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Second semester same as first, but with more on campus at Destin Middle School

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

The second semester at Destin Middle School is in full swing with a few more faces in the classroom. 

Of the 180 students who opted to do online instruction the first semester because of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than half of them are now back in the classroom. 

“We’ve had a lot come back,” said Principal Grant Meyer, who noted that a lot of parents were waiting to see how the first semester went. 

And the first semester went well. 

Sixth-grade social studies teacher Melody Pittman hands out wipes for the students to wipe their hands and their desk at the end of the day.

“A lot of what we implemented first semester worked well, and most we are continuing into the second semester,” Meyer said. “I think Okaloosa County School District has done a phenomenal job. ... Give credit to the teachers and staff and students for doing a good job with everything that we have to do.”

Staff members and students continue to wear masks, although they are not mandated in the classroom. Meyer said they are social distancing, washing hands and keeping the desk barriers up in the classrooms. 

“We’re just being mindful all the time that this is still going on, so it’s nothing we want to let our guard down with,” Meyer said. 

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Teachers are still aware and taking precautions, with many wearing masks. 

Sixth-grade social studies teacher Melody Pittman hands out antibacterial wipes for the students to wipe down their desk at the end of class. 

“It’s a way to help and the students don’t mind,” she said. 

“The kids are resilient … they are great,” Meyer added. 

Some students at Destin Middle School wear masks in the classroom, although they are not mandatory. Students still use barriers at their desks.

Some wear masks while some do not. 

For the ones who do, Meyer said, “It’s just part of their routine now. ... Everybody has really gotten used to it.” 

The only mandate for mask wearing is on buses, including traveling for athletic events. 

Students board a bus Wednesday at Destin Middle School. Just like the first semester, everyone must wear a mask while on the school bus.

As for the teachers, they don’t have to wear masks on campus.  

“But we have several that wear them most of the day, but it's to keep them safe as well as others,” Meyer said. 

Another carry-over from the first semester is block scheduling, in which students only have three classes a day of about two hours each. 

“It depends on who you talk to, but it has worked,” Meyer said. 

With block scheduling there is less interaction in the hallways and less transitioning, and the groups stay the same on a daily basis. 

The biggest adjustments have been with the teachers.  

“They have to lesson plan for two hours. … To keep the student engaged that long is different,” Meyer said. 

Destin Middle School students head for the bus ramp or car line Wednesday after the bell rang to end the day. Masks are not required everywhere at the school.

He said some teachers love the extra time for labs and to dive deeper into a lesson. As for the students, they like not having as much homework, he said. 

New for the second semester at Destin Middle and other schools in Okaloosa County is the number of days students have to quarantine if they have been exposed to the virus. 

“Up until last week it was 14 days for quarantine,” Meyer said.  

But now with guidance from the Okaloosa County Health Department, there is an option for students to come back quicker. After a COVID-19 PCR test they can come back in 11 days. 

“They still have to adhere to some guidelines … but it does cut down on the number of days a student would have to miss, and that’s what we want," Meyer said. “Even if it’s two or four days, that’s a lot of instruction.”

Also new for the second semester is spring sports. Last year, spring sports were canceled with the onset of the virus. 

But the coaches and others have learned a lot since then, and spring sports are full speed ahead. 

Most spring sports, such as baseball, softball, tennis, track and golf, are all outdoors and are not contact sports. 

“We’ll still have protocols … cleaning equipment, social distancing when we’re in the dugout and not interacting after the games,” Meyer said. “The guidelines are in place and they have been helpful. So we’re going to continue to do what we can to keep everybody safe. But at least we’re playing. ... That’s what we’re grateful for.” 

Katie O'Brian, who coaches the softball team, said she is thankful to be back on the ball field with the team. The Marlins had tryouts earlier this week and already are practicing.

 "We are so thrilled for the opportunity to play this season," O'Brian said. "We were all very sad about having to cut the season short last year. But we are preparing to dominate this season."

A few things on the back burner and yet to be determined for this semester are the Sparkle Dance, fifth-grade field day, awards ceremonies and the Marlin Olympics.

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