JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the longest time, kids would spend their summers hanging out at malls and dread going back to school.
This year, dozens of local students are starting their school year off inside a mall.
Impact Christian Academy is marking its first year at Regency Square Mall.
Impact Church, which founded the school in 2015, has been holding its services in the mall for years, and now its school is there too. The school originally opened on Lone Star Road, which is a little more than 2 miles away from the new building.
Some students spent some of last semester at the new school part-time.
Now, everyone is learning in the new building full-time. Wednesday marked a special day.
“We are extremely excited,” principal Evelyn Robinson said. “We have been waiting for this moment for a while and at the same time personally, I was a bit anxious because I want to make sure our children are safe and not afraid.”
Robinson is beginning her fourth year as principal at Impact Christian Academy, which is home to 215 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Students are back full-time after experiencing hybrid learning last year because of the pandemic.
“There’s something amazing about students being able to be face-to-face with her teachers,” Robinson said. “Just the magic that happens with all the teachable moments to have all the students back on campus.”
There are still a lot of COVID-19 protocols in place. Students must wear a mask, get hand sanitizer as soon as they come in, and get their temperatures checked.
Parents are not allowed inside the building. A company deep cleans the school every night and teachers sanitize their classrooms after each session.
Robinson said it is a challenging adjustment.
“We’re used to hugging so giving elbow love,” she said. “[Now we’re] trying to shift like ‘OK everybody, let’s give a little elbow love.’ Our students are very friendly, and our community is a very small community, so they know each other.”
Robinson said everyone is getting used to the new hallways and classrooms, while anticipating the new additions to the school, including a cafeteria and weight room on the way.
With all the excitement, Robinson believes this will be a great school year for students and staff. She hopes families are comfortable.
“It speaks a lot when someone trusts you with their most valuable treasure, which is their child,” Robinson said.
Robinson said she wants this year to be a “Reset” and “Push forward” year. She is looking forward to restarting some of the sports teams that had to have their seasons cut short or outright canceled because of the pandemic.
Dealing with loss
While there is plenty of excitement around the new building, for many at the school, it’s a somber start to the new year because the church that founded the school is dealing with tragic loss.
Six church members died in the span 10 days from COVID-19 complications.
Robinson confirmed a seventh person died on Monday.
Robinson, who also volunteers as a minister at the church, personally knew four of the seven church members who passed away. She formed close relationships with them over the years.
“I am still working through the passing of the most recent person,” Robinson said Thursday morning. “I’m saddened by the losses. They were wonderful, loving people.”
Robinson says all staff and students at the school, as well as their families, have access to free grief counseling through the church’s Impact Counseling Center.
Robinson said as the school year starts with excitement, the circumstances surrounding the church members’ deaths and others currently battling COVID-19 are things to keep in mind.
“Sometimes, I think we forget each death represents a grieving family and community of others that loved them,” she said.