“No school today” is usually a welcome sound to students. It means no pre-dawn rising, no lunches to pack, no forgotten homework, and no visits to the principal’s office. But multiply that “day” by 60 or 80 plus days. Welcome to quarantine and home school. With schools closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year, the COVID-19 Coronavirus has impacted students, parents, teachers and perhaps most importantly, education. Will this be a “lost year” for students?
For a closer look we will focus on two schools, the St. Thomas/St. John Seventh-day Adventist School, and the St. Croix Seventh-day Adventist School. These sister schools (two of the five in the North Caribbean Conference) educate over 250 students from Grades K to 12. The students interviewed range from 2nd to 12th grades. The brick and mortar schools for these students have been closed since March due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Education has been moved to dining tables and laptops across the United States Virgin Islands. Many of the parents were already at home, caring for infants or working from home. Some are now juggling jobs with child care and teaching.
The complaints from students were few. The biggest complaint was, “I miss my friends.” Somehow meeting friends virtually in ZOOM is not enough. Students are missing the physical contact with their classmates. Cherish Abraham, a 2nd grader, had this to say: “I was happy for the first few weeks. But now I miss my friends, my teacher and riding the bus. I also miss the Johnny cakes on Friday, when my grandma would give me $5:00 for making A on my test.” Some students discovered that they were putting on weight because they took frequent snack breaks. There were few other complaints from the students.
So how does the school day at home go? “Very hectic” was Blossom’s reply. She is a 10th grader from St. Croix. She also commented that there was no change from a regular school day and that the day is actually longer than a regular school day. The school day also goes well for fourth grader Noel James from St. Thomas. He had been thinking about home schooling even before the lock in and has more appreciation for teachers now he understands how hard they work.
The parents were the ones who had complaints, especially parents who are working while teaching. A parent from St. Thomas finds the afternoons when she has to work difficult, because now she has to balance teaching and working. “Everyone wants your attention at the same time,” says this mother of a 9-year-old.
Madona Abraham in St. Croix agrees: “As a Grandmother (and caregiver) of an elementary student, my daily schedule has changed tremendously while on quarantine. I am up by 4:30 to get started. [Since Cherish is] the only child in the home, I am now the playmate, teacher and mother, friend. Every single hour on the clock I have to consider planning around her.”
Euna Browne Todman, the grandmother of a 12th grader, has to be “extra vigilant” to be sure her grandson goes to bed early enough to get eight hours of sleep so he can be up on time for his 8 o’clock virtual class. Ms. Browne Todman, who also babysits a two-year old grandson, has to juggle space and time to give both boys what they need.
Apart from those concerns, both students and parents had high praise for the home school program. Much credit must be given to the teachers who set up and monitor teaching, giving and receiving assignments, preparing tests and everything else that takes place in a regular class, all in a virtual format. For one parent from St. Thomas, the mother of two high school students, “[home schooling] has not been a problem at all. My children are self-motivated and smart and get their work completed timely…without much fuss.”
One high school student from St. Croix finds the atmosphere at home more relaxing and is able to focus more than he did at school. “I have gained weight and lost nothing by the weeks at home,” commented a 12th grader from St. Thomas. Learning from the comfort of her home has been positive for her. She is happy that “whereas I would have every class on every day of the week, now I’m having each class twice a week. The typical day for me is to eat a lot and sleep as long as I want to and then set an alarm to wake me up when it’s time for me to join a Zoom.” Another student from St. Thomas summed it up like this: Home school means “lots of sleep.
Less stress. Bonding time. Relaxation. More time to get back to crafts I didn’t have time for, and…better mental health.”
How has technology affected the failure or success of home schooling in this pandemic? I must note that all the students and parents surveyed have access to the Internet, and the students have their personal devices or have access to one at home. Cherish, the 2nd grader adds, “Before the virus, I used my Tablet only on week-ends, now I use it all day for school work and fun, Sometimes I get weary in writing or the internet gets slow because so many people are on it and that can make me post my work late.. Just wish I had my own cell phone.” One fourth grader from St. Thomas is also happy to go online and find additional resources.
A twelfth grader adds, “Technology has affected my experience in a marvelous way. I’m so glad that through technology I’m still able to get an education and complete and submit work on time as if I were in physical school. It’s good for me to get a head start on how technology will be of more use when I go to college.” Even Physical Education has been accomplished virtually. One parent noted that the PE teacher assigned certain physical challenges and had the parent videotape the “assignment” and send the video to her. The student received his grade! A 10th grader from St. Thomas noted, “I believe if we didn’t have it [technology] I might have to take the 10th grade over again. And that wouldn’t be right. So technology has …helped a lot.” For all students and parents, challenging subjects like math and chemistry have a helper: the Internet, with Google, You Tube or Khan Academy. Technology, all agree, has contributed positively to the students’ education-in-quarantine.
For parents who may be struggling with home and school, Tissaley Donovan, the mother of a fourth grader from St. Thomas has these suggestions: “Make a schedule. Stick to it as closely as possible. Remember that in a class setting everyone is doing the work which encourages your child to do so, but at home there are other distractions.” She reminds parents and students to also make time for fun, not just work.
Mrs. Gerene Joseph, Education Director of the North Caribbean Conference adds, “We highly commend our teachers for quickly adapting to online instruction. All five schools of the NCC are fully online and the level of parental support is praiseworthy. Out of every negative situation come opportunities for positive growth and the COVID-19 pandemic is one such opportunity. Students have learnt to be more focused and disciplined where learning is concerned, and parents are playing a more integral role in their child's education.”
It seems, then, that 2019-2020 won’t be a lost year, according to the students and parents surveyed. It may actually be the year many students found themselves.