The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on challenges for businesses and schools alike across the United States, forcing communities to do business and educate virtually by using technology.

From March 2020 when the pandemic began to date, two Head of Schools from two metro Atlanta private schools share how they have been challenged and how they have overcome during the pandemic.

Greenforest McCalep Christian Academy and His Academy Christian School are two all African American private institutions in Dekalb County. Dr. Bruce McColumn heads Greenforest McCalep Christian Academy and Jake Givan oversees His Academy Christian School.

Both institutions went from face-to-face learning to virtual learning during the pandemic. Givan states that virtual learning was a nightmare for his school and for the students. His school has returned to face-to-face learning as a result.

“There were a lot of issues with virtual learning. My students were not attentive or engaging,” Givan said. “Virtual learning made learning difficult. Students were not learning at all with virtual learning. Now that we have returned to school, learning is pretty much back to normal.

Although His Academy Christian School has returned to face-to-face learning, some things like extra-curricular activities, have stopped due to the pandemic.

Givan continues, “There are no extra-curricular activities. Our students get two outside breaks, but they must maintain distance due to the pandemic. We have a janitor on full-time. Everyone wears a mask and temperature is taken upon entry to the school. We are teaching students to be clean,”

Givan said the school educates its parents to remind them of being aware of their children’s health and parents are cooperating.

“Parents are not allowed to send their children to school if their children are sick or have sick symptoms,” Gavin said. “Most parents want their children in school and are monitoring their children’s health at home.”

McColumn said they lost some students when the pandemic began last year and when the school decided to do virtual learning instead of face-to-face learning.

The main thing McColumn was concerned about was the budget to ensure he could still support his staff.

“Our budget is set for students. Some parents went to other private institutions during the pandemic and we lost students. For example, 20 students less is a detriment to the budget,” McColumn said.

“Since the pandemic began, anything that we were eligible for, we tried to receive. I didn’t want to go back and tell teachers their pay would decrease. Fortunately, we have maintained our teacher’s pay per their contract based on the budget pre-covid.”

Greenforest McCalep Christian Academy has also returned to face-to-face in-school learning. McColumn said the school is currently following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines and protocol for schools.

“We are fortunate. The largest class is 10 students,” McColumn said. “We are able to social distance even with the spacing of desks for a school our size. We have sanitizing machines and foggers throughout the school, including the classrooms and the gym. Parents have also donated materials to ensure their children are safe.”

McColumn expressed that he and older members of his staff have gotten fully vaccinated and that his older students will get the vaccine when it is available.

He feels that students’ socialization skills suffer when they are not in the midst of other learners and that face-to-face learning is better. He also said that extra-curricular activities have continued at his school.

“I understand virtual learning. It’s a blessing in disguise and is a convenience. Teachers and students can now learn how to use technology and build technology skills, but kids need to be around other kids,” McColumn said.

Both Greenforest McCalep Christian Academy and His Academy Christian School are supported by churches and credit the churches for their support to the schools, especially throughout the pandemic.

“We are a church ministry. The church is our physical support and our financial and social foundation,” McColumn said. “As a private school, our pastor has been instrumental in our success.”

“Our biggest support is Crossroads Presbyterian Church,” Givan said. “I can’t say enough about what the church has given to the academy.”

“What the pandemic has taught me about leadership is that I’m more effective as a leader and as an administrator who can engage with students,” McColumn said. “It lets me know how important it is to be together and to have group learning.”

“The pandemic has taught me that if we ever need to close the school, we have another tool to utilize if the school closes,” said Gavin. “We love our children and we love what we do.”

For more information about Greenforest McCalep Christian Academy or His Academy Christian School, call 404-486-6737 or 770-469-3056.

This article is one of a series of articles produced by The Atlanta Voice through support provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In Black, a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media outlets across the country.

(Photo Credit: Courtesy of His Academy Christian School)

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