Savannah-Chatham students return with masks for first day of class

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 4:58 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - 37,000 students put on their backpacks and grabbed their pencils for the first day back to school.

Students in the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) haven’t been in person for school five days a week since March of 2020. There was a lot of excitement as that changed Wednesday.

Of course, this year will look different because of the pandemic, but for those we talked to that’s a small sacrifice to all be together again.

“It feels great to be back. I’m excited to see everybody, everybody looks so different. I’m just hoping everybody says inside the guidelines to make sure everybody’s safe and yeah I’m really excited to be back,” Savannah Arts Academy senior Sequia Livingston said.

For Savannah-Chatham seniors, their last full year of school was as a freshman. Of course, this year will look different as the coronavirus pandemic continues to be a concern.

“We are a year later a year better informed and a year stronger. We know so much more about the virus now than we knew last year at this time and we’ve used that information to really put into place great mitigation strategies,” SCCPSS Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett said.

Students will not only wear masks and have easy access to sanitizer, but cleaning will be enhanced and more. The district’s superintendent visited a few schools and said committing to the protocol will be key for staying the course. Students say it’s a small price to be back in the classroom full time.

“This is like a very small inconvenience to me to like. I’d rather be here with a mask than online at home,” Savannah Arts Academy senior Hannah Dellert said.

Of course, after a year and a half away, teachers are adjusting to welcome students back, get focused and caught up.

“We’re going to catch them where we can. We know last year was a different year, so this year we’re just going to do the best we can to catch them up from what they missed last year and have them better prepared for this year and next year,” Pulaski Elementary Early Intervention Program Math Teacher Brian Lane said.

While students returned there was reduced bus capacity because of a driver shortage. The district transported more than 18,000 of the 20,000 students who were prioritized and say they are working to maximize their efficiencies.

“We are working up to the last minute trying to ensure that we are maximizing the number of youngsters who can ride the bus. We still have some gaps, but we’re working on those every day,’ Dr. Levett said.

Two schools at Godley Station K-8

At Godley Station K-8, they welcomed back students from two schools. Not only Godley Station students, but those who will eventually go to New Hampstead K-8 as well.

That’s a total of about 1,750 students.

“It’s amazing. It’s an experience that we’ve been looking forward to for the last year and it was exciting to be able to roll in this morning and just see smiling faces,” Godley Station interim principal, Lesley Jordan said.

Two schools under one roof, but it’s only about 50 students more than what Godley Station is used to. School leaders say they worked hard to be equitable to both schools and give them their own identity though together as construction continues on New Hampstead K-8.

“So, they are with the New Hampstead teachers their uniform colors are different so it’s kind of sort of separation, but we really don’t want a division,” New Hampstead K-8 Principal Troy Brown said.

The K-8 schools say the bell change did create some hiccups Wednesday morning, but they are working with families as the year progresses. While all students will be masked, and the mitigation strategies followed closely, leaders at Godley Station say social distancing will take work.

“The social distance piece we’re very cognizant of this is you know the population is big, but at the same time making sure that we’re reminding kids keep your space and as much as possible we even have an alternate lunch schedule,” Jordan said.

And while they are enjoying this first day, leaders at New Hampstead say they are preparing for when they will have their first day in their new building come January.

“The teachers are already going to start talking with the students so they know that they are at New Hampstead, but we’re at Godley’s building and what it’s going to be like to transition over there. They kind of are walking them through that even today,” Brown said.

School leaders say teaching and learning are already happening in the classroom as they work to catch students up. But they also will have extra focus on students’ social emotional status as well as they return from pandemic changes.

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