In July, as I saw COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to climb where I live in Florida, I decided pretty quickly that I wanted my kids to do some kind of home-learning. I didn’t like the conversations coming out of our school board meetings that often pandered to the anti-mask crowd and science-deniers, and I didn’t like the Facebook comments I was reading from the other parents in my district who apparently think COVID-19 is a big joke. I have several friends who lost a parent to the virus, and I have zero interest in voluntarily participating in the spread that could kill more of my friends’ parents.
Not that I was eager to have my kids learning at home. On the contrary, I prefer they are out of the house at their regular schools for most of the day, doing their own thing in their own world while I work in a quiet house without interruption. My kids are 14 and 10, old enough to manage most things on their own, but they can be noisy and needy, and their presence does interfere with my work. I don’t blame them for this; it’s just a fact that I concentrate better and am more productive when I can work in silence and without interruption.
That said, I do work full-time from home—unlike so many parents who work out of the home and don’t have any choice but to send their kids to school, I am in a position to be able to keep my kids at home. So, reluctantly, that’s what I’m doing.
I presented two options to my kids that I would be comfortable with: They could do e-learning, wherein they would attend their regular school like any other day, but virtually. They’d have to “show up” on time (via Zoom) and sit and listen to the teacher’s lectures. Alternatively, they could do Florida Virtual School, where you attend class at your convenience, as long as you meet certain pacing guide lines that meet district requirements for a particular class.
My socially outgoing daughter wanted to feel like she was part of a classroom, so she chose the e-learning option. My son is more introverted and didn’t think he could sit through 90-minute block schedule classes e-learning would require. I agreed with him. His ADHD makes it very difficult for him to sit on any one given subject for more than 45 minutes at a time. So he went with Florida Virtual School.
Out of the two systems, I expected to prefer the go-at-your-own-pace virtual school that my son had chosen. I worried my daughter would quickly become bored sitting in front of her computer for six hours a day. Turns out, the reverse is true. I don’t hate my son’s virtual learning program, and the teachers have been very helpful and communicative via email, but it’s been difficult to get started. The platform is not intuitive (not to me anyway), and because they had such a large number of students choose the virtual option, program administrators were still onboarding students a couple of days into the program. Then, once that was finally accomplished, the servers couldn’t handle the increased site traffic. So my son wasn’t able to get a full day of learning until the fourth day of school.
On the other hand, with my daughter’s fifth-grade e-learning class, she has a homeroom teacher assigned to a virtual classroom with 20 kids in it, and several “activity” teachers to whom she navigates for subjects like science, math, art, music, and P.E. Yes, they do P.E. The kids dance and kick and do adorable little pushups in front of their screens, to the extent that on day two, my daughter complained of being “sore.” (It was a sedentary summer. I did the best I could, okay?) The teachers instruct the kids just like they would if they were standing in the front of the classroom. The first day, everyone took time familiarizing themselves with Zoom, practicing breakout sessions and presenting to each other, learning how to mute and unmute and “raise their hands.”
I peaked my head in my daughter’s room at one point in the morning that first day and just about burst into tears when I saw two teachers on the screen, sitting several feet apart and each wearing a mask as they did their parts introducing themselves to the children. I don’t know why I expected to see a teacher without a mask; it’s weird that I still haven’t adjusted my expectations to this new normal. Even with the masks though, I saw their smiling eyes glittering with warmth and enthusiasm for their students.
The next day, I peeked my head into my daughter’s room to see her presenting her show-and-tell to the class, which she later informed me was not show-and-tell, I beg your pardon, but rather a project where she explained about hobbies she loves. Fifth graders are too old for show-and-tell. What was I thinking.
Having a teacher present, if only virtually, has been a huge benefit. But there are other things I really love about e-learning, and schooling at home in general. I love that I don’t have to get my kids up quite as early. They only need about half an hour to grab breakfast, brush teeth, and get dressed, and they’re ready to go. So they get more sleep. Also, I don’t have to drive 15 minutes to school, battle car loop traffic, and then drive 15 minutes back. My daughter’s lunch break is over an hour long, so we get to have lunch together, and any remaining time she uses to work on homework so she doesn’t have homework at night. In fact, neither kid has had any nightly homework at all so far. It’s all done during the school day.
In the afternoon, when e-learning school lets out, the only thing my daughter has to do to “come home” is open her bedroom door. I don’t have to repeat the routine of drive, car loop, drive back. And, in general, there is so much less time-waste involved with e-learning. There’s no lining up of 20 students, washing hands, bathroom breaks, or walking from one classroom to another.
Granted, it’s only been one week, and who knows what will happen as we move forward with e-learning. But so far, I don’t hate it at all. In fact, I kind of love it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zoom-style e-learning programs were to start popping up. That said, my daughter confesses that even though she is happy with her e-learning experience, she still can’t wait to go back to school in person. She misses the social element.
Until we can do that safely though, I’m going to count this experience as a silver lining in all of this COVID-19 madness. Here’s to hoping things get a little easier with my son’s virtual learning program as well.