SECOND GRADERS in Mrs. Sandy Allen’s classroom at Shiver have individual partitions on many of the desks.
There were many firsts on this year’s first day of school in Grady County Tuesday. Educators and students wore masks; ate lunch in classrooms; students ended the school day at 2 p.m. instead of 3 p.m.; and for the first time in many years, the first day took place after Labor Day.
All in all, school leaders report a pretty smooth beginning during such an unusual time.
“It was great to see the buses rolling and students in the hallways this morning. I am always amazed at how smooth the first day of school runs in the buildings. I understand that drop off is congested for the first few days, but once students enter the buildings, they know what to do,” said Dr. Kermit Gilliard, superintendent of Grady County Schools.
With concerns about an inability to social distance on school buses, the county school leaders had encouraged parents to provide other means of transportation if they didn’t want their child on a crowded bus. That message seemed to resonate with many Whigham School parents, at least on Tuesday.
Zack Wilson, principal of Whigham, stated, “Very few students rode the bus and the drop-off line went very well. No tears observed by the principal.”
Todd Jones, principal of Shiver School, says he noted only a few tears shed by students or parents during drop-off.
“Students looked happy to be back. Pickup took a little longer than usual, but we had a lot more students being picked up. I want to thank parents for being patient as we safely get students to their vehicles,” said Jones. “Buses came and went with only a few students not sure of what buses to get on.”
Bus ridership is expected to increase at all schools as the year continues, Gilliard says.
Excitement seems to be a common emotion witnessed Tuesday by principals.
Michael Best, principal of Washington Middle School, said, “Our face-to-face students were happy to be back at school. Everyone was wearing masks and social distancing whenever possible.”
The middle school in Cairo had to get through the day without an intercom or bell system, and the issue caused some students to miss their buses at the end of the day. Best says, luckily, all were able to call for a ride home.
“The intercom and bells went out about two weeks ago for some unknown reason,” reports Best. “Dave Mitchell (maintenance director for Grady County Schools) ordered a part to repair the system, but it didn’t arrive until today (Tuesday). He attempted to repair the system, but discovered the repair was more involved than originally thought. Another part has been ordered.”
Across town, at Southside Elementary School, principal Kevin Strickland reports that students complied with the rule of wearing masks, and like each of the principals, he praised his faculty and staff for contributing to a positive start to the school year.
Strickland said, “We anticipate the school day becoming even more smooth and seamless as we progress through the next few days and become familiar with the new routines associated with prevention and precautions surrounding COVID-19.”
At Cairo High School, students also wore masks as required in the hallways between class changes, according to principal Chris Lokey.
“The students seemed to enjoy being back in the building and catching up with their friends. The traffic flow in the morning and afternoon went smoothly and without issue. We look forward to a great semester,” Lokey said.
Virtual school students also started Tuesday, although some had changes of heart about whether they wanted to attend in-person or online. The deadline to change from one to the other is Friday, according to Dr. Gilliard.
Some virtual students who encountered hiccups on the first day seemed to be able to get on track easily, according to Mr. Best.
“We had some calls from virtual parents who had some questions earlier on, and we were able to help them out and get their students online,” he said.
Ending school at 2 p.m. was implemented to give teachers an hour to work on their virtual lessons. Dr. Gilliard said that appeared to be working well.
“I was over at Southside and teachers seemed to have a good afternoon session with virtual assignments,” he said.
Just how many students are choosing in-person and virtual school remained in flux Tuesday. Gilliard said he would know firm numbers after Friday’s deadline. Officials could not provide opening day enrollment as of presstime Wednesday morning.
The Messenger sought comment from the other principals, but they had not responded as of Tuesday night.