Castaic second-grader stuck in Philippines keeps up with distance learning despite time difference

Potts points at the screen while doing his homework from the Philippines. Courtesy photo.
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Although his flight back to his home, his friends and his teacher was canceled, Live Oak Elementary second-grader Leo Potts continues to participate in class and turn in his homework — even going so far as to wake up at 1 a.m. to join his classmates virtually.

On March 9, Potts, and his parents landed in the Philippines for a short trip to see his grandparents. The plan was that Potts would take a packet of school work with him for independent study and return to school after spring break without having missed a beat.

Suzanne Graff said one of the few things he wasn’t able to do outright was watch the birth of the class chickens, which were born a little after Potts left for his trip. But he told his teacher it wasn’t so bad because there were “chicks,” what he calls the baby chickens, next door to the house he was at in the Philippines.

2nd grade teacher at Live Oak Elementary Suzanne Graff and her student Leo Potts communicate via Zoom, despite Potts being in the Philippines. Courtesy photo.

“On our first Zoom call he said to me, ‘Guess what, Mrs. Graff? I really got to see the baby chicks and it was really cool,’” Graff recalled.

And then the family learned their trip would be extended — a couple of times.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, his family was still on the island of Masbate. Soon after the pandemic became major news in the United States, they were told all flights home would be canceled until April 30 and, eventually, May 15.

“I was pretty sad,” Potts said over an international Zoom call Friday. He added he missed his home and wanted to be with his friends again.

Leo Potts works on his homework. Courtesy photo.

The monthlong trip eventually became two months, and soon Potts and his family will be able to fly home, his mom said. But until then, Potts was keeping busy by continuing to do his school work every day. And sometimes, he says, he needs a little help to stay up until 1 a.m. on Tuesday nights so he can be with his class when they meet virtually at 11 a.m. in their Castaic homes.

“I drink Mountain Dew,” he said.

If he’s not staying up late, Potts works in his notebook, he said.

“We have this thing called a notebook, and (Mrs. Graff) sends us an email and we have to do it,” said Potts. “We have to write it in a journal or a notebook and we have to answer honestly in four sentences.”

“He’s been great,” said Graff. “The first time we went on Zoom, I knew he had his independent study packet with him and I was concerned when he would get the pack or how I would be in touch with him.

“I went on Zoom and I think I had 24 of 26 kids on our Zoom call, and lo and behold, there was little Leo’s face and I was so excited to see him.”

Leo Potts works on his homework while stuck in the Philippines. Courtesy photo.

Graff said Potts stayed in the same character he would be if he was in class or Zooming at home. He was participating, communicating and showing off his inquisitive nature, she said.

Potts’ mom, Melanie, said the secret to making sure he got his work done was “a lot of breaks.”

“I don’t know how Mrs. Graff does it,” said Melanie. “It’s hard to keep him on track, but we try.”

Potts, Graff said, is able to remotely do his work, keeping up in his in-class work, as well as the iReady online work he does, including 20 minutes of math and 20 minutes of reading.

“Knowing that somebody is going above and beyond and can get on at 1 a.m., that you can do this from afar just makes a teacher’s heart melt,” said Potts. “I’m proud of him.”

Potts is scheduled to return as soon as the next flight is available to Los Angeles, his mom said, which should be once the stay-at-home order has been lifted and international travel from the Philippines can resume.

Leo said he was excited to come back.

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