Local Schools Opening: 'We're Excited To Get Back'
It's back to school time for students in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. The fall semester begins Monday. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s a later start than usual and things will be a lot different this year.
In advance of this first day back, WUWF visited a local elementary school to check on final preparations for both in-person and at-home learning.
In the days leading up to their opening, Ferry Pass Elementary School held orientation, by appointment, for new kindergarten students, teachers set up their classrooms, and the staff operated a drive-through system for parents to drop-off school supplies.
Kindergarten teacher Jenna Gunter gives us a look at the supplies inside the box that’s just been delivered.
“For 1st grade, we’ve got glue sticks, cap erasers, expo markers, pencils, folders, a really good job bringing stuff,” said Gunter, one of several teachers who’re standing by in the school gym, for the curbside interaction with parents.
“So they’re in there (gym) waiting for their names to be called. Then, they’ll go out and they have information they’re handing parents. We’ve had the car tags pre-made, they’ve contacted parents and given them car-tags for the car-rider line and introduced themselves,” explained Katrina Fieg, principal at Ferry Pass Elementary.
The school is expecting about 45% of their students to report (with masks on) to the classroom. She says they’ve been readying for their return since May.
“The district’s plan is in place; we’re following that. We’ve received all of our PPE, our sanitization materials, we have all of that,” said Fieg, also noting that the school has ramped up training for at-home learning.
“We’ve met with teachers several times throughout the summer via Google Meet, to update them on the process. They’ve been attending training throughout to get them familiar with Google Classroom, anything that we can find that can help us, we’ve been reading and watching videos on.”
With the additional training, remote learning for students won’t look anything like it did in the spring, when COVID-19 first took hold, locally.
“You know back then, it was so abrupt that we couldn’t put a time period on them,” said teacher Madelyn Cognevich. “They had to be able to work at night and do assignments at night, because of parents and things like that. Even though I was still available during the day, we weren’t live all the time.”
Cognevich is in her fourth year as an educator. She’s one of two 5th grade teachers at Ferry Pass, who’ll be teaching classes online. She cautions that the school day for those learning from home this fall will have a lot more structure.
“It’s basically going to be just as if a kid was in my room, in the mornings, comes in at 7:45, spends the day with us, and leaves just like if they were in a traditional room,” Cognevich explains. “So, we’ll live meeting all day long, other than lunch and things like that. And, they basically are going to be doing the same amount of work as anybody else. Like, she’s right next to me, she’s going to do the same thing, going to have the same tests, same assignments. Everything of that nature, it’s just going to be digital and at home.”
Because her students will be learning from home, the desks and chairs in the space where Cognevich will be teaching are stacked up against the wall. But, she does have a cozy corner of the room set up with her desk, computer, teaching materials and the like. She advises that her remote students should put some thought into their learning spaces, too.
“If they know that they have a certain area, you know their background is a wall, maybe. You don’t see dogs and animals and mom, or whoever’s walking back and forth. Have a place for their supplies every day, so they don’t have to get up and say, “Oh, I left it in my room.”
Across the hall is where teacher Diondria Bridges will be working. Bridges, now in her sixth year, is also teaching 5th grade, but her students will be reporting to a traditional classroom.
“Right now, I have 16 students on my roster, so we have them spaced out as far as possible. It’s not six feet, but about three,” said Bridges, describing the set up of the desks in the room. “Each student has his own supplies, so we don’t have to share and intermingle.”
Those supplies have been placed on top of each desk, which has been pre-assigned with each student’s name affixed to the front.
Plastic shields sit atop the room’s small group-learning table. Bridges’ church is providing a shield for her. To help with distancing, there’s a line of yellow tape for students to stand behind when they approach their teacher’s desk.
“I’m really excited. I miss them, I’m worried about them, but we’re ready to get back going, so we’ll do all that we can to make sure we’re all healthy and safe, but still able to have a nice learning environment where they see familiar faces and get back to that routine,” Bridges said.
Given the new spacing rules, she acknowledges it might be challenging to change their collaborative approach to learning that typically has brought students together in the classroom setting for just about every subject.
“We get together and we turn and talk with our neighbors. We partner children based on ability and strength. And, w e really collaborate a lot. I think the biggest subject that will be pretty hard will be math and science. They’re both equal. In 5th grade, we do a lot of experiments in science, and a lot of demonstrations.”
“I just want the community to know that we’re ready; we’re prepared. We’re excited to get back to school,” said Principal Katrina Fieg.
As this unprecedented school year begins, she notes things may never be the same again. For now, though, she’s confident that with hard work academically, students will be able to catch up from time lost in the spring and keep up as the fall semester progresses.
“Our curriculum specialists for the district, they’ve put things in those plans that will allow us to remediate and still move on and still be on track with the current curriculum. So, I’m confident we can get it back there.”