Friday was the first day back to school for Lanier Christian Academy, and school officials say the year got off to a markedly different start.
A new regulation, born out of the COVID-19 pandemic, prohibits parents from getting out of their cars when dropping students off, and David Roberts, director of institutional advancement, said the South Hall school experienced its “easiest first day of carpool ever.”
“Normally on the first day of school, you’ve got kids trickling into class 15, 20 minutes late because they’re hugging and kissing mama before the first day and taking pictures,” he said. “But not today.”
Masks are not required for students, but are “strongly recommended during class changes,” according to the school return guidelines posted on the Lanier Christian Academy website, and Roberts said he observed “the vast majority of our kids” wearing protective face coverings upon arrival to school Friday morning.
Inside classrooms, desks are all spaced at least 3 feet apart. In hallways during classroom transitions, students are instructed to walk on one side or the other, depending on the direction they’re moving, and teachers have been asked to give gentle reminders to students not to bunch up while moving from classroom to classroom, according to Roberts. As of late Friday morning, he had not noticed any issues with the school’s procedures.
“So far, so good,” he said.
Roberts said that Lanier Christian Academy has adjusted to school during a pandemic better than most, thanks to the advantage of small numbers. With fewer than 400 students currently enrolled in grades K-12, the average class size is right around 16 students.
Lanier Christian Academy was also already offering a three-day option for students, through which they only come into the school building on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, making classes even more sparse the other two days of the week. The school’s website shows teachers design lesson plans and parents supervise students for the remaining two weekdays.
“We're naturally socially distanced on Tuesdays and Thursdays as it is,” Roberts said. “We just do school a lot different than a traditional school would do it.”
Even with fewer students than a typical public school, Lanier Christian Academy students still have plenty to get used to.
All students are asked to take their temperature before school every morning to avoid coming in while sick. Some students will have to eat lunch in their classrooms “up to three days a week,” to avoid large crowds from congregating in the cafeteria, and all stairwells will be designated either “up” or “down” to prevent students from bunching up, according to the school return guidelines.
“It’s different for sure,” Roberts said. “But we’re still finding a way to adapt and do school.”
Lanier Christian Academy is also offering an online option for students this semester, but Roberts said only around a dozen students are going with that choice. Most families feel comfortable sending their kids back to school for in-person instruction, he said.
Despite the continued spread of COVID-19, Roberts said Lanier Christian Academy never experienced any notable drop in enrollment. In fact, he said the school saw a spike in interest when Gwinnett County Public Schools announced it would begin the school year digitally.
“Even when Hall County delayed a week, phones were ringing quite a bit,” he said. “We’ve been busy. We were nervous that a lot of folks would not come back, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”