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Siblings Back In Class: One At School, One At Home

After a late start due to the pandemic, all public school students in Northwest Florida are back in class, whether in-person or via Remote Learning. To find out what both approaches look like, from the student perspective, I’m checking back with two of my young relatives on their return to school in the Escambia County School District. One is reporting for face-to-face instruction and the other has opted to stay at home.

Choices, Anxiety and Preparation

“I got my skirt overalls,” begins my 9-year-old niece, Shamiyah, describing the new outfit she chose to wear on the first day of school at Brentwood Elementary.

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
Shamiyah, a 4th-grader at Pensacola's Brentwood Elementary school, shows off the outfit she's picked for the first day school. It includes a matching mask.

It’s a light blue denim material and includes a white shirt stamped with palm trees, unicorns and flowers. She has shorts to go underneath for play and a blue bow for her hair.

Shamiyah also got a new book bag — that happens to match — and some very important items to go in it.

“I got some hand sanitizers, some little ones that come in a case. I got the unicorn one. And, I’m going to take two masks per day,” she said.

The hand sanitizer and masks are necessary because Shamiyah is reporting to a traditional classroom.

Her assessment of why her mom is sending her back to the brick and mortar school, “Because 4th grade is kind of scary and I might need the teacher’s help and because she (Mom) has to work and stuff.”

Clearly, she understands. But, justifiably, she’s both excited and a bit apprehensive about returning to school amid COVID-19.

“I’m kind of scared,” she shared. “Because I don’t know how it is. I don’t know who’s going to be in my class. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“I thought it was the safest way for me to do school,” declared my 16-year-old nephew, Keondre, Shamiyah’s older brother, about his choice to start his 11th grade year at Escambia High School via Remote Learning at home.

“I was just being cautious about my health because not everybody is probably going to be wearing a mask, and the cases are going up in this county, so that’s why I’m still here.”

Asked about whether he’s selected his home workspace, he affirms, “Yes; I’m going to sit at the kitchen table.”

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
Shamiyah, 9, and her brother Keondre, 16, share their different school experiences. She's back at school; he's chosen Remote Learning. The kitchen table is his workspace.

During the spring, when COVID initially forced schools to close, Keondre recalls that where he worked and when, was really up to him. It’s different for the fall.

“In the spring, it was more like, freelance; you could control more of what you did,” he recalled. “But, now, it’s just (going to) be like, straight hands-on and you have to stay on the computer all day, basically regular school, just on video chat.”

Because he’s working from home, Keondre and his mom, my sister, have put off shopping from home. Instead, the focus has been on lunch and snacks.

“That’s the one thing I do miss, like, getting new clothes and stuff. But, I guess that’s how it is this year,” he lamented.

Despite the different methods of learning chosen for them in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, my nephew and his sister, Shamiyah, are prepared for their return to class.

“I think it’s going to be a little challenging at first. As time goes on, you’re probably going to start getting the feel of it and probably start doing a little better.

Off to a Good Start

After the first week of the new school year, I visited my young relatives again, for an update.

“I’m in 4th grade and my teacher’s name is Ms. Edwards,” says Shamiyah, who shares details about her first day back at Brentwood Elementary School, “Home of the Bear Cubs.”

“It was some little paws on the thing and you (have) to be six feet from each other,” she noted about the markings for social distancing. I ask whether they were on the floor or sidewalk. Her response, “It’s everywhere!”

Also, because of COVID-19, she tells me that drop-off and check-in have been moved to the rear of the school.

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
Shamiyah, a 4th-grader at Brentwood Elementary School, demonstrates the new wider distance between desks in her classroom.

“My assistant principal checked my temperature, then she told me what it was. Then I had to go to my class. And, when I came into my class, our desks, so like, that’s my desk and somebody else’s desk all the way over there,” Shamiyah explained, as she spread her arms out wide across the dining room table to demonstrate the distancing.

In her take-home folder, she pulls out her daily citizenship report, “And, I got a 100 on all days,” she noted, proudly.

The 4th-grader agreed that the spacing between desks is likely helping her on the citizenship front.

She went on to describe having lunch at her desk, instructions to keep masks on, a limit of two at a time in the restroom, and she’s noticed extra cleaning efforts.

“And, every time when we come back in our class, you can see our playground and everything that’s outside of our school window and they be spraying down so much,” she said, as she mimicked the spraying sound. “Yeah, and they spray down everything,” she reiterated.

In the classroom, she has the usual 4th-grade subjects. Among them: Math, Reading, Science, Social Studies, and new this year is Geography, which she’s having trouble pronouncing.

Additionally, like before, she’s doing some of her daily assignments on her Chromebook.

“The first day, we were kind of going through the motions, trying to get everybody on Google Meeting,” said Keondre, the 11th-grader, who is now spending about 8 hours a day on his Chromebook, from about 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“The first couple of days it was a little bit tiring, but I started to get the hang of it.”

He says staying busy helps him to stay focused, “After they told us what to do, we just went on Canvas and started our assignments. So, it’s just (teachers) giving us our assignments and us completing them.”

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
World History is one of the remote classes Keondre is taking as an 11th-grader at Escambia High School.

Keondre is attending classes at Escambia on a block schedule, with some subjects on odd days and the others on even days.  

His studies include U.S. History, World History, Algebra II, Sign Language II, AP English, and Marine Science.

For his Marine Science class, he opens a TED Ed video featuring a talk by deep-sea explorer and oceanographer, Robert Ballard, famous for finding the Titanic.

“We’re not really learning about him,” he noted, as the video plays in the background. “The teacher gave us this video to try to inform us on ocean exploration and how it’s changed over time. But, I haven’t finished the assignment yet. It’s due Monday.”

Keondre’s favorite class is Personal Fitness. And, as a returning player, he’s looking forward to the start of basketball season, now set for November.

Overall, he says everything is going smoothly, and with his mom, he’ll reassess whether to follow his sister back to the traditional classroom after Christmas break.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.