Emily Gaddy, a Gainesville mother of two, said she never expected a new laptop to be on her son’s back-to-school shopping list so early in his education. But a global pandemic and an adjusted school schedule have shaken things up for her and parents all over the area.
Gaddy’s son Emmett, a third-grade student at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, as well as her daughter Clare, a seventh-grader at Gainesville Middle School, began school remotely Monday morning, along with the rest of the Gainesville City School System.
While everyone in the school district will have to adjust to learning remotely for the first three weeks of the school year, Gaddy said this year’s unusual first day of school went about as well as she could have hoped.
“It’s been pretty smooth,” she said. “We are much more prepared this time (than in March).”
When schools were shut down last spring due to COVID-19, parents, students and teachers had to acclimate to online classes on the fly, adjusting to a new form of instruction with little time to prepare for it.
But according to Gaddy and Amy Forrester, a first-grade teacher at Centennial Arts Academy, things are much more organized this time around.
“In March, it was more of just kind of a check in, make sure they have everything they need and they’re still maybe reading some books,” Forrester said. “But now, our central office and admin have created such a great schedule for Zooms (video calls) and when we Zoom and who’s going to help us on our Zooms, and it’s just way more rigorous now than it was in March, for sure.”
Forrester said one of the biggest differences between this fall and last spring is that Gainesville City school teachers are required to work in their offices at school buildings, rather than from home. Instead of each teacher trying to figure out the best method of instruction for their individual class, lessons and assignments follow a much more defined schedule.
Teachers are given designated times to have Zoom meetings with their classes, as well as times to communicate with parents regarding any questions or technical difficulties they may be having.
Forrester said she didn't have any issues with technology on Monday and is feeling positive about the remote start to the year so far.
“The students really seem to be engaged,” she said. “I teach first grade, and even the six-year-olds, they seem to really be engaged with what I’m saying and the books I read and that kind of stuff.”
Gaddy said her son was engaged in his lessons on the first day of remote learning, adding that his extended absence from the classroom has him more excited than ever for school.
“He’s ready to learn,” she said. “He’s ready to be back in school for sure.”
But school got off to a slightly different start for Amy Kerr’s twin second-graders, Mak and Bryson.
Kerr opted for the fully online Gainesville Virtual Academy option, so her sons will be learning remotely for at least the remainder of the fall semester, instead of their home school, Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy.
“I wanted some kind of consistency, because I’ve always just needed that,” Kerr said of her decision to choose the Gainesville Virtual Academy. “I feel like if we started them off here, we wouldn’t have to worry about a disruption two weeks into school or a month into school and then be quarantined for two weeks and then go back to school. With the back and forth, and the unknown of everything going on, we just felt like this would be the best option for them.”
Kerr said she experienced some technical issues early on Monday, but things got easier over the course of the day, and she’s expecting class on Tuesday to be “much, much better.”
As a former teacher, Kerr said she understands the importance of an organized classroom environment, so she set up a virtual learning classroom for her sons in her basement, complete with desks and a calendar to make the experience as realistic as possible.
“I felt like if we started it off like real school, do our calendar in the morning and all that, have their desks set up, that they might take it more seriously,” she said.
Like Gaddy, Kerr said the time she’s had to prepare over the summer has made all the difference in getting her kids ready for remote schooling.
“I just think we knew what to expect this time,” she said. “This time it seems a lot easier. You’re prepared, and you knew what to expect.”