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North Florida School of Special Education students adapting to virtual school

From music classes to gardening classes, NFSSE is now teaching its students through online learning while the school is temporarily closed due to the pandemic.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In the heart of Arlington, North Florida School of Special Education's unique campus is now practically empty. Just one week after its new equestrian center opened for equine therapy, the school had to switch to virtual learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The school's 250 students, like most students across the First Coast, are adjusting to learning online, and their teachers have been getting creative.

“Our resource teachers have been doing music classes and art classes. Our garden teacher has actually done a garden class. We've walked our students through the horse barn,” Head of School Sally Hazelip said. “If someone had told me a month ago that this would be happening, I never in my wildest dreams would have even thought it could have been possible.”

The school serves students with intellectual and developmental differences between the ages of 6 and 22, and also offers a post-graduate program for young adults. While they are now practicing social distancing, they are able to see each other using Zoom.  

“I think that is one of the things the kids have a hard time understanding is why they can't go to school and they miss their friends desperately, and so the teachers being just that comfort to them and getting the kids together socially on Zoom has been very helpful,” Hazelip said.

While the teachers are now giving school lessons online, Hazelip says these students with special needs are helping teach us all an important life lesson.

“I realize having kids with special needs, and I have my son Collin who has Down syndrome, and we brought him home now from the Arc Village, and it's just a reminder to me that our kids see life so differently," Hazelip said. "I think they see it with eyes of wonder and amazement each day. They help give us perspective on what this is all about, and it really is bringing us together.”

Hazelip says the online learning will continue for the North Florida School of Special Education students until the school reopens, which is slated to happen May 1.

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