Online School Still A Challenge ...

An Imperial Beach first grader attends school online.

With the latest reaffirmation by the South Bay Union School District, online school will continue for the rest of year. The new school year will start July 26. With that decision, the challenges continue for many families who have had to fill in as teachers for their kids, have stayed home from work, may have had to cut their hours or adjust them, to deal with online school related issues.

According to UNESCO data, almost 1.2 billion children of 150 nationalities are facing issues with online learning. Especially for younger children, online learning has been difficult. Young children have shorter attention spans; how do you teach a child to read from a screen? What about their social life, playing and interacting with classmates, feeling part of a group?

For parents who have a full-time job like Lauren Giardina, it’s been a true challenge - keeping kids on task, making sure they are logging on, and helping with homework. Giardina is an attorney who has been allowed to work from home by her employer. She has a first grader and third grader at Nestor Language Academy.

At the beginning of the pandemic last March, the school extended spring break and it took some time for the district to regroup. Giardina said it took about five weeks for the district to give out computers to the students. “The principal and teachers have been excellent, wonderful. We’re extremely fortunate to work with such community,” she said.

Her children finished the school year online as everyone else. But by the summer time, the situation became hard for families like Giardina’s. “It became extremely frustrating. No information was provided to us if the school was going back…until the 11th hour. What was frustrating for my family was my husband and I both work for full-time,” she explained.

Giardina works from home full-time while her husband works from home part-time. Giardina felt there was no acknowledgement to plan ahead by the district for working parents.

With a first grader doing online school this year, Giardina had to take time off from work to take care of her child’s schooling. Giardina has faced many challenges from the beginning of the school year. For example when the school announced that parents had to pick up supplies, it was for a short window of time. “They assumed we had to stop everything…everyone jump into action…very frustrating,” she said.

Another issue has been the homework, which is about 2 hours for her third grader, which requires a lot of parents’ support. Giardina’s work days are now “extraordinarily long” she said. She has to get up early and work late and her kids are working even harder. “My kids are responsible for doing a lot of heavy lifting,” she said.

Giardina also feels a lot of teaching has been shifted to the parents. In addition the school day is shorter than in person school and her kids are done by 12:25 p.m.

Other parents have given up on public school because of the challenges of online school and have moved their children to private schools for the opportunity to go in person. Devon Blake’s 5-year-old daughter started kindergarten at IB Charter School this year, but a few weeks ago she was moved to private school. Blake said her daughter was not engaged, bored and unhappy with online school, which consisted of 90 minutes a day. Kids in her grade were assigned homework on different apps, but Blake felt her daughter was not progressing with reading and writing letters. Blake sent comments to the school district to be read during the board meetings to encourage the reopening of the school, but she felt discouraged.

“We had hoped the school district would reopen…every time it was more and more discouraging,” she said.

Blake works from home and her husband splits his time working from home and at his job site. Both parents struggled with online school. Now that their daughter is in private school and is doing in person learning, Blake has noticed a difference.”She runs up to school every morning, is in a good mood, excited about what she is learning and doing work on paper and pencil,” she said.

It was not an easy decision for this family to switch schools mid-year. “It’s not what we had envisioned,” she said. But now her daughter is getting what she was lacking online.

Shannon Johnson, a mother of two children at Nestor Language Academy in kindergarten and first grade is disappointed how this school year has turned out. She hoped the district would reopen for in person school. She enrolled her kids at the language academy to give them a chance to learn Spanish but it has been difficult with online learning. “It’s the whole reason we sent them there,” she said.

Her first grade daughter is shy and would really benefit by the social interaction while her son is a social butterfly and misses being with other kids. Johnson said the Spanish language teacher has increased the amount of teaching time to help the kids, which has been good, but it has made the kids more cranky and tired and given them headaches.

Johnson is making the online school work, but feels her son is behind compared to her daughter. “He’s not as fluent [in Spanish] as my daughter was last year,” she said.

While Johnson is a stay at home mom, she volunteers with Surfrider Foundation but she has had to cut down on her time. Now Johnson feels she is a part-time teacher and is learning Spanish alongside her son. “My kids are really upset, they want to go school. My son was super excited to start kindergarten,” she said.

Some of her friends with children of the same age also feel their kids are behind in school.

“It’s very confusing and very strange,” she said of the year-long online school. Many moms like her are disappointed the district decided not to reopen for the rest of the year when many other school districts have reopened. If the situation is not different when school will resume in July, Johnson will be forced to make some changes.

“We’re not doing this next year. We’ll look at transferring schools,” she said.

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