Hall students do school at home on third off day
From left, Skylar Abbott, Kyle Bowmar, Hunter Gowin, Josh Soper and Macey Fons, all students at Chestatee High School, study together on Wednesday in Gainesville. With many areas without electricity since Monday, Hall County students are using online instruction until schools regain power. - photo by David Barnes

All Hall County schools were closed to students Wednesday for a third day in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irma, but learning still took place — in homes.

A group of eight Chestatee High School students gathered in the home of Scott Soper and his sons, Josh and Jonah, in northwest Hall. They were writing papers, solving math problems, working on speeches, copying notes a teacher had posted online and working on other assignments.

In South Hall, Davis Henson, a sixth-grader at the DaVinci Academy, was busy working on English/language arts assignments, while his sister, Marleigh, a fourth-grader at Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science, was doing a reading assignment, while keeping up with a video about the U.S. Constitution.

It’s called “school from home” in Hall County Schools, a way for students to get work completed even when school is out because of weather-related issues.

After missing Monday and Tuesday because of Irma, school officials implemented the school from home program Wednesday and will do so again Thursday with school buildings closed for a fourth consecutive day.

Kevin Bales, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said Wednesday the approach began in 2015 and has been tweaked over time to better meet the needs of students, parents and school officials. Students can access assignments through the district’s web-based Canvas program, individual school websites and individual packets, depending on the teacher or school.

“It’s really been a work in progress and one we’re real proud of for each of these three years,” Bales said. “What we found is because our communities vary so much and there’s different needs that we’ve actually functioned better when we’ve given latitude of discretion to our schools.”

He added that messages were sent to school officials Tuesday night reminding them that every student may not be able to participate depending on where they are in terms of recovery from the storm.

“We still have members of our community without power, and we do not want to add stress to their life,” Bales said. “We do not want someone with a tree coming through a roof without power and they’re worried about the safety of their kids and worried about food and how to take care of those basic needs to be stressing out over a math assignment. No matter how creative that assignment is, you still don’t want them to be stressed about it.”

Josh Soper was working with several of his Chestatee High friends in his home Wednesday. He said he prefers working on schoolwork at school.

“I think it helps, but it’s definitely not the same,” he said. “We’re only doing our fifth-period, sixth-period and seventh-period work. When we’re at school, we’re doing all of them. We’re only getting about half of it done… I feel like you learn a lot more in the classroom because you’re actually forced to learn it.”

Haley McCaleb was copying notes from a PowerPoint presentation her teacher provided on Canvas for her essentials for health care class.

“Some of them she talked about in class,” McCaleb said. “Some of them she hasn’t talked about in class yet. We can just add onto stuff.”

Macey Fons was busy putting in hours and doing assignments for her Honors Mentorship Program class, where she works at the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia.

“Right now, we’re all together, but it’s a lot better to ask your classmates questions or ask your teachers questions when you’re sitting next to them and not having to text or call someone,” Fons said. “We do a lot of stuff with Canvas. Some teachers don’t prefer to use it, but we have done school from home with Canvas. We did it last year when we had snow days.”

Hunter Gowin was studying for a vocabulary quiz but was also waiting on an assignment from a teacher who did not have Wi-Fi.

“I like being at school and having the physical book or paper,” he said. “It’s just simpler.”

In his South Hall home, Davis Henson said he had used the Canvas app Monday to message one of his teachers with a question. He said the teacher responded in about two or three minutes.

“Canvas is really cool,” he said. “It helps me organize things better, and I can find things a lot easier than I can (with) pencil and paper.”

Amanda Henson, Davis’ mother and a teacher at Martin, said he spent three hours and 15 minutes working on schoolwork Tuesday in addition to working Monday.

Marleigh was working on a reading menu in her school notebook where she answered questions about a book she had read. At the same time, she had a video playing on a laptop about the Declaration of Independence for social studies.

Marleigh said she also likes working with Canvas.

“It helps me do my work better and it’s online and I don’t have to write anything with pencil and paper,” she said.

Amanda Henson said Canvas also has study guides for the students.

“I like it because I can get onto their Canvas accounts, too, so as a parent I know what’s going on in their classroom,” she said. “I feel a little more in tune to what units they’re working on and how I can support them.”

Regional events