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Mask-optional summer school kicks off in Hall County
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Students attend Kimberly Galvan's summer classes Monday, June 1, 2021, at McEver Arts Academy. Students are no longer required to wear masks and masks are also optional for all staff and visitors. - photo by Scott Rogers

Hall County held its first classes with face masks optional for all staff, visitors and students of all ages Tuesday morning. 

Hall County Schools loosened mask requirements in the last month but stayed cautious with older students. K-5 students were not required to wear masks as of May 11. The district made masks optional for students of all ages, staff and visitors both indoors and outdoors starting May 25. 

For teachers of grades 6-12, Tuesday’s classes were the first without any mask requirements.

Before her rising fourth graders started their lesson plan for the day at McEver Arts Academy, Kimberly Galvan took the time to ask her students how it felt to be back in the classroom with no masks required. 

Some students were virtual for portions of the last year. Galvan said that all the students she talked with today favored in-person learning. 

“Being at home was very hard,” Galvan said. “They were often distracted, and it’s just not the same. They miss their friends.”

Even though masks became optional for some with a few weeks left in the 2020-2021 school year, some students are still getting used to not wearing masks after being trained to wear them, she said.

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Allie Arellano, right, and Megan Lopez, measure their height Monday, June 1, 2021, as they work on a math problem at McEver Arts Academy during summer classes. Now students are no longer required to wear masks and masks are also fully optional for all staff and visitors. - photo by Scott Rogers

“They’re going to the restrooms, and they realize they don’t have a mask on, so they come back,” Galvan said. “I’m like, ‘It’s OK, you don’t have to use one anymore.’”

Galvan teaches Spanish literacy and math to first graders during the normal school year, and she said teaching Spanish was particularly difficult with masks on.

“It was very difficult to hear the students read and to visualize what they were saying,” she said. “They’re learning English and Spanish at the same time (through dual immersion classes), so sometimes we have to see their mouths to understand what they’re saying and if they are pronouncing things correctly.”

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Connor Humphries, 10, works on a fraction problem Monday, June 1, 2021, as students attend summer classes at McEver Arts Academy. Now students are no longer required to wear masks and masks are also fully optional for all staff and visitors. - photo by Scott Rogers

Kevin Bales, the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning for Hall County Schools, said he expects summer school enrollment rates to be similar to 2019. High school student participation could be a little higher than in recent years, Bales said, because of learning loss impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Exact enrollment numbers were not available Tuesday. 

Last year there were no in-person learning opportunities.

“Last year we sent materials home for students — books and reading materials — but because of the pandemic we were not able to have a lot of in-person (classes),” Bales said.
Shannon Boozer, who teaches sixth grade math at Academies of Discovery, said that her summer school students generally seemed excited, even for today’s remedial summer courses.

“I thought at the beginning of the year, I was just going to have students that never said anything,” Boozer said. “But I felt like my group of kiddos today in both class periods were vocal, were more outgoing, especially for me meeting them the first time”

Some students still wore their masks in the classroom today, she said.

Boozer said she will continue to use certain teaching tools that she had to learn during the last year, because COVID-19 protocols and contact tracing caused some students to stay home at times throughout the year. She now has a method to post all class materials easily for all her students through Canvas, an online educational platform. But teaching math was difficult without the ability to do as many hands-on activities, she said. 

“I wasn’t hearing a lot of grumbles about having to come back to school,” Boozer said. “I think it was exciting that they got to come back to school without masks.”

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