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Remote or in-person learning? What most families in Hall and Gainesville are choosing
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Gainesville High students make their way to their next classroom Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, during a class change. - photo by Scott Rogers

Gainesville and Hall County school families have made their choice for the spring semester, and a majority have chosen in-person learning.

During the Gainesville City Schools Board of Education meeting Monday, Nov. 16, Superintendent Jeremy Williams shared that 657 students have opted to switch from online classes to face-to-face instruction and 116 will shift from face-to-face to online for next semester. As it stands, he said 92% of the around 8,000-student population will do in-person learning and 8% will go virtual. 

“Over 50% of the initial number that attend virtual school are now coming back to us face-to-face in January,” Williams said. “Keep in mind, that’s 657 students who have not been in a structured classroom environment since March.”

Kevin Bales, Hall’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said 87% of Hall students will undergo in-person learning and 13% have chosen to go virtual next semester. The system has around 27,000 students enrolled. Of those who switched for the next semester, Bales said 85% requested to move from virtual to in-person and 15% reverted from in-person to virtual.

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Jessica Garrish, mother of an eighth grader at Gainesville Middle School and a junior attending Gainesville High School, said both of her children will continue next semester face-to-face.

So far, she said her kids have been fortunate, and only one — Hudson, the 13-year-old — had to go into quarantine because of exposure to a COVID-19 positive student. 

When the system started off the school year with virtual learning, Garish said it went pretty seamlessly compared to last spring.

“He (Hudson) knew what he was supposed to do, and the instruction continued daily,” she said. “He continued to learn and progress. I do have a lot less fear concerning, if the need arises, we can continue to function like that.”

For her 16-year-old Isabella, Garrish said she struggled during the spring with the lack of socialization. When the opportunity arose for her daughter to go back to school in the fall, she jumped on it. 

“I have a great deal of confidence and respect in the teachers they are both going to have (come spring),” she said. “My son is having a round of teachers my daughter already had. Both my kids are athletes. That played a little in the decision making, too.”

Randy Jessup, who has two kids at Gainesville High and one at Gainesville Middle, said his family chose in-person learning again for the spring semester. 

“The school system has been diligent about sticking to guidelines,” he said. “We feel really good about where things are. With everything considered, I think things have gone as well as can be expected.”

Jessup said he has witnessed the social and academic benefits of his kids attending school in person compared to remote learning. 

“I think getting out of the house has been very good for all of us,” he said. “I think we’ve definitely been in better spirits.”

Abigail Guzman, mother of an eighth grader at Gainesville Middle and third grader at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, said she decided to switch from remote learning to in-person for the spring semester. She said her kids haven’t been in a classroom since mid-March, but felt it was time to make the change.

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Gainesville High students make their way across campus to their next classroom Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, during a class change. - photo by Scott Rogers

“We’ve loved the virtual academy,” Guzman said. “Honestly, it has been a fantastic experience for us, especially for Victoria (Perez) at Enota.”

Guzman said online learning gave her daughter an opportunity to improve her writing skills and reading level through having one-on-one interactions with her teacher and tutoring after school. However, for her eighth grader, Emiliano Perez, she said remote advanced classes proved a challenge. While half of his instruction was coming from Gainesville Middle, she said the other half came from Georgia Virtual School.

“He had teachers not in Gainesville who we don’t know that he only communicates with via email,” she said. “He really has to teach himself everything. I can see he definitely needs to be with a teacher.”

After witnessing her son struggle with virtual lessons and realizing COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon, Guzman said she decided to send her kids back to school. 

If the system has to transition back into virtual learning, she said she’s ready. 

“We’re prepared because we’ve been doing virtual for so long,” she said. “I feel comfortable about it. We can handle it.”

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