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Catalina Elementary School’s reopening echoes that of schools around the country


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Catalina Elementary School in Orlando. Photo: Seth Daub

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This conversation is part of our statewide series “Class of COVID-19,” looking at how the pandemic has affected education for the most vulnerable students in Florida.

When schools reopened last fall, they became part of a kind of national experiment. No one knew how well kids would listen to safety guidelines or how the virus might affect young students. 

This January, the reopening of Catalina Elementary School in Orlando was profiled in WIRED. The school, in which all students qualify for free or reduced lunch, has dealt with minimal COVID cases since August. According to the article, “Covid, Schools, and the High-Stakes Experiment No One Wanted,” students who returned to Catalina in person did much better than students who chose to stay remote. 

Joining Intersection are Seth Daub, the principal of Catalina Elementary, Rose Simon, the mother of three kids who attend the school, and Sandra Upson, a senior editor at WIRED who wrote the article, to discuss how the school is doing now and how their story compares to schools nationwide. 

Upson says Catalina’s experience matched that of schools around the country.

“It was actually pretty safe to bring elementary school kids back,” she says. “And a big part of that in my take on the literature and what other schools were reporting was that they adhere to the guidelines. They’re still at an age when they listen to authority. And so they wore their masks, and they stuck to it.”

Simon says wearing masks has become a part of her kids’ culture.

“These days, they remind me to grab their masks for them,” she says.

Daub says the students are still struggling to catch up from last year, but their academics are getting stronger.

He says although the process of reopening is difficult, it’s all about doing what’s right for kids.

“It’s going to be hard,” Daub says. “But you gotta rip that Band-Aid off and once you get wheels in motion and procedures in place and see students learning again, it really is magical.” 

For more on how the pandemic has affected education check out the Florida Public Media series, “Class of COVID-19: An Education Crisis For Florida’s Vulnerable Students.” Find the whole project — and sign up for our limited-run newsletter — at classofcovid.org.


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