Members of the Class of 2020 parade down West Paces Ferry Rd. on the first day of school, Aug. 14, 2019, pre-COVID-19. Photo: Fred Assaf

Earlier this month, Head of Upper School Michael Gannon announced that Pace will most likely be reopening in the fall without the accommodation of Zoom. After spending over two months of the 2019-2020 school year completely on Zoom and offering a hybrid style this year, Pace will be returning to full in-person learning mode.

Mr. Gannon said that the decision came after great thought for the safety and well being of the students. “There is a ton of research that suggests that remote learning is not good for students, that learning gaps emerge,” said Mr. Gannon. “I want to end it because I don’t think it’s good for students.” This sentiment is shared among most students who are on Zoom, including junior Megan Eghtedari, who agreed that “school would be better in person, honestly,” noting how she often finds it hard to concentrate during class as a result of the distance.

Mr. Gannon also noted the strain it is having on teachers. “It’s incredibly burdensome on teachers,” he said. “It adds a layer of work and time that’s very, very challenging.” Both Mr. Gannon and Eghtedari are excited for things to get back to normal. “I have missed our assemblies in the FAC tremendously,” said Mr. Gannon. “You can’t build culture when you’re not together. We need to get everyone together and build culture, that’s what school is ultimately about.” 

While Mr. Gannon remains excited about the possibility of gathering the community together once again, Eghtedari is excited about returning to the smaller communities on campus, such as her friend group. Having only met up with them once this whole year, she is eager to join them in school full time. “When I met up with them it was like back to normal, but obviously things have changed,” she said. “I’ve missed out on a year.” She said that she wants to schedule trips with her friends upon her return. “I had a bunch of trips planned with all of them, but they all got canceled,” Eghtedari said.

When it comes to the safety of returning to campus, Mr. Gannon wants to assure everyone that Pace will continue to be alert and take safety precautions. He anticipates that there will be some type of transition period before everything returns to normal and finds “it hard to believe that we will just show back up exactly as if COVID-19 never happened.” He also believes that new concerns might present themselves. “I have no doubt there will be challenges,” he said. “I don’t know what they are, but I am sure I will have to manage them from day one.” Mr. Gannon wants to emphasize that many students and all teachers have received the vaccine, asking the students Zooming this year to “take confidence in the fact that we got through the hard part.”

Looking back at this past year, Mr. Gannon remembers the initial concern he had when deciding to introduce the in-person and online mix of learning this year. “We were so worried at the beginning: would people wear their masks?” But after a tough year, he is “super grateful to our faculty and to our students for making this happen.” He noted that, as a community, “we are good at doing what we need to do.”

Although this is the current plan for the next school year, nothing has been finalized. With many months to go before school starts again in August, it is hard to confirm anything as of now with the pandemic still a concern. As long as the Pace community continues to remain safe and the state of Georgia manages to control the pandemic regionally, however, Zoom students can look forward to a full and safe transition back into the classroom. 

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