About a month ago, if you’d asked most school kids what they wanted most in the world, the overwhelming answer would’ve been, “SPRING BREAK!” If you’d asked most teachers, and they’d have been honest, their answer would’ve been the same.
It’s funny, the difference just a few weeks has made, isn’t it? When campus closed on March 13, kids, teachers, and parents assumed that everything would return to normal after a week off. But after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it quickly became evident that going back to school wasn’t going to be a part of that new normal. Enter distance learning, and the new normal got even stranger.
Now it’s just over a week into the distance learning program that’s scheduled to last through May, and most people involved have had time to work out the kinks and develop a routine of having school at home.
“The first day was overwhelming trying to do everything online,” said Kathy Frazier, parent of Kynzlee and Kylie, a second and third grader, respectively, “but it’s going pretty well now. The girls’ teachers have been great!”
The teacher for both girls set up Facebook groups to communicate. They post assignments online, and Kylie’s work is mostly online. Kynzlee has her books and hers is more traditional. To begin, the focus of distance learning for the girls was mostly reading and math, but they’re branching out a little now. Kynzlee’s teacher sent an at-home science project and she could hardly wait to complete it.
“The teachers are trying to make it as much fun as they can, and we do enjoy the freedom of being able to plan the schoolwork around our day,” said Frazier, “but they miss school! They miss their friends and their teachers.”
Kylie looked forward to a Zoom meeting with her teacher and classmates and was excited to see them all.
Frazier’s takeaway from the first week of distance learning: teachers don’t get paid nearly enough.
“Just keeping my own kids busy is difficult, but they feel stranded,” she said. “I know the teachers are struggling too and I’m pleased with how they’re handling it. They’re making the best of bad circumstances and I now realize that teachers don’t get paid nearly enough.”
Speaking of teachers, Marietta has more than a handful of teachers who have children that are students in the system, and their perspective is rather unique.
Chris Dobbins teaches middle school science. His daughter Josie is in the seventh grade and son Cash is in the third grade.
“As a parent, it’s going pretty well,” said Dobbins. “Our kids’ teachers have done an amazing job being creative with their assignments and our kids actually enjoy doing their schoolwork. Josie has participated in Zoom meetings, which have given her a chance to communicate with her classmates.”
As a teacher, Dobbins’s experience hasn’t been quite so positive.
“Although I believe this is the best option in the current situation, getting students to participate is a problem,” he said. “I’m not sure about other teachers, but I’ve had very few students who have submitted completed assignments. The ones who are doing the work are doing awesome, but I haven’t heard from the majority of my kids and it’s disheartening.”
Other teachers are experiencing a little melancholy, too, but for different reasons.
Tonya Bucher is a high school English teacher. She also has two children, Dovan in sixth grade and Eva in seventh grade.
“Eva and Dovan were actually excited to get back to ‘normal’ on Monday,” said Bucher. “Dovan was up early and excited to do Mrs. Stokes’s selfie scavenger hunt. They each had Zoom meetings and I figured out quickly I needed to get them a notebook to keep track of all their assignments. It was a little overwhelming with everything coming at once.”
Although Bucher’s children seem to be taking distance learning in stride, she’s a different story, and for a different reason.
“Leading up to Monday’s beginning of distance learning I had some technical issues and a lot of busyness, but when Monday came, I hadn’t realized how emotional it would be for me,” remarked Bucher. “During a normal school year, there’s a kind of natural order. You go through things and the year works itself to a conclusion. It’s crazy and exhausting, but when it’s all over, you’re ready to say goodbye to the kids and have a break. I realized on Monday that this year, I won’t have that, and it’s sad.
“I’m going to miss the end of the school year. The seniors this year are special to me because they were my first group to teach at Marietta. I won’t get to have those special moments with them at the end. I won’t get to see them at prom and hug them at graduation. But I will continue my weekly Zoom just to see their faces and hear their stories and have some sense of normalcy.”
Bucher expressed gratitude to administrators at the school, who she said have been supportive and good about answering the many questions about how distance learning would work.
Amanda Faulkenberry, who teaches Family and Consumer Sciences in the middle and high schools, also has two children of her own, daughters Emily and Bella, in seventh and first grades.
Faulkenberry admits that she misses her students.
“It’s hard not seeing my students every day,” she said. “I definitely miss them. But, a lot of my assignments have been for them to send pictures or video themselves doing food labs, and I love seeing those, along with the creativity that this allows them.”
As for her own children, Faulkenberry said that distance learning has been fine, due in large part to the girls’ teachers.
“Emily is in middle school, so she’s pretty self-sufficient and doesn’t require much help from me,” said Faulkenberry. “She said her teachers have been great to respond to her questions, but also said it’s hard not having face-to-face time with them. She misses seeing everyone – her friends and teachers.”
Bella misses her friends, but enjoys the work, such as virtual field trips and science experiments. Bella also enjoys being able to send photos and videos to her teacher, Mrs. Stringer, and especially loves seeing the things her friends post on the class Facebook page.
For high school science teacher Charles Brown, finishing the year by distance learning is bittersweet for separate reasons.
“I was already moving towards a more online curriculum except for labs, so the lecture, quizzes, and tests that I’m doing now haven’t changed much,” said Brown. “The lab portion of my instruction is what is suffering. I can’t really ask students to dissect a frog at home, and the online software for it isn’t the same as actually doing it. And I’m getting the feeling from the correspondence I’m having with students that a lot of them are missing the routine of classes.”
So, although Brown knows that distance learning is the only viable option given the circumstances, he realizes that when it comes to part of his curriculum and his students, distance learning is less-than-ideal. However, Brown isn’t just a teacher: he’s also the father of a senior, son Seth, who is missing out on his senior baseball season, finishing Ag projects, and perhaps prom and graduation, which brings a little sadness to the father and son duo.
Jennifer Hicks is the mom of another senior, Cody, and a seventh grader, Laney.
“Laney is enjoying distance learning, especially classes where she gets to ‘zoom’ with her classmates,” said Hicks. “They get to see and talk with each other and their teacher. At her age, socialization is important, and she misses that.”
Cody, on the other hand, is a different story. Cody is taking concurrent college classes online through Murray State College, so that hasn’t changed much as far as classes go. But all the other senior-year activities have changed drastically. Senior scholarship assembly, color run, prom, graduation, and plenty of others won’t be the same, IF they happen at all.
“As a parent, I am disappointed for him that he won’t get to experience graduation or prom as a senior,” said Hicks. “I know the school is working hard to have some type of ceremony for their graduation, and it may be the coolest graduation in school history, who knows?”
Hicks went on to say that even though COVID-19 has changed life in our little corner of the world, we are blessed that life is going on.
“The saddest thing is that Cody is realizing that he’s missing out on time, time with his friends and with his teachers and coaches when he could say ‘bye’ and ‘thank you,’” she explained. “We really hate that he missed state track meet. We were hopeful that he would get on the podium this year and now we’ll never know.”
COVID-19 won’t keep kids from learning or teachers from helping them. It might keep us from graduation ceremonies, but it won’t keep seniors from graduating. What COVID-19 did do is take a few precious weeks and opportunities from the senior class of 2020. And maybe it surprised us by showing us that several people – people who never thought they would – really, really miss school.