The majority of Hall County students will participate in either a traditional in-person or a virtual learning experience this fall. But for parents of students in grades K-3, there’s a third option that is a bit less conventional.
Around 200 students in those grades have already signed on to the district’s noon to 5 p.m. plan that would have students stay in one room with one teacher, cutting down drastically on the number of other people they will come in contact with, according to Matt Alexander, literacy and numeracy elementary director for the Hall County School District.
Under the plan, students would arrive to school at noon — avoiding the early morning rush of their arriving classmates — and leave at 5 p.m., when school buildings will be relatively empty.
“We have some families who say my child – we want to have them in brick-and-mortar, but we still have some safety concerns,” Alexander said. “We want to limit their exposure to the number of kids (and) the number of adults they come in contact with. This program would do that.”
The plan carries with it a great deal of logistical difficulty, according to Alexander.
First, only one elementary school in each of the seven Hall County high school clusters will offer the noon to 5 p.m. program. He said choosing the seven elementary schools to host the classes has not been an easy task.
Geography has also been a challenge, Alexander said, particularly since parents of students in the noon to 5 p.m. plan will be fully responsible for transportation to and from school for their children.
“For example, if you look at East Hall cluster, there are students that feed into East Hall that go all the way from Lula, White Sulphur, Tadmore, Sugar Hill (Academy of Talent & Career) and Myers,” Alexander said. “If you know our district, that’s a lot of geographic space.”
He added that he plans to have a final list of which seven elementary schools will be hosting the program by next week. Once the list is public, principals will begin contacting parents who have shown interest in the plan to see if the chosen locations work for them.
Also challenging is that students from multiple grade levels will be receiving instruction in a mixed grade setting, according to school officials. In other words, one teacher will be responsible for teaching students in grades K-3. Since students will not be leaving the classroom for elective classes, the teacher will also be responsible for integrating art, music, physical education and technology lessons to the curriculum under the noon to 5 p.m. option.
Though some parents may be wary of their children being taught alongside students of varying different grade levels, Alexander said studies have shown “there’s a lot of benefit of clustering kids that way.” He said that the one-room schoolhouse concept works because it exposes younger students to more advanced concepts earlier on, adding that educators are “always going to want to teach up.”
Alexander said he anticipates teachers who carry out this program will separate students based on ability, rather than grade level, splitting them up into small groups and administering lessons and assignments based on what each group of students is capable of.
“It’s going to take a very special teacher to make it happen,” he said. “I know our principals are going to give a lot of consideration to that best fit. Who can do this? Who can differentiate on a very high level, to create rigor and create support all students need?”
Like the other two learning plans, parents who select the noon to 5 p.m. option will have until Aug. 21 — the first Friday of the school year — to make a final decision, although according to Alexander, the expectation is they will be committed to that choice for at least the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year.
He says it is the perfect option for parents of K-3 children who want their kids to return to school but are still concerned about safety in the conventional, in-person learning model.
“It is definitely a hybrid,” Alexander said. “We do think it will benefit parents in that it will give their child a different school experience, and we hope it will create that greater sense of safety.”