LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Monday was the first day back for in-person instruction for JCPS middle and high school students since the pandemic began. 

What You Need To Know

  • Monday JCPS middle and high school students started back to in-person learning for the first time since the pandemic began

  • For Grace James Academy of Excellence it was the first time they welcomed students in-person ever

  • The school opened in August last year but students have been virtual because of the pandemic

  • Grace James is an all-girls middle school with an Afrocentric and gender specific STEAM curriculum

However, it was also the first day ever for students to attend class in-person at Grace James Academy of Excellence in Louisville. Since the new all-girls JCPS middle school opened in August last year, students have only had virtual learning, like all other JCPS schools in the district until the phased reopening that started last month.

“We’re just excited to welcome back our G.E.M.S for the first time in our building so we wanted a way for them to come in and be awed, as well, so we do have a warm welcome for them this morning,” said Grace Academy’s Assistant Principal LaTonya Frazier-Goatley about the two balloon arches displayed inside the school.

Goatley said the school has an inaugural class of 149 sixth grade students. She said that about 118 will return to in-person learning and the rest will remain virtual. 

Students at Grace James are called G.E.M.S or “Girls Excelling in Math and Science.” The school features an Afrocentric and gender-specific STEAM curriculum.

“We know our school was created because it says that a lot of African American females do not feel a sense of belonging within their school so that’s our goal,” Goatley told Spectrum News 1 Kentucky.

Angelica Smith teaches STEAM Laboratory at the middle school, which offers various modules to learn more about different college and career paths. 

“So students are able to do rotations to determine what they like to do and just really getting that real-world experience firsthand,” Smith explained.

Sixth grader Cadence Diggs told Spectrum News 1 that she has been creating roller coasters in the virtual STEAM Laboratory class. However, now that she is learning back in-person, Diggs said she is most excited to learn about forensics and use the 3D printing machine.

“I’ve only done it once before, but it’s like making a real life model and scientists and engineers are doing this now to like find out a problem and a way to solve it,” Diggs said.

Besides STEAM opportunities, the 12-year-old said part of the reason she chose to become a G.E.M.S was for its Afrocentric curriculum.

“Which is when the curriculum is based on my descendants’ point-of-view or my history or the colored peoples’ [history], instead of just Eurocentric [history].”

Besides curriculum, Smith also has a focus on the academy’s six values, specifically sisterhood, now with students back in to class in-person.

“Really focusing on our G.E.M.S and getting to know them because we’ve been away from each other all year. This is a brand-new school so just building that relationship,” Smith said.

Not all JCPS middle and high school students who wanted to return to in-person class attended school Monday.

There are two in-person student groups, A and B, just like how elementary schools have been operating since March 17.

Group A, or students with last names A-K started Monday, and they also go to school Tuesday. Group B, or students with the last names L-Z start this Thursday, and they also go to school Friday. While most Wednesdays for the rest of the year are a virtual learning day for all students. 

A spokesperson with JCPS said about 16,000 middle and high school students went back to in-person learning on Monday. That number will be 32,000 by the end of the week.