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Georgia schools have been closed for a little more than a month, causing students and teachers to adjust abruptly to virtual learning. GPB Morning Edition producer Taylor Gantt talks with teacher Dana Farr and student Antoine Garner from East Hall Middle School in Gainesville about the adjustment to online learning.

All right, Dana, let's start with you. When the pandemic really began to take shape here in Georgia and you learned that you'd have to be teaching remotely, what was your first reaction to that? 

Dana: My first reaction was I'm new in terms of logistics. I was set up and ready to go in terms of those logistics. I have a pretty deep technological background. I know how to set up our learning management system to set the work up. I know how to screen myself. I had all those technological elements in place. 

It really wasn't the technological elements as much as it was the emotional elements that I was concerned about how students were gonna get access, the emotional connections you make in classrooms that we're going to be gone. The student-to-student contact, the games, the band concerts, the broadcast club, just the emotional components. 

When my students left the classroom as like, "Bye! I hope to see you soon!" And then my heart kind of caught because I thought, "What if I don't see them the rest of the school year?" Then I thought, "No, no, no Dana. You're being ridiculous."

But then my heart kind of caught like, what is this? Is it? And I knew there was a catch in my heart at that point. And I knew that. And I thought, oh, I'm worried emotionally. It wasn't the technological lesson component. It was the emotional component for me.

How are you prepared to teach students with different levels of access or who are dealing with different situations at home? How have you dealt with that?

Dana: Equity is on my heart too. I have students that run the gamut. I have gifted and advanced students. I have students that don't speak English. I have students that are learning how to read more efficiently. And some of them read on like a first or second grade level.

And so when I'm doing this, I have to kind of mentally break apart what I'm doing and fragment it and think about how am I going to meet this need, how I'm going to make this need, how I'm going to meet this need? Luckily, I do that in my classroom. But flipping the switch and kind of transferring it to home, you have to kind of cut back what you're doing, make it shorter, make it more digestible. And so I've been kind of working to do that as well.

And then I have an English language learners teacher who was able to kind of translate everything into Spanish for me so I could send it home in Spanish. I had our interpreter caller on speaker. He was showing up on the Zoom that I don't speak Spanish. I just wanted to make sure that he was being taken care of. I just have a heart for him. I was just so precious to see him on there trying to learn the content and learn the material. I contacted our translator and got some stuff translated for him to make sure we could get him caught up. 

Antoine, let's turn to you now that most kids in Georgia are in a virtual classroom. What's it been like for you?

Antoine: I thought it was gonna be a lot more difficult than it was because all my teachers have a variable setup like Mrs. Farr, for example. They all have the same icon that you can just click on and their work is very neat and organized. They even have work from the past set up. That way, if you didn't see your assignment for that day, you can go back and get caught up. And now that we got past spring break, they have We Care Fridays, which is pretty much where they – we don't have any new work and you can get caught up. You get caught up in the weeks before. 

Wow. So you're saying to this point it's been pretty easy for you to stay on top of everything? 

Antoine: Yes. These assignments, they're not very easy, but they are quite challenging. But it's not too much to where you get overwhelmed. It's manageable to do so you can do it. You can do it. 

Okay. That's great, Dana. One thing you've asked your students to do is document life through the pandemic, which, you know, obviously is a shared experience that we're all dealing with right now. What have you been hearing from students like Antoine?

Dana: So, I think what has been really interesting is — I have them do an activity I just called it "You Are CNN 10" because our students in sixth and seventh grade social studies watch CNN and they watch Carl Azuz every day. 

It was so funny. When we took our broadcast team on a field trip to the CNN Center, they were like "Where's Carl Azuz? Where's Carl Azuz?" They were looking for him. I'm like, "What? Who?" And then it clicked. I was like, "Oh, it's CNN 10 because they are obsessed."

So I just kind of took that minor obsession and made it into an assignment where I'm like, "You are CNN 10. Report the news for me every day. Tell me what's in the news. What's going on in life?" And then I included "What's your favorite TikTok? What's your favorite meme of the day? What's something going on that you really enjoy?" And so they've been documenting that. 

What I think is so interesting about the ones I've received is the escalation of the pandemic. And just to see the escalation in their writing of how this has transpired is something that I'm hoping one day, five, 10 years from now they'll turn around and look at and be like, "Oh, my gosh. I've lived through that. I remember that that was something I went through and I documented." And it's something I'm hoping that they can share with their kids and their grandkids and talk about and remember and they'll be able to remember better because they wrote it down. 

Antoine, what's been the main experience for you? What's your biggest takeaway from just living through this time right now? 

Antoine: My biggest takeaway is the escalation. Some of these events happen very quickly. But just yesterday, my mom went out to get gas. She still has to go to work and the gas was 99 cents and she was totally freaked out because that's nothing that has ever happened before. 

And so since I don't really know what happened in the past, I have to go ask people like my grandparents, "Did this ever happen and this ever happened?" I did the research. Like Disneyland. When Disneyland closed, I was like, "Oh, it's just an amusement park. It's no big deal." But it's only closed like three or four other times throughout history. And I just think it's insane that it closed for this so early. 

Yeah, it really is interesting. And speaking about Antoine, you're actually part of a broadcasting club in East Hall Middle and you're helping report on the pandemic to the school by Zoom, which we're doing right now. Why do you think it's important to tell your classmates what's going on right now? 

Antoine: Because the students have to stay informed. Say when we will pass out the lunches, if students needed those lunches and they didn't know they were coming, we have to tell them that so they can stay informed so they can see those lunches. Or if we're changing something about the schedule— say that we change the We Care Fridays— we have to report things like that. That way, students know and keep up with their assignments. 

Has a moment like this kind of shown you the importance of having a voice in journalism or media?

Antoine: You have to speak your voice and speak what you're saying. That way, everyone around you knows what you're saying. 

But if you do stay silent, no one's gonna really know what's going on with you because we're all isolated right now, so we can't really talk to each other. So things like Zoom and things like social media really help you get your voice out there and tell people what's going on.

OK. Now, we'll end on a question for each of you. First of all, Dana, for the many other teachers out there in Georgia and across the country, what is your biggest piece of advice to them right now? 

Dana: My biggest piece of advice would be that we are living in a time that none of us have really ever experienced before. Even my grandparents who lived through the Great Depression and World War 2, have never experienced anything like a pandemic like this before. Just be there, be kind. Show grace. Exude kindness. Be the one that's going to be there for them because 10, 15 years from now, they're not going to remember the content as much as they're going to remember "Did someone care about me?" 

I think that's what, as educators, we have to keep in mind that we're so content driven and I am so content driven. I understand how important it is to get across the content. Because I believe in my content and I believe it's important. But at the same time, I'm a human and these children are human and they're facing layers of human circumstances. I just want to show them grace and let them know that I'm here and that I love them.

Antoine, there's just as many teenagers out there who are having their lives kind of interrupted right now. What's your biggest advice to your peer group? 

Antoine: Just stay strong. Just keep going because there is someone out there for you. There are your teachers, your parents, your friends. Reach out to anybody that does care about you because there are people like that. Just keep up. Keep on keeping on. Get your work done. Go outside because it's very important for you to go outside. Drink a lot of water, eat healthy and we'll get through this.