Below the Beltway

Silver Linings in the COVID Cloud of Distance Learning? Maybe.

Kids in school at home is a mighty challenge. But perhaps there are some silver linings with school at home in this time of COVID-19.

From left, road warriors Danette, Blake, Lena and Brian Berry, and four-legged Champ. (Photo: Susan Fleischman)

Alexandria, VA – “We bought a damned camper!” said Stratford resident Brian Berry. “Because now that our home is also school and office, we figured we need to find reasons to get out of the classroom and office. So here it is. Lemonade, people. Take those lemons and make some lemonade.”

Indeed. Kids in school at home is a mighty challenge. Impossible, really, this thing that everyone is doing. It’s hard and frustrating and lonely and exhausting. But perhaps there are some silver linings with school at home in this interminable cloud of COVID-19.

Instructional assistant Lara O’Connor is one of the many juggling school at home as both parent and instructor. But she definitely sees a silver lining. “For me, distance teaching at home while my son is distance learning his senior year is promising for both of us because he has really stepped up the college admission process.” She laughed, “I feel certain that this is directly related to being home with me. He clearly wants out.”

O’Connor is seeing many kids settle nicely into distance learning and hard-working teachers support kids in their virtual classrooms. “If you closed your eyes, you’d think you were in a real one.”

Command central for 6th-grade teacher Yvonne Dacey. (Photo: Yvonne Dacey)

Sixth-grade teacher Yvonne Dacey never in her 30 years of teaching thought that she’d be feeling like a novice again. Her kids are grown and on their own, so she has the luxury of a quiet house to work in. She has plenty of empathy for teachers who have their kids at home at the same time. As for her students, “So far it has been fairly successful. The students are logging on and completing work and participating. But in many ways it is much more difficult than being in the classroom.”

A local high school math teacher also noticed some success so far. “I’m seeing these young people realize they have to take ownership of their learning management. The students are really stepping up and staying on top of things now so they have a strong foundation for getting through the rest of this crazy year.”

Distance learning didn’t stop this annual rite from taking place at the Kopples’ house: the first day of school photo. (Photo: Chrissy Kopple)

Chrissy Kopple, parent of two elementary school kids, agreed and said, “My 5th grader has developed a level of independence I hadn’t expected during the last six months. She’s got her own daily routine and participates more than she used to in class. I am so grateful that, for all the challenges this year has brought, my 10-year old also feels more empowered by this virtual learning experience.”

Parents are thankful for the teachers’ hard work, recognizing the extra burdens. Kopple added, “Our teachers are amazing! I am in awe of the creative ways they motivate their students to keep them going, especially in the later part of the day, when they are often more tired and focusing can be challenging. A little mindful movement, singing or dancing, always gets the wiggles out and brings renewed energy to my kids.”

Lisa May and her daughter, Amelia, are rocking the red and the new school year. (Photo: the May Family)

Fort Hunt ES parent Lisa May said, “One unexpected benefit has been having two kids in Spanish Immersion. If you had asked me before last week what Spanish I knew, the answer would be ‘first week, Spanish 1, and I’ve barely used it since.’ Instead, I may end up with more foreign language ability after this year than I ever thought I would, and learning it again alongside my youngest is pretty cool.”

As with any daunting challenge, attitude in approach can be the game-changer. O’Connor explained, “We are all learning together and mistakes are not focused on. The kids see teachers as people who are learning too. Every day is different, every day we all learn something. It’s not always easy but there are always positive vibes.”

There are the obvious benefits, of course. Parent Dana Deighton said, “The silver lining is a bit more sleep, location flexibility, and maybe less hallway drama.” Two brothers in high school said it’s nice not dealing with the traffic getting into school in the morning, which is normally brutal. They get together with friends to attend school online, gathering in groups for lunch, then setting up for class at someone’s house.

“Three things come to mind,” said parent Vero Autphenne. “The first, of course, is not having to change out of your PJs or comb your hair before first period. Second, I’d like to think the lunches are better than in the Sandburg cafeteria. And finally, taking some outdoor breaks between classes has also been a nice change from being inside all day at school. Did I mention not getting COVID?”

Wendy Turenne found a silver lining when she realized her 9th grader would start high school virtually. “I thought, ok, he’ll build good skills for college and career. Turns out it’s working pretty well. He is killing the morning coffee routine with a variety of creamer flavors and whipped cream every day. And one day he fed himself ramen for every meal. College, here we come!”

There’s an overall appreciation for wearing jammies in class, extra time with the dogs (who are living their best life, honestly), and long lunches with friends. One mom expressed thanks for her daughter’s little lunch bunch who ride their bikes to a designated spot each school day with bag lunches in hand and some running around, biking, trampolining, and face-to-face active interaction during their 90-minute breaks. Renée Gage has appreciated the extra time with her five boys, as well as the “hard work that the teachers are giving to their classes…they are giving it their all!” On a related note, she wondered, “Does anyone else feel like it’s always time for someone to eat breakfast or lunch?”

The newest addition to the Berry family is shiny clean and ready for adventure! (Photo: Brian Berry)

New camper owner Brian Berry is all in, embracing acceptance. The best defense is a strong offense, right? “Fine, so now our home is a school and workplace. So be it. Therefore if we need to find safe ways to get out of the school or office, we go camping and explore parks, trails, lakes, rivers and beaches that we might have otherwise never visited. And that’s some good that can come out of this.”

One thoughtful second-grader summed it all up succinctly. Said his mom, “I heard him read to his class the following hopes and dreams: ‘I hope school will open again soon… and I dream COVID will go away.’” Amen, kiddo. Thank goodness for hopes and dreams, precious silver linings in every cloud.

ICYMI: Coming Sept. 21: Fall Online Art Classes Taught by Art League School

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