PORTLAND, Texas — At Gregory-Portland Independent School District face masks are optional and in Robert Levensailor's science class, students are socially distanced at least 3 feet to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“He teaches science and he’s a really good teacher and he’s really funny,” says Lily Edwards, a sixth-grade student.
Levensailor, or "Mr. L" as his students call him, has been teaching event science in the district for 14 years. But this is his first year at GP Middle School as he says the return to in-person learning means there's a lot more work for everyone.
“We have a middle row that is single because some kids just want to sit by themselves,” Levensailor says.
GP Middle School is a new school in the district this year. Classrooms have changed and interaction with students is not exactly the same as in past years.
“Kids haven’t seen this side of the school in two years," Levensailor says. "So it was an adjustment."
Students and staff say they are adjusting to a new normal.
GPISD Communications officer Crystal Matern says the district has been able to keep its COVID-19 case count low by looking for symptoms as students enter the building and pulling those students aside to be tested by a school nurse.
"All of our nurses at the different campuses do have rapid testing available in our schools," Matern says. "So our staff can come at any time and request to be tested."
Matern says the school year has been off to a great start thanks to the staff's support.
“Our team has really gone above and beyond to help make sure everything is sanitized and to certainly make sure students are identified quickly if they have symptoms,” she says.
Despite the challenges for students and teachers coming back to additional safety measures, Levensailor says he continues to try to keep students engaged in the classroom.
"In the end, it’s all about the kids and that’s what it’s about,” he says
Aside from reporting COVID-19 symptoms and social distancing students say "Mr. L" makes learning science a fun experience.
“I'm not stuck at home where it’s all boring," sixth grade student Annalise Solis said. "I’m in a classroom and it’s a lot more fun."