From early March until mid-June, I learned firsthand what distance learning is. My first thought was, “I am not cut out for this life.” But with both of his parents working, I was my nephew’s only support at that moment.
Much like most parents, I haven’t been in elementary school for quite some time. It took a minute to remember what kids learned in third grade. The first thing I taught my nephew was the definition of mediocrity! My fear was that he wouldn’t be prepared for the fourth grade come September. Also it was the only way I knew how to explain what my expectations were. For the first two weeks, we did packet work. By late April, we had a routine: eat, sleep and breathe homeschool life. Breakfast in the morning followed by an hour of work, crafts and then lunch. We always took a break for our afternoon walk, better known as gym class. Finally two hours of work, then complete freedom. I tried to include the one-year-old but he wanted no parts of that life. In three months we learned about coronavirus (science class), history and writing, and we both learned math. I taught him old math and he taught me new math, as if the old one was broken.
We bonded, nephew and auntie, even though he told me I was harder than his real teacher. I couldn’t help but wonder, would he be prepared for the 4th grade? Virtual learning has made it hard to teach an actual curriculum. In The Times Leader, educator Michelle McLenon said, “The biggest challenge is not being able to have that face time with my students.” According to the article, McLenon “has two online sessions a week with her students. Most students participate in both, but she said not all families in the Lawrence Public School district have internet access.” Several teachers in the Springfield Public Schools district voiced this same issue. Students either don’t have access to the internet or a computer to use. Even though most cable companies offer free or discounted fees for internet service, budget restrictions make it next to impossible for schools to provide every student with a laptop. COVID-19 school closures affected more that 55 million students, according to edweek.org.
Prior to distance learning, my nephew would come home from school complaining about being in school for six hours because it meant being away from home. Now he wishes that he could be in school because he misses his friends and doesn’t like school on the computer. In his exact words, “Coronavirus ruined everything.” His teacher set up a Google Meet for once a week so they can still see each other and communicate, but he made it very clear it just wasn’t the same. In the West Springfield Public Schools, the third marking period for the elementary level simply says “COVID-19,” even though the students were still required to submit work each day by 9 p.m. It makes me wonder, was this just busy work or are they really expecting the kids to still learn? In other districts in Massachusetts, they simply told the students that they wouldn’t fail. This is referred to as a “universal pass.”
The effects of distance learning reach far beyond my third grader and his elementary class. International students are also feeling the effects. With the pandemic still in full effect, most colleges and universities are looking to make every course online only. Without in-person classes, international students will be in violation of their visa requirements, making them eligible for deportation. With many school departments currently voting on what to do for the 2020-2021 school year, the true effects of distance learning may be unknown for quite some time.
We, Too, Are America is made possible through “Democracy and the Informed Citizen,” an initiative administered by the Federation of State Humanities Council through a grant from the Mellon Foundation.