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Griffin Middle School continues student's personal development despite digital divide

Posted at 6:23 PM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-18 18:23:53-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — About half of the students at Griffin Middle School are learning from home.

For a school that's as focused on personal development as it is academics, the digital divide isn't enough to keep the school from impacting lives.

"Just to see even just 300 kids on campus when we're used to having double that amount of students," said Zelena O'Banner, the principal at Griffin. "It's different for the kids."

It's not the structure students are accustomed to.

"Some classrooms only have five or six students and they've been doing this for six, seven, eight years with a classroom full of kids," O'Banner said.

Schools like Griffin Middle School are doing all that it can to bring some familiarity to the students, like dances and being rewarding for good grades and behavior.

Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna is even making home visits to digital academy students.

Engagement is especially important at Griffin, a school in the middle of one of Tallahassee's high crime neighborhoods.

Before the pandemic hit, the school started hosting assemblies encouraging the students to stop the violence. Those conversations are still happening, now one on one.

"There are a lot of things going on in the neighborhood that we felt our kids should be made aware of," said O'Banner. "Give them more reasons to want to do the right thing and not be a part of the violence going on in the neighborhood and the city."

O'Banner says the big influencing factors on student behavior are smaller class sizes and less time in the hallways to engage with other students.

District-wide efforts continue to make sure students stay on track.

More social workers are getting involved, helping school administrators reach students who may have fallen behind.

"It's the constant communication and working to make sure they have what they need to be connected," said Kathleen Rodgers, the Assistant Superintendent for Office of Prevention, Intervention, Equity, and Support Services. "We are feverishly trying to figure out and looking at each situation to make sure students are engaged and their needs are served."

Coming off of news that sex trafficking is happening to teens in Leon County, that also means a bigger focus on classroom attendance even if the classroom is at home.

"We reach out to the students, the parents, we send certified letters, and when we find that there's a specific issue with the youth, we connect them to resources like the Capital City Youth Services," Rodgers said.