We’d heard about Covid-19. It was all over the news. Early reports of the virus didn’t send me into a panic. I was pretty much convinced that keeping my hands clean, covering my cough, and sneezing into my elbow were simple things I could do to reduce the spread of the virus. Then the toilet paper started disappearing. And then the schools closed. I knew it was real when the schools closed. 


After six years of homeschooling six kids I thought I could just about do anything. I consider myself pretty patient and I’m always up for an adventure. When my kids’ school was cancelled after Spring Break, and their school district decided to give distance learning a try, I was game. I didn’t have all the information, but I was ready. It’s now three weeks into our distance learning journey and I’m shook. I’m no expert on distance learning, but I’m sure it’s supposed to be easier than this. Right?


What the heck is distance learning?

Much like every parent across the United States, I was thrust into a circumstance unlike anything we’ve ever known. We would be starting distance learning. But what the heck was distance learning? I understood homeschooling. I researched homeschooling. This wasn’t homeschooling though. I imagined distance learning to be an online course where our kids would learn from the comforts of their home. I was wrong.


It was just my luck that the year my husband and I decide to enroll our kids in to public school they’d be right back home with us six months later. Oh the irony. 


How is this going to work?

It didn’t take long to learn that in order for distance learning to work, our children needed devices. Not just one or two, but six. Each kid needed their own. We’re not rich by any means but after six years of homeschooling we figured we could make one computer, and two iPads work between the kids. Of course, it was a sigh of relief when the school district announced that it would allow families to check out Chromebooks and iPads for students to use during the school closure. This distance learning thing might actually work. 


Is it working?

The first week of distance learning was horrible. With no prior knowledge of what the heck distance learning actually was, I was at a loss with how to help my children. I gave myself a quick crash course on how to navigate my way through Google Classrom. There was no way my first grader was going to be successful using this platform. My email was being lit up with messages from teachers with assignments they wanted my kids to complete. Twenty seven teachers doling out assignements for our six kids. WTF. All of these assignments. Were they even learning anything or was this just digital babysitting masked as learning?


The inequality of distance learning

My sister is a single mom. She works in a warehouse that is still operating during the COVID-19 shutdown. She is lucky to still be able to work when so many are being laid off and furloughed from their jobs, however, she puts herself at risk everyday. My niece’s school district is closed for the remainder of the school year. While my sister is working, my niece is left to complete her distance learning assignments with her grandmother who has an eighth grade education. I forgot to mention, my sister has no access to the internet at her apartment. My sister’s story highlights the frustration many parents are feeling as school districts hastily transitioned into online learning. 


Many students like my niece are finding themselves in an uphill battle when it comes to distance learning. She has a district issued iPad, but no WIFI. Thanks to companies like Spectrum, she is able to access free internet so that she can complete her assignments. For two weeks she was unable to complete any asssignments due to lack of internet connection. According to the NY Times, some teachers from across the country reported that less than half of their students are participating in online learning. 


My frustrations with distance learning

I’m usually up for any challenge, but this distance learning journey has found me more frustrated than inspired. I mentioned earlier that there are twenty seven teachers requesting work from our six kids. Many of the assignments (especially for our younger students) are sent without any real instructions from their teachers. It’s almost like teachers are taking a hands off approach to learning. I nearly lost it last week when my first grader was required to do a poetry unit with a powerpoint presentation for instructions. My immediate thought went to the children’s parents who work and are unable to take on teaching full lessons so that their kids can complete assignments. Don’t even get me started on teachers who don’t answer emails during school hours! 


I’m learning too

I realize that we are all in unchartered territory here and patience is the key to getting through any tough situation. My kids have grown to love going to school and learning from their teachers. I’m hoping that our students will be able to get back to school before the school year ends. I’m doing the best I can to keep our kids motivated during this time. Our kids have worked hard this school year and have already missed out on so much. Our oldest son has missed his first year of baseball, our oldest daughter was accepted into NJHS but with the school closures, was unable to participate in her induction ceremony. I know this is tough on our kids. Now is not the time to stress them out with distance learning mishaps. 


I am using this time to teach our kids about flexibility and appreciating the extra time we have together as a family. The assignments will always be there. Creating lasting memories is the most important thing as we get through this pandemic. But if y’all could open the schools back up, that’d be great.