By Evan Peter
2020 was a Coronavirus roller coaster. Aside from the illness, death, and economic impact it has had on every family, everything we have always taken for granted has been upended. Our way of life was completely upended and it remains to be seen whether we will ever get back to our old “normal”.
Among the myriad disruptions to our lives, how our children go to school was completely turned upside down. First it was in session and then it was not in session. There was no national consistency as each state was on its own timeline, with many resisting what became the inevitable conclusion. We were in a pandemic and the best way to keep our children safe, given our limited understanding of what we were up against, especially at the beginning, was to keep them home. Some were able to return to every other day in limited attendance … some were not. Needless to say, we have all experienced gains and losses through all of the transitions. Now that it looks like we’re getting clearance for schools to reopen in 2021, the big question is, has forward progress been made by students and are they ready to move on?
UrbanLink Magazine interviewed a parent, a school administrator, and some of the students themselves to gain perspective on what the educational experience felt like in the pandemic of 2020.
School’s Now In Session
Parent of 7th and 9th Grade students:
ULM – At the beginning of the virus and subsequent protocols, what was the biggest hurdle to deal with the change in school education for your child or children? What has worked well over the last year and what hasn’t?
Parent – Because the change to online learning happened so fast, we were under prepared with technology, adequate internet speeds, etc. However, space seemed to be the biggest issue. Without private places, we were often talking over each other which led to family frustrations as well all trying to get our work done.
ULM – Did you see problems with your child’s learning? Was the new “Zoom Classroom” working for your children … or for you?
Parent – Initially, it was obvious that teachers were struggling with the new online learning format as much as we were. Learning was stalled and many of the sessions ended early with very little interaction. When they restarted in the fall, online learning was much better, but still not ideal. We noticed our kids disengaged, and while we were working, it was difficult for us to monitor what our kids were actually doing and whether or not they were paying attention.
ULM – Do you feel your child made progress or are you concerned they lost valuable time regarding advancement in their education?
Parent – I think academically, our kids are doing fine, and they will be fine. As a parent, it was more concerning that our kids were isolated all day and we found ourselves more concerned about the social/emotional development. We felt fortunate to be home with our kids during the day and while we were working, we were still present. For those whose parents are essential workers and not at home, isolation was a big issue.
ULM – During lockdown, did you have more conferences or phone conversations with teachers?
Parent – Conferences were offered virtually and always felt we had access to teachers as needed.
ULM – Were your children frustrated with the “new school” routine?
Parent – We noticed frustration and outbursts increased and we found ourselves “short” with each other as we all tried to balance the new way of working. As parents, we tried to focus on staying engaged with our kids, having lunch together, playing games, and making sure our kids went outside when the school day had finished.
ULM – What changes were implemented to allow for continued learning? Do you anticipate any of these changes being integrated with future educational strategies?
Administrator – As a college, we were already set up for online learning. Similar to secondary schools, the classes that weren’t online did have to make the transition during spring break last year. We gave faculty two weeks to get their courses transitioned for online. We created new modalities for students as a result of Covid. We used to have traditional online, traditional hybrid, and face to face classes only. We now have remote (synchronous online) and hyflex (hybrid in-person/online and flexible) options. We also have multiple programs (Career Technical Education) that have significant in-person requirements (i.e., welding, auto body, nursing, law enforcement, fire, etc). Those programs had to get creative in helping students complete their curriculum, which in some cases required students returning to buildings, albeit with precautions in place.
ULM – Have you seen any changes in enrollment due to stay-at-home mandates? What changes have to be made to allow for students to return to in-person learning?
Administrator – We found that enrollment over Fall 2020-Spring 2021 has been relatively flat with a higher number of students taking classes online (no big surprise there). We spent EVERY day over the last summer preparing for the return of students in the fall. There were hundreds of details to work out from PPE equipment, mask requirements, cleaning protocols, and more. I think any administrator would agree that preparing for students to return was a HUGE endeavor.
ULM – What was the one thing you learned last year?
Administrator – It was difficult to balance the needs of our students to those of our faculty and staff. As you can imagine, many of our employees found themselves home with their own kids and dealing with their own situations. When we decided we wanted to bring students back, we had employees who had discomfort and concerns about safety and the risks of exposure. These were all unique situations, and all part of the decision-making processes. The successful part was that Covid forced us to move forward on some upgrades at a faster pace. Ideas and initiatives that may have sat on a “someday” list were implemented quickly and we were able to do some really creative things.
Ethan, 9th Grade
Isaac, 7th Grade
Zac, 5th Grade
ULM – Do you feel you have learned just as much over the last year or have you had problems focusing and learning new things, such as learning via Zoom?
Ethan – I’ve had problems focusing. It’s easy to get distracted while not at school. It didn’t seem like the teachers understood how hard it was to learn online.
Isaac – Problems focusing and learning new things. It would have been easier if I had been in school.
Zac – I’ve learned stuff, but at the beginning, it was hard on the computer. It is much better in person.
ULM – Was going to school at home distracting? Did you do anything different to stay focused?
Ethan – It was very distracting. I tried to pay attention to the screen. It was better when everyone was online together but once we were hybrid, the teachers were talking to the students who were there in person.
Isaac – Yes, it was distracting. It was hard to stay focused. Hybrid is harder to stay focused because you switched days and the day you were online, you felt tired.
Zac – Home was distracting. Dogs barked at everything, kids playing outside. I would close my door and try to sit back and relax.
ULM – What were some new things you learned when it came to dealing with school over the last year?
Ethan – How to cheat on a test (copy and paste). It was easier to not do your homework and use what friends had submitted. Lots of sharing, not a lot of learning.
Isaac – I need to stay more focused. Be on time for my classes and pay attention to what teachers are talking about.
Zac – Learned how to use different websites to learn.
ULM – Other than interaction with your friends at school, what is the biggest thing you missed over the last year?
Ethan – Paying attention. Actualy doing things at school (intramurals, lunch). Having access to teachers was harder online. We missed being able to ask questions.
Isaac – Meeting new people because it was my first year at junior high. Meeting my teachers.
Zac – Interaction during lessons was much harder on-line. I felt like I couldn’t participate as much.
ULM – After what you have gone through over the last year, do you feel prepared for the next grade?
Ethan – Kind of. I feel okay. I’ve missed some things.
Isaac – Yes. Cause the in-person makes me feel better.
Zac – Yes
Overall, it seems like the biggest lessons and take-aways were with the teachers and administrators. Students may have not liked the learning experience, but overall adapted well and quickly able to “go with the flow”, and at this level, seem to be prepared for the years ahead. The benefits realized for flexible learning, responsibility for electronics, and appreciation for spending time with teachers and friends were both unexpected and needed! Either with a mask or without. One thing can be sure, our way of education has been forever changed.