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CONVERSATIONS: Students Return For Spring Semester, Some At School And Others Virtually

Hanna Barczyk for NPR
Online vs. in-person college.

Orange County students start the spring semester Tuesday in an extraordinary school year.

WMFE News' Amy Green talked with Robert Prater, dean at Oak Hill Elementary, about how the year is going.

ROBERT PRATER: You can definitely tell there's a lot of tension in the air, or people are nervous. You just never know if somebody sneezes, and everybody turns around in a panic.

AMY GREEN: Now there are two kinds of students at Oak Hill Elementary -- face-to-face and virtual learners. How many are face-to-face? And how many are virtual? And what is the typical day like for each of these students?

ROBERT PRATER: We're half-and-half right now. It's going to go up when we go back. We have some teachers that are only doing virtual. We have some that are only doing face-to-face. And then we have some, we only have a few that are doing blended.

AMY GREEN: When you say some teachers are doing blended, what do you mean by that?

ROBERT PRATER: Well, there are students in the classroom, and then there are students online. And we have the smartboard. And you can see the students who are online up on that, their picture on the smartboard. And then you've got students that are right there in the classroom, and you're doing the same instruction with all the students at the same time.

A typical day is still the same. You do your 90-minute reading block. You have math. You've got your special areas, and I was amazed at how great PE and art has done with teaching those online. They do some online; they do some face-to-face.

AMY GREEN: How are the students doing? Are teachers seeing many differences in how face-to-face students are progressing compared with virtual learners?

ROBERT PRATER: No. I mean, they're still teaching standards. But when a student doesn't understand, and they can raise their hands and they say, "I don't get it." Or, "Can you explain this differently?" When they're online, it's much more difficult. A lot of them don't turn on their cameras. A lot of them won't even ask questions. When they're online, it's like they're inside the TV. And you just can't, you can't reach them. And that's why we're telling parents, "Listen, if you need that option of sending your child back face-to-face, then utilize it."

AMY GREEN: Families were given the option before the start of the spring semester to switch students from virtual to face-to-face, or the other way around. How many opted to switch? Has the school staff had to reshuffle many classes to accommodate these requests?

ROBERT PRATER: Each time we've had about 25%. So we started the year off with about 25% of the students. The halfway point, we had where we were up to 50%. And I'm anticipating we're probably going to be close to 75% of the students back on campus. All of this is scheduling challenges that the principal has to continue to do, which in turn is not fair to the teacher. And it's difficult on the student because they're changing teachers. They're changing classrooms.

AMY GREEN: How can people help? What do teachers need right now?

ROBERT PRATER: Parents, talk to your children. Stress the importance of keeping their social distance. Wear you mask. So I've seen too many teachers that have been exposed. We've got classes in quarantine. Don't let your guard down. This is not going away anytime soon. Like I always say, "Come back to school safe."


Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.