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Thousands of students return to Cobb classrooms for face-to-face learning

By Kristal Dixon, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga (CNT)

School buses delivered thousands of students to Cobb County schools Monday, the first time children have been inside public school classrooms since March when the coronavirus pandemic forced closures.

About 27,000 students reported for the first phase of reopening, which includes pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students and all special education students. Another 17,000 students chose to stick with remote learning, a spokesman for the Cobb County School District.

The school district said the final tally of first-day enrollment numbers won’t be available until Tuesday.

Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said he saw a “great level of excitement” among teachers and staff welcoming students back to school.

“We absolutely understand that some families are not yet comfortable with a face to face environment, and we will continue offering a virtual environment as an option for accessing the high level of teaching and learning Cobb has come to expect,” Ragsdale said in a statement. “Our team will continue to go above and beyond to ensure our students and staff have the safest learning environment possible.”


 

Cobb County schools, the state’s second largest district with about 112,000 students, began the school year Aug. 17 with remote-only classes. Students who returned for in-person learning will be in class Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with the district reserving Wednesdays for deep cleaning of buildings, buses and other high-touch areas.

Clarkdale Elementary School Principal Dr. Liss Maynard said she put a lot of planning into executing the first day of in-person learning. The Austell school had 351 students return to the classroom Monday. Students followed the mask requirements and parents were respectful of the rule that they could not venture past the lobby. She said she and the teachers were excited to see children return.

“It was beautiful,” she said. “I just hate that I couldn’t hug them because I’m such a hugger. They were excited to be back and excited to see us.”


 

Students, educators and staff are required to wear masks or face coverings on school buses, in buildings and in classrooms. Social distancing guidelines are in effect, and student desks are spaced to minimize contact. Hand sanitizing stations are in multiple locations throughout schools and district staff will do daily cleaning practices in buildings and on buses.

Students will be able to eat their meals in cafeterias, but they will have to maintain social distancing while retrieving their trays and sitting at tables. Maynard said school staff were able to get kids into the lunchroom and place them six feet apart at tables. The tables were marked with red dots where students could sit, as were floors throughout the school to indicate where students could stand.

The school cleaned classrooms while students were eating lunch, Maynard said. Children had to wash their hands with soap and water before and after eating, the principal said.


 

Cobb County teachers will be responsible for educating both in-person and remote students at the same time. Teachers have laptops with cameras and equip themselves with Bluetooth microphones so students at home can see and hear them.

Clarkdale fifth grade teacher Shantae Britton said she was initially nervous about how she would be able to teach both groups of students equally, but said the technology has helped teachers respond to and help both groups of students. She said educators also have to be mindful of making sure they respond to questions and answers from both groups equally.

“As a teacher you learn what works and what doesn’t work and how you can make it better to make sure students in front of you and online are learning equally,” she said.


 

West Cobb parent Melissa Wall said her second-grade daughter returned home from Still Elementary School in Powder Springs to say she had an “awesome day.” Her daughter said she was happy to see her friends and teachers, and said adjusting to the social distancing guidelines was “really easy.”

“She’s a happy second-grader,” she said.

Wall said the family felt their child could return to in-person learning since they didn’t have any high-risk health concerns. While she adjusted fine to virtual learning when it was implemented in the spring and for the first part of the fall semester, Wall said her daughter “missed that daily interaction with teachers and classmates.”

Wall said she has been pleased with the communication from her daughter’s teacher and principal. She said she hopes that parents understand that they should keep an open mind and understand the situation could change due to the uncertainties of the pandemic.

“There’s not going to be a perfect way because no one has that right now,” she said of reopening plans.