It’s been an unprecedented year of online learning and, with Tuesday’s announcement of some school reopenings, several Santa Clarita Valley parents and students reflected on the wins and advancements they have made with virtual schooling.
Los Angeles County Public Health officials said this week that, while the transmission of COVID-19 remains widespread, the county now meets the state threshold for schools to resume in-person learning for grades TK through 6.
It’s another round of change for students and parents who have seen plenty of it the past year. And for some, there’s been a silver lining in all that change.
Fifth-grader Lily Schardein, for example, wakes up every school day at 6:45 a.m.
“Before, I couldn’t wake up earlier than 7:30 a.m. and now I get up earlier and feed the dogs,” she said of her schedule. “At 9:30 a.m., I get on a school meet, then I do some work and then some chores, then I do math, more school work, then have lunch, make something for my younger brother and then my last class.”
Schardein, 11, has her whole schedule figured out, even penciling in time for FaceTime play dates with her friends. Distance learning has come with many challenging adjustments, but it’s also provided her with an opportunity to develop “adult skills” like time management, according to her mother, Hilary.
“There are downsides to being at home: She misses her friends and classmates, and none of that should be replaced — but she has grown with her independence and manages her own schedule,” said Hilary. “She’s even taken up additional projects like playing guitar. She’s been able to balance it all.”
Starting high school can be an intimidating milestone for students, but remote learning has helped make the transition easier to manage for some. Such is the case for 15-year-old Saki Korbel, who has autism and felt nervous about starting the new school year at Golden Valley High, according to his mother, Kelli Williams.
“Because he’s familiar with online learning, it was an easy transition for him,” said Williams. “There’s more face-to-face interaction with teachers on the computer, whereas in a classroom there’s dozens of students, so (online) works for him.”
Distance learning has even helped some students boost their grades. Rachael Garel, a Santa Clarita resident and mother of three, said her two older children — one in high school and another in middle school — are now on the honor roll because they have fewer distractions at home and are able to focus and learn at their own pace. At the same time, her youngest child, a fourth-grader, is having a harder time and finds that she would most likely send her back to in-person learning while keeping the other two at home.
“It’s a child-by-child case. My two oldest kids are introverts and don’t want to be around others. But my youngest, she’s an extrovert. We will have to adjust with what will work best for each,” said Garel.
Parents have said that with distance learning, there’s a reset of priorities: more time for cooking, playing and hanging out as a family, according to Renee Marshall, an education advocate and teaching credential holder who has held distance learning workshops with the city of Santa Clarita.
“Distance learning provides flexibility. Students can engage in synchronous or asynchronous learning, and education feels more individualized,” she wrote in an email. “Students with ADHD or those who fidget or finish early in class are able to work at their natural pace and can use tools, such as fidgets, to help them focus while learning distantly (without distracting other students as they could in a traditional classroom).”
At the same time, remote learning in some households has resulted in anxious, angry or depressed students, but some parents have sought solutions to help other working mothers and fathers, such as Melissa Rogers, who is working toward earning her teaching credentials. She created a learning pod at home, with her 10-year-old daughter and up to three other students her age, where they conduct their school work and play together.
“I think this has saved these kids on mental health. None seem to be anxious or depressed, and that’s a huge win. I think it’s better for them to be in class, but this has helped some families during the pandemic. This is like a microcosm of the whole school system.”
SCV school officials are taking in both sides of concerns from parents as they continue to work out details for a safe return.
“I think those that want to return to on-campus learning are passionate about it, and those that don’t are also passionate about it, and that’s the challenge for school systems,” Saugus Union School District Superintendent Colleen Hawkins said, adding, “I just want to say a heartfelt thank you to the community for their support and patience of public education, our teachers, our schools.”
As the education sector shifts into a new phase amid the ongoing pandemic, Marshall said it’s important to remember “to lead with kindness and show grace.”
“The next few months will be a time of continued disequilibrium. Some students will be back on campus, some distance learning, some choosing other options such as homeschooling…no matter how your child goes to school, we need to stay child-focused and support our children during this transition. Be kind to them. Be kind to teachers and school staff (including leadership). We are all in this together,” she said.