First two weeks at Destin Middle School get a 'solid A' with a few challenges

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

If Destin Middle School Principal Grant Meyer had to put a letter grade on the first two weeks back in "brick and mortar" learning, he said it would be a "solid A."

"Surprisingly, it has gone very smooth," Meyer said. "The kids have been great and our teachers have been patient ... so we're very happy with the way school started."

After an almost month delay to the start of school in Okaloosa County, students went back into the classrooms on Aug. 31, the first time since spring break due to the pandemic that swept across the country.

Destin Middle looked at several ways to do safety check-ins in the morning, but found that it was easier to have the teachers do it in the classroom.

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But the students and teachers are adjusting to the new normal.

And part of the new normal is keeping everybody safe in various ways.

Destin Middle looked at several ways to do safety check-ins in the morning, but found that it was easier to have the teachers do it in the classroom.

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"Surprisingly that has gone quite well ... we had to adjust some kinks the first day ... but  our teachers were really good in helping to develop a plan and that's going well too," Meyer said.

Destin Middle School Principal Grant Meyer

They originally talked about doing the temperature checks with the students as they got out of the car or off the bus, but doing it in the classroom has worked well.

"It's just made it easier ... all the kids are not congregating up in one spot," he said.

One of the biggest challenges Meyer said they have faced thus far is keeping the students socially distanced.

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"With everybody excited about getting back and seeing one another ... just keeping students apart," Meyer said. "They want to congregate up and tell stories. We have to remind them to social distance ... we're constantly reminding them."

In these first two weeks, he said they have talked a lot about safety precautions and the students are understanding.

"The kids accepted it and they are doing phenomenal," Meyer said.

But even with all the precautions in place, Destin Middle has had a few positive cases of the virus pop up.

"We have had some cases and had to do some contact tracing, Our teachers have done good with their classroom set up," he said which made tracing much easier.

Destin Middle School

He explained the students were together off school grounds "hanging out on the weekend" more so than close contact on school grounds.

"We're trying to educate everybody and work through it," he said.

One of the big questions the Okaloosa County School District faced before school started back was whether to require students to wear mask. The district voted to not make mask wearing a requirement.

However, Meyer said at Destin Middle, it's about an even split on mask wearing. He said students tend to wear them when they change classes, but once in the classroom they take them off. Meyer explained the desks are far apart and some desk barriers are in place in the classrooms.

But on the other hand, some wear a mask throughout the day. Plus masks are required on bus rides.

"We've had very few complaints about wearing it on the bus ... the kids are doing well with it," Meyer said.

Another new aspect of school this year is a block schedule where the students go to first, third and fifth periods one day and second, fourth and sixth the next.

"We've had a lot of positive comments about that," Meyer said.

Although it's longer time in each of the periods, the students are not bombarded with a lot of homework because they have more time in the classroom to get things done.

"Even the kids are like 'this is working,' 'not as bad as we thought,'" he said.

Transitioning in between classes is going easier since students no long use a locker.

As for the locker room, students are not currently using it to dress out for PE. However, sports teams, such as football, that need it to dress out for practice after school, are using it in waves, with only a few kids allowed at the time. 

Cafeteria time has gone through some adjustments as well. Large groups are not able to sit together. The tables are spread out and numbers are limited.

Another challenge has been with some of the buses in the afternoon. Meyer said that some arrive at the school late and they have to have a holding area for the students so they can be socially distanced. They are using the gym, which sometimes pushes volleyball practice back.

"But we're working it out and everyone is being patient with everything. Our parents and community has been really good with schools opening. Still have a few parents concerned, but all in all, they are happy," Meyer said.

The majority of the student population for Destin Middle elected to go back into the classroom with about 16 percent opting for online learning.

Meyer said he is still getting calls from people wanting to come back. At this point, they will have to wait until the end of the nine weeks before they will be able to come back to brick and mortar.