It’s been seven weeks since Central Coast schools closed in-person classrooms and began teaching students virtually. The change was radical and abrupt.
Over the course of about a week in mid-March, teachers, students and parents rapidly switched to a whole new format of education. Many schools handed out Chromebook laptops and answered hundreds of phone calls.
“It definitely has been a rollercoaster of emotions,” said Los Osos Middle School teacher Megan August-Evans. “I feel like we’re all displaying these feelings of grief...almost of this loss with our students, and with our friends and with our colleagues.”
Since the coronavirus shutdown, August-Evans said she’s been able to meet with about 80 percent of her students consistently. And while roughly 20 percent of her students have always been considered high-risk, it’s become harder to keep them connected now that she can’t see them in person.
“I think a lot of these kids are experiencing a lot of trauma at home, having to take on responsibilities of taking care of younger siblings or cousins while parents are trying to get second jobs, or find jobs, “ said August-Evans. “I think a priority has shifted based on the needs of the family.”
The nonprofit education advocacy group Common Sense Media recently surveyed about 800 students across the country, asking how they are doing. Nearly half reported they hadn’t attended a virtual class since in-person classes were cancelled.
Common Sense Media regional manager Ilana Lowrey said students who responded to the survey mentioned being anxious about their family’s loss of income, as well as their health. She said many students still can’t even get digitally connected to begin classes.
“There are about 12 million students nationwide that are living in homes without an internet connection, so that makes distance learning almost impossible,” said Lowrey.
Carol Kenyon is the chief academic officer for the Paso Robles Unified School District. Kenyon stated that during the week of April 20, the district had a 92% attendance rate, and that Paso students with higher needs—meaning kids in foster care or with low income—were given WiFi hotspots to make sure they could attend classes, along with Chromebook devices.
Kenyon said Paso Robles district schools have developed a system to reach out to kids if they haven’t been responding.
“I think because of that systematic approach and that tiered approach, we’ve had really good success being sure we’re having contact with our kids,” said Kenyon.
Teacher Kristen Lohr has been spending a large portion of her time trying to reach students at Juan Pacific Ontiveros Elementary School in Santa Maria. Lohr is an intervention teacher for second grade math students and a science lab teacher for grades 3-6. She said some students didn’t even pick up Chromebooks until last week. Lohr said every Thursday, teachers compile a list of students who haven’t been responding.
“We start calling numbers on the [parent contact card]; we start looking for aunts, uncles, friends, nextdoor neighbors, [and say] hey, have you seen Ramone or Alicia?” said Lohr.
She said in some instances, it’s taken her up to two weeks to finally reach a student, but Lohr said she is working to establish a routine with them by calling and checking-in frequently.
“And then we start making those connections, and relentlessly don’t give up until we talk to a voice of a kiddo,” said Lohr.
Lindsey Haring is a parent of kids who attend a San Luis Coastal USD school. Haring and her husband own a sporting goods store, and are now doing a lot of work from home. She said at first, it was a really tough adjustment.
“We were on such a steep learning curve, and there were so many unknowns,” said Haring.
Haring said at first the school was asking parents to print worksheets, scan them or submit images of them via email to teachers. After a week, she said the teachers had already completely changed direction with a more flexible online format.
“Kids can struggle sometimes with independence and transitioning, and we give them grace and try to give ourselves grace,” Haring said.
Most Central Coast schools have officially closed school sites until the end of the school year. So, parents, teachers and students will need to navigate these novel scholastic waters for some time to come.