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Friday, January 28, 2022
First day Avery

Avery, 7, sits at her laptop. Her mom said Avery was in tears at one point.

First day of school pictures look a little different this year.

After weeks of back-and-forth, schools officially opened today. Students across Alachua County began learning in the classroom for the first time since COVID-19 shuttered schools in March. Others started the school year at home. 

Students attended school in person while wearing masks, some logged-in to Alachua Digital Academy, a live, online option, and others started in Alachua eSchool, a self-paced, digital learning platform. 

The day was eventful.

One class at Lake Forest Elementary had to quarantine after a parent called to say their child, who was in the brick-and-mortar classroom, had a COVID-19 test that came back positive, said Jackie Johnson, Alachua County Public Schools spokesperson 

Johnson said the child shouldn’t have been brought to school.

“We sent this information to parents frequently, but obviously it needs to be said again,” she said.

Johnson said she believes there are six other children in the classroom who will need to quarantine. The county health department is offering to test the students on the third and ninth day of quarantine, she said. If the child tests negative by the ninth day, she added, they will be cleared to return to school.

Numbers about attendance for students and teachers and the breakdown of students among the three learning options for the first day should be available Tuesday. Johnson said the school district tracks numbers for the first 10 days because fluctuations in numbers are common. Though she noted that she knows some students switched to in-person learning. 

Technology woes also impacted the school day.

Johnson spoke with the principal at Fort Clarke Middle School who said he received reports that there was obscene language in a Zoom “bombing,” which the district will investigate.

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Zoom bombing is when someone “trolls” or disrupts a video chat they should not be in. 

Parents will be notified about what occurred and are encouraged to report incidents like this to their child’s school.

There were also issues with laptops that needed to be exchanged because they weren’t working, Johnson said. Other students had trouble with usernames or passwords for logging on. She said the system was being overloaded and IT is working to fix it. 

While there were these technology issues, overall, systems appeared to be mostly up and running, unlike in some counties, such as Miami-Dade, where learning platforms went completely down

For some, the day went on without incident. 

Brooke Watson, a 41-year-old mother of two ACPS students, said there was a lot of anxiety leading up to the first day of classes. 

Her 9-year-old son, Aidan, is attending the fourth grade through the Alachua Digital Academy. Her 17-year-old daughter, Abby, is a senior starting brick-and-mortar classes at Gainesville High School. 

First day Aidan

Aidan, 9, online sits in his learning set-up. His mom said he had a good first day.

She worried about Aidan being stuck in front of a computer for six hours. 

His teachers were great about doing movement activities, like Simon Says, to keep students engaged, Watson said. There weren’t any technical difficulties. 

“He really enjoyed being able to do school at home, where he felt safe,” Watson said. “It was actually kind of nice.”

For brick-and-mortar students, like Abby, there were concerns about social distancing, Watson said. Inclement weather made outdoor spaces unavailable. Watson said her choice to send Abby to brick-and-mortar classes went beyond physical health.

“I think the social isolation and not being able to participate in the close clubs would have been a detriment to her mental health,” she said. 

Watson said she and her husband work in health care and spoke with Abby about safety.

To Watson, a part of this school year has been trusting the process and letting go of the need to have all the answers because of the learning curve. 

Watson said her daughter told her there was some confusion about foot traffic in the hallways.

“By the end of the day, she said it flowed better and the kids got used to it,” she said.

Teachers reinforced guidelines and classes were set up well for social distancing, she said. Watson said Abby was impressed most, if not all, the students wore their masks.

Teachers were also adjusting to teaching online.

Chad Essary teaches science and math in the Professional Academies magnet at Loften High School. His classes are HyFlex, meaning he has students online and in the classroom at the same time. 

He wrote in an email that there were glitches with Canvas, screen-sharing and microphones, but he sees an improvement from when classes first went digital in the spring. This time around, he said there’s more communication and the right technology, training and patience.

To Essary, it was hard to engage both sets of his students. 

At some points, he said he didn’t realize his microphone wasn’t picking up for online students or that certain pop-ups were being blocked by the browser. However, his students were able to help each other troubleshoot. 

“The students seemed to enjoy their day, were glad to see their friends, and overall, I feel they will adapt to this new norm,” he said. 

Tillissa Borcia, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom to her 9-year-old son Austin and 7-year-old daughter Avery said that she noticed some connectivity problems while her children were doing their Digital Academy classes throughout the day. 

Though they have a good plan from Cox Communications because her husband is a gamer, she said there were issues with the Internet. Later that day, she received a text about problems in her neighborhood. 

First day Austin

Austin, 9, sits at his laptop. Besides his mom and the Internet's interruption, the day was good.

At one point during the day, a spider startled Borcia while her son was in class. 

Amid squealing about the spider, she heard Austin, a fourth grader, say ‘Mom, I’m unmuted.’

Borcia said she could hear his classmates giggling and joked she’s waiting to be reprimanded for the disruption. 

For her daughter, the day was a bit overwhelming. Borcia said the day was fast paced and that at one point, Avery started crying and then felt embarrassed.

“I wasn’t sure what I was allowed to do,” she said. “If I could bring her a tissue, or if I had to tell her to suck it up buttercup.”

Borcia expects the week will get better and said teachers were great about working with the technology issues.

“It’s only the first day,” she said. “I’m hopeful.”

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