By CAPA JRC reporter Claire Yu
(Pictures from additude.com)
In the midst of a pandemic, students in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) have had to start the 2020-2021 school year virtually. Although this was just a change in the format of teaching, the shift still impacts MCPS students and their families. To gain some more perspective, CAPA JRC interviewed several parents of elementary and middle school students to hear their opinions and experiences regarding virtual learning.
Lifestyle and Daily Routines
Going from spending weekdays separately at the office and in school to having to juggle both work and fulfilling a child’s needs at home is a massive task all families have to go through. Parent A, whose daughter is a first grader at Wyngate Elementary School, feels that her child has not fully adjusted to online school yet. “She doesn’t have a sense of schedule because there is almost no clear boundary [between] the school year and summer vacation,” she said.
In contrast, Parent B, a parent of a seventh grader at Takoma Park Middle School and a second grader at Dufief Elementary School, thinks his children’s emotional transitions to virtual learning have been quite smooth. They seem to understand the pros and cons of online school and are happy they don’t need to wake up early anymore. Parent B also believes the need for schedules to avoid missing classes may even help build their time management skills.
Additionally, parents have observed a drastic increase in their children’s screen time after virtual school began. This spike in screen time has even been a cause of stress or tension. According to Parent A, since her daughter now spends most of her time taking classes and doing homework on electronics, there is little time left for entertainment. Parent B finds the escalated amount of screen time extremely worrying as well, and reminds his daughter to stay away from her computer as much as possible.
Zoom Fatigue is Real (Photo from brainerdispatch.com)
Physical Education and Extracurriculars
One of the arguably larger challenges with online school is taking physical education (PE), or gym class. Parent A decided to have her daughter skip PE because she feels running outside is better than jumping in front of a screen. On the other hand, Parent B believes that since PE promotes the most movement, it should be the only class that kids must attend daily.
Most extracurriculars are not in person anymore either. Parent B’s children have all of their afterschool classes and activities online, resulting in extra hours of sitting at the computer, something he is not too satisfied with.
“This is a big headache. Parents have to balance [managing] their academic growth, personal [skill] learning, and their health....sometimes, going out together for a walk becomes more and more critical,” Parent B said.
Virtual learning has also proven to be restrictive to students’ social lives. The limited social environment is especially difficult to navigate for younger children, who don’t have much experience connecting with their classmates in-person.
For example, it is difficult for Parent A’s daughter to say no to other kid’s demands because she only has one girl her age in her neighborhood that she can play with.
Parent B’s children only have been communicating with friends on their electronic devices. He feels that being confined in this virtual social space may hinder proper development in their friendships with others and impair their natural curiosity. Furthermore, Parent B is worried about how shifting from physical interaction to virtual interaction could make his children too dependent on electronics.
Some extracurriculars have moved to zoom.
(Picture from npr.org)
Despite a few rocky bumps here and there, parents have noticed some positive changes in their children during distance learning as well. Parent A is glad that her daughter has learned how to get on Zoom by herself and type in her account password, and sometimes does extra work to occupy herself. As for Parent B, although he strongly believes that in-school learning can never be replaced, he acknowledges that his kids have recently discovered a lot more online educational resources.
Suggestions for Improvement
There are many parents who have ideas for changing the online learning system. Parent A thinks that MCPS should separately teach students in groups based on their learning abilities, since many of the students would be able to make good use of the time that is spent learning things they already know. She believes this would lighten the burden on parents’ shoulders of keeping their children focused in class.
Parent B feels that students need to take more periodic breaks from their screens; more specifically, he suggests having a five minute break every twenty minutes. In his opinion, MCPS is not taking the issue of maintaining the health of students and their eyesight seriously enough.
Throughout the ever-changing process of adjusting to virtual school, the families of young children in MCPS have gone through a series of struggles and triumphs. Nonetheless, this experience has provided them with unforgettable discoveries and opportunities to strengthen their family bond.