COVID-19 has been tough on everyone, but kids have been feeling the pressure as much as adults as their schools shift to distance learning.
Although about 70% of the students in Stillwater Public Schools opted for traditional instruction for the current school year, the district was forced to go online only two days after in-person classes started on Aug. 20 and has been in distance learning since then.
SPS Superintendent Marc Moore announced Friday that distance learning will continue for the coming week after Payne County moved into Level Orange 2 on the alert map used by the district and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
That means kids won’t physically be back in school until numbers drop dramatically. And that news is hard for students and their parents to take.
Some students are struggling with the online format itself, which requires logging into multiple platforms and accessing multiple websites to complete coursework and participate in virtual meetings with their teachers and classmates.
Connection problems, problems uploading completed assignments and sound quality issues that make it hard to understand what is happening in Zoom meetings, were all mentioned as frustrations when the News Press spoke with several families.
Stillwater parent Brooke Reed said younger students who aren’t familiar with keyboarding or using a computer, like her 8-year-old son, are struggling before they even begin their school work.
Logging into different sites and navigating the tasks he has to complete has overwhelmed both her and her son.
“It’s complicated for me as a 40-year-old, let alone an 8-year-old,” she said.
Their family already had internet service at home but didn’t have a home computer because they use iPhones that met their daily needs.
They were able to borrow Chromebooks from the school district for both of their sons.
As a hairstylist, she has a flexible schedule but doesn’t get paid time off so Reed is giving up income to be home more to help her sons.
She said sometimes she goes back to work at night, finishing up at 9:30 or 10 p.m., missing bed time and the time she would normally spend reading with her youngest.
Her husband has started using vacation so he can trade off to help with Zoom meetings.
While the Reeds are at work, their 15-year-old son finds himself spending time helping his little brother instead of focusing on his own schoolwork, which is putting both emotional and academic pressure on him. He has realized he doesn’t learn as well online and he’s getting worried, she said.
That’s also worrisome for her, considering students are already behind because they didn’t cover new curriculum when Stillwater schools went online last spring.
“It sounds like fun and games until you actually get into it and realize how far behind you could get,” Reed said. “… I just now found their specials tab and I just started crying. It’s two weeks worth of stuff we haven’t touched.”
Junia Hayes, a Stillwater third-grader, said online instruction has been tough for her too.
“It’s been rough because all the things are a little harder and we’re having to be on the computers a lot more and some of us don’t even know how to work the computer sometimes,” she said. “… It’s mostly typing and doing all the work … I have to do a lot more typing.”
Hayes said the math isn’t so bad and doesn’t seem as far off from her usual school work. Having her mom right there helps when she has a question.
Stillwater mom Dawn Brown said she doesn’t feel good about her teaching skills or her ability to help her 5th grader.
“I’m not a teacher and I can’t teach,” Brown said. “And things were very different than when I was in school.”
Brown and her husband are both essential personnel. She’s a Nurse Practitioner who works 12 hour shifts as a provider at an urgent care clinic and her husband, a firefighter, works 48 hour shifts.
There’s no way she could have left her daughter at home alone for 12 hours, she said. Brown feels fortunate that a family friend needed a job and she was able to hire her to stay with them on the days she works to provide childcare and help with school work.
“She came and saved everything,” Brown said.
As word has spread, they have been getting calls from other families asking if they can bring their children over while they work, she said.
The families all stressed that they are not angry with teachers, who they believe are doing the best they can. But they are frustrated when they see reports that don’t show the same numbers and when school officials can’t give them a defined way forward.
Jen Werner’s 7th graders initially enrolled in virtual learning through SPS then switched to traditional, only to immediately be thrown into distance learning.
She says she wasn’t shocked but was disappointed and she hopes they will find a way to get back to in-person instruction as soon as possible because she believes it’s what is best for most students. She worries about the kids who really need the support system that school provides.
“I do think it’s important for these kids to get back to school and have their teachers be their advocates, being able to have a safe place, to be able to be fed and not worry about that,” Werner said. “I know that the mask has been kind of the issue but if that is the only way for our kids to go back to school and they have to wear the mask, then I say yes, let’s get them back to the classes. Let’s figure out whatever protocol we need to do.”