Thursday marked the first day of full attendance in Gainesville City Schools, and besides a slower-than-normal afternoon student pickup, it was smooth sailing, according to parents and staff.
Pre-K through second graders, sixth graders and ninth and 10th graders returned to in-person class on Tuesday, Sept. 8, after three weeks of virtual school. The remainder of the students returned on Thursday, Sept. 10.
Phased-in return a success, teachers and staff say
After a successful and seemingly incident-free first day back on Tuesday, the introduction of the second half of the student body at school buildings across the district hasn’t seemed to phase school staff, according to interviews with teachers and administrators.
“We did not have any added challenges. Third through fifth graders came in this morning with their masks already on,” said Gwenell Brown, principal of Fair Street International Academy. “I had to give out one mask this morning.”
Brown said it seemed students were excited to be back and see their friends and teachers or join their siblings who had returned in days prior, but it also seemed that the education they’d received from both parents and school staff leading up to their return to school buildings paid off. She said she’d even wandered outside during a recess period and glanced at the sectioned-off areas where students were supposed to remain only with their own class to find students obeying those guidelines without much need for enforcement.
Gainesville Superintendent Jeremy Williams said Thursday that increased traffic during afternoon student pickup was to be expected, given the larger number of parents who are driving their children to school during the pandemic. Otherwise, Williams said, reports from other schools have sounded much like Brown’s — smooth sailing.
“Tuesday and Wednesday went extremely well. Being able to see our students and employees interacting in a much needed in-person environment is good for everyone,” he said. “Today was more of the same.”
Overall, Brown said it was “refreshing” to have students back, and the phased-in approach allowed staff to properly introduce students to buildings that might be new to them.
At Gainesville Exploration Academy, Principal Renee Boatright and first grade teacher Alexis Koch reported much of the same.
Koch said some of the younger children struggle to remember to wear their masks over their nose and mouth or properly social distance, but they seem to be adjusting well. She said keeping classes together in one classroom to cut down on class transitions has helped reduce exposure.
Thursday’s addition of grades third through fifth was smooth at Gainesville Exploration, as K-2 and 3-5 are in two separate wings of the building, according to Boatright. The principal also said she noticed a slightly delayed afternoon pickup period, but she said she believed that once the students get used to the procedure, the process would return to a normal pace.
Checking back in with parents
Matt Parrish, a father of two who The Times spoke with on Tuesday, gave a similar response on Thursday. He said while he’d been nervous to send his sixth grader, Violet, to school on Tuesday, after hearing her reports of the school and students being cautious and following health and safety precautions, he felt “much better.”
“(Violet) came back saying it went pretty darn well,” Parrish said Thursday, adding that his younger daughter, Elle, had been excited to start her first in-person day of fifth grade at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy that morning. “They haven’t had any complaints, especially in regard to being too close or pandemic-type concerns.”
Parrish said it seems the schools are trying their best to keep students and staff as safe as possible. He said he was happy with the phased-in approach, saying it was “really smart” to introduce new school buildings to upcoming kindergartners, sixth graders and high school freshmen.
“After the way the first couple days went … it totally made us not as worried this morning with Elle. We were a lot less nervous this morning than we were Tuesday,” Parrish said.
When 6-year-old Skylar Dailey returned home from school at Mundy Mill Academy on Tuesday, her first day back, she had few complaints about the COVID-19 precautions in place and was ready to let her older sister know what to expect come Thursday morning, according to Shaquanus Woods, the two girls’ mother.
Woods told The Times on Tuesday that though she felt it was important to send Skylar back to school for social and educational reasons, she was nervous, given the ongoing pandemic and the inability to control the actions of other children in school buildings. But on Thursday, she told The Times she felt much more at ease sending 8-year-old Sasha Dailey to Mundy Mill, having been given an update from Skylar in the days prior.
“She seemed like she enjoyed being back at school. She enjoyed seeing her teacher and talking to friends,” Woods said. “The only complaint she had was not having contact with her friends that are in other classes.”
Woods said her daughter told her about having to stay in one classroom all day to keep isolated from other students as much as possible and having to stay in a particular “zone” at recess.
She said Skylar shared that she and those in her class had to play “air tag,” instead of actually touching each other and that she wished she could move out of her chair and classroom during the day. But, Woods added, her 6-year-old knows the importance of social distancing. She said Skylar told her she’d warned another student against hugging her to stick to the needed COVID-19 precautions and has adopted mask wearing as a sort of fashion statement.
When Sasha left for school Thursday morning, Woods said she hoped the more outgoing of her two children would be able to refrain from hugging her friends and others out of a need for social interaction. Woods said she’s still nervous about certain aspects of the daily routines at school, but less so now, having heard that the schools are taking the precautions seriously.
“Sasha said she enjoyed being back in person,” Woods said. “She feels even though she has new guidelines, she would prefer to be able to see friends and teachers over staying at home all day.”
And while she said she noticed a delay in afternoon pickups, Thursday’s process was shorter. Overall, it seems the schools have started adjusting to educating during a pandemic, Woods said.