to chat about virtual gym class while getting his own exercise in. Photo: C. Leinbach

“We’ve made some adjustments to elementary and middle,” to try to lessen the Zoom time. With high school, because of online classes and the Beaufort Community College classes, we have to follow that traditional model.”

Hyde County schools are following Plan C for instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, which requires online learning only.

But with the slowing of the virus, Gov. Roy Cooper in September announced that North Carolina elementary school grades Kindergarten through fifth grade may now choose plan A, or in-school learning, for operations as soon as Oct. 5.

“The Hyde County Board of Education stated in making their original decision that we were going to be under Plan C through the end of the first nine weeks, which is in October for all our schools, but that they would review the current data during their regular monthly meetings and make adjustments to that plan when appropriate,” said Steven Basnight, superintendent of Hyde County schools.

When the school board approved Plan C, Hyde had 36 COVID-19 cases, but since then the number has risen to more than 125.

“Just like so many of our teachers, administrators, students, and parents it remains our desire to have all of our students back in their classrooms with their teachers as quickly as possible and in the safest, most welcoming environment possible,” he said.

The Hyde County Board of Education will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday to review the latest updates and their decision to remain in Plan C. Anyone interested in participating in the public comment segment should email Basnight at to be added to the agenda.

Members of the public will be able to view a simulcast of the meeting on the Hyde County Schools Facebook page.

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