TYLER, Texas —
School is back in session, even if not everyone is returning to the classroom.
"I have about, I would say, 20 something kids who are virtual learners," Brook Abbas said.
For educators like Abbas, 2020 is her first experience with this dual learning environment.
"I had this image in my head of what school would be like based on what I went through in school. So, I just had this picture of what it would be."
It's also her first year teaching 7th-grade science at Spring Hill ISD.
"I thought about it and I was like honestly, if I can tackle this year, if I can handle my first year, which is already supposed to be a crazy year. If I can handle that in the middle of a pandemic, I think I can handle pretty much anything after that."
She said that mindset, along with the support from others in her department, is what's helping her stay motivated.
"I have a really good science team with me and they’re really good about giving me what information I need to have, and when I need to have it."
Ahead of the new school year, each of Abbas' students were provided a Chromebook by the district for assignments and had the option for either in person or virtual learning.
"They’re doing the same thing that my in-school students are doing every single day. They’re just doing it from home over a video."
According to Abbas, new safety protocols for students attending class in person have also been implemented.
"We spread our desks out as far as we physically can and then depending on the class size, we have them spread out as far as we can and they're also, they can not take their face masks off."
Abbas is also currently coaching girls volleyball. She said the district is taking a similar safety approach with the team.
"In order to keep our social distancing, the other middle school coach, she has the off-season girls. By the time that my volleyball girls get to the locker room to change, the other girls are already dressed and social distancing."
But, that's not to say this year has been without issue. Abbas said navigating new online tools proved difficult at first.
"Honestly that’s probably my biggest downfall right now is learning how to work and keep up with the online stuff."
The district also reported COVID-19 cases earlier in the week, with three employees and two students testing positive.
For Abbas, there's also the logistics of figuring out how to make certain assignments accessible to everyone.
"The big cool thing to do in 7th-grade is to dissect a frog...we could definitely do that with our in-school students, because they could just social distance with their little frog and dissect it. But as for the at-home kids, I'm not quite sure on that yet."
She said the most important thing for her right now, is making sure all her students feel connected.
"For the students to already accept me through everything else going on, it makes me feel really welcome and that I'm in the right place."