Clarke County school bus (copy COVID)

On March 26, Gov. Brian Kemp extended the mandatory public school closures in Georgia until April 24 due to concerns about the global COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo/Reynolds Rogers)

For Antonio Starks, the most difficult part about being out of the classroom is the tendency to procrastinate.

Instead of having eight hours a day under the watchful eyes of his teachers, the Clarke Central High School freshman now has to motivate himself to log into his Google Classroom pages — his new normal for at least the next month.

“It’s hard because you always want to play games or be on your phone,” Starks said. “Now I designate time where I do work and focus on that.”

On March 26, Gov. Brian Kemp extended the mandatory public school closures in Georgia until April 24, and Starks and his fellow students had already been out of school for three weeks. Clarke County School District said it would not announce a return date for students at this time in case more guidelines come out, according to a March 29 letter to the community.

CCSD will observe the district’s mid-spring break from April 10-13, during which no school work will be assigned and no meals served, according to the letter.

Beginning April 2, CCSD will modify the meal distribution and pick-up schedule, according to the letter.

Meals will be delivered by bus on Mondays and Thursdays, but students will receive meals for multiple days, the CSSD letter said. The pick-up location will also change from Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary to Chase Street Elementary. The other pick-up location will remain at Hilsman Middle School.

Since starting the meal delivery after spring break, which was the second week of March for Clarke County schools, the district has provided 48,900 breakfast and lunch meals to students, according to the letter.

The district also rolled out distance learning after spring break, where teachers used either online assignments or pre-planned packets to create lessons to keep their students engaged, said Brannon Gaskins, the CCSD chief academic officer.

The virtual classes started March 18 to give teachers time to make plans, Gaskins said.

Gaskins said teachers are instructed to stagger the amount of work given to students during this time because they don’t want students to be overwhelmed.

Middle and high school students should have about two hours of work per day, third through fifth grade about 120 minutes, and pre-K to second grade about 90 minutes, Gaskins said.

Starks said he spends a small part of the day on his work. He doesn’t necessarily miss sitting in a classroom, but he does miss seeing his friends at school.

“I think I’m retaining knowledge more than I would if I didn’t have these assignments,” said Starks, who said learning new material through the virtual classroom isn’t easy.

In his math class, Starks completes practice quizzes assigned by his teacher. He said his teachers give directions in the assignments and also contact students through email.

CCSD is a Google district, meaning they use Google products, such as Google Drive and Google Classroom, in their regular teaching. Starks and other students were already accustomed to the interface, so the major change is the lack of actual classroom time.

Gaskins said teachers aren’t doing tests or quizzes while the school is closed, so any grades will come from how well students complete assignments.

The Georgia Department of Education is seeking a federal waiver for state testing. Georgia Milestones testing will not occur this year.

Advanced Placement testing will take place online, and the SAT and ACT standardized testing dates will be rescheduled, according to the CCSD community letter.

Gaskins said he is meeting with high school teachers to talk about how to modify grading policies.

CCSD gives students from third grade to 12th grade school-issued laptops to use each academic year, which is what Starks uses for his assignments. When schools closed, the district passed out hot spots to families who expressed a need for internet connection in their home, Gaskins said. Starks’ family received free Wi-Fi from Spectrum, which is offering free internet to teachers and students for 60 days.

If a student did not want to participate in online learning, they could opt to receive packets from the teachers, which are either picked up from the two locations CCSD is doing meal pick-up or delivered along the meal distribution bus routes. These packets are graded for completion, Gaskins said.

“Our families have been really good about emailing teachers and principals directly to tell them what they need,” Gaskins said.

For anyone from which the district has not heard yet, Gaskins said they’ve started mailing out letters to inform families they can deliver or ship any materials they may need to keep their students engaged in learning.

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