In the topsy-turvy world that is education during the coronavirus pandemic, parents have gotten a first-hand look into what their children are learning, and not everybody likes what they see.
“I think they’re falling behind,” said Mary Leesch Becker, whose children are in seventh grade and 11th grade in Alexandria and who is helping the neighbor girl, an elementary-age student.
While she has found that teachers are responsive and that students are doing their best, the students are missing out on the context that classroom discussions can provide, Becker said. And she wonders how effective exams are.
“Who knows if they’re actually learning it or if they’re copying it out of what they look up,” she said. “I don’t think this is good for the long term.”
Sara Godfrey, who has three children in the district, ages 13, 14 and 17, said the biggest struggle has been that she and her husband each work full-time.
“All of the sudden, we have to hold them accountable for not just their ‘homework’ but their learning, signing in, technology issues, managing all of the emails and directions, changes or issues,” she said.
It has been a challenge to keep their children interested in school and going further, she said. One of her children had trouble trying to submit assignments, and their many emails trying to solve it were often not answered or took a long time to get a response.
As to how to make it better?
“I’m not going to pretend I have all of the answers,” Godfrey said. “I know it’s tough for all parties; this is new. I really don’t know. I think that classes should have been live more. More interactive somehow? More accountability?”
Distance learning does have its upside, she added, such as teaching students that things aren’t always going to be easy. It’s also easier for parents to spot and address bad habits.
“My kids are also becoming more responsible, learning how much goes into managing a home and a life,” she said. “We are spending way more time together and are solving problems together. That’s invaluable. … I know that this has been tough for everyone! Kudos to the teachers and kids for making the most of it.”
Some students not quite old enough to stay home while their parents work are spending their days going to childcare. Lori Ziegler said of the approximately nine to 10 children she watches in Alexandria, four or five of them are school age, and they all have their own devices and school needs. They need privacy to do their work and help getting online. Meanwhile, she also has little children to tend to.
“We kind of work around it,” she said. “They understand that taking care of the little ones comes first.”
Those who don’t complete their work during the day, or have science projects to do, bring that work home for their parents to help with in the evening, Ziegler said.
Rick Sansted, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in Alexandria, said the district surveyed parents a second time in early May, and received a fairly high response rate of about 1,500 replies for the district’s 4,000 students.
Most parents of middle school and high school students report that their students have now gotten their groove with distance education and most are motivated to complete the work. However, about 25% of middle school parents reported that their children were not motivated.
Parents wanted more focus on students, not just classwork, and a consistent way of taking attendance, and a different approach to grading.
Students wanted staff to “just talk to me,” to continue to encourage them and more “fun” stuff. They said they miss their friends, teachers and “the way it was.” Some report helping younger siblings with their schoolwork, and they struggle with spotty internet. The survey also drew the response, “I want to be back in school.”
In the elementary grades, most parents reported their children have found their distance education rhythm and are motivated to tackle their classwork. However, nearly a third reported that their students struggle with motivation.
Parents said their children missed science labs, wanted more connection with their classes, and enjoyed game-like learning activities.
Attendance rate has been about 98%, Sansted said. The school bought 50 hotspots for families who did not have internet access, and school counselors have reached out to families who have not been participating in distance education, with some success, he said.
Staff have been working long days for parents who can’t help their children with school work until evening, he said.
Echo Press reporter Celeste Edenloff contributed to this story.