Each weekday morning, Rachel Cave feeds breakfast to her three children under 5 and opens her email to see what task her kindergartner will tackle that day.
Cave decided to keep her daughter, Danilynn, at home to do remote learning through Brown County Schools for the start of the school year. The district’s return-to-school plan allows families who do not yet feel comfortable sending their children to in-person school or students who are in a high-risk category to attend school full-time online.
The Cave family chose remote learning due to health issues in their family. Cave opted for remote learning through the district over homeschooling Danilynn on her own because she does want her to attend school in person when she deems it safe to do so.
This is Danilynn’s first time being part of a classroom, as a kindergarten student at Sprunica Elementary. She received a Chromebook from the school and a Verizon hotspot via the school district’s lottery to help her get connected.
Story continues below gallery
“She didn’t go to preschool — she hasn’t actually been to school — so this is exciting and new for her, because it’s just something different. She does get to see her teacher, so she’s excited about it,” Cave said.
“She loves her computer. She loves being able to get online and do her homework. The writing homework is not quite as exciting. She’s like, ‘I don’t really want to do this paperwork,’ but she’s transitioning well. If I’m hurrying up and trying to get something else done, she’s like, ‘School. We have to do school.’”
Danilynn’s kindergarten class meets all together over Zoom on Fridays. She receives lessons over video throughout the week.
“Our biggest challenge so far has been the Zoom meetings. We have had trouble joining all of them. I hope the kinks get worked out soon, because I feel that the meetings are one of the most important parts of remote learning,” Cave said.
“That’s disappointing because she looks forward to those because she can see her other classmates and her teacher.”
When COVID-19 first hit, Cave decided she would homeschool Danilynn and began teaching her over the summer. She decided to enroll her in Brown County Schools after a remote learning option was offered.
Remote learning is “quite an investment” of time because her daughter is in kindergarten and learning to read, so she needs some additional instruction, like when to click “Next” on her Chromebook to get to the next page, Cave said.
“I am pretty much there for all of it. I could put a video on and she can watch it and then I have to tell her the assignment that goes with the video,” she said.
“It’s a lot of hands on, but I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Cave lets her daughter do a couple of assignments on the computer before taking a break for play. “We go back and forth all day to kind of fit in our schedule,” she said.
“Some days there’s a lot of work and some days there’s not as much. We’re still trying to work all of that out on the schedule. I love that it’s really flexible.”
One downfall of remote learning is no daily interaction with Danilynn’s teacher with the exception of Friday Zoom meetings. Cave communicates with the teacher via email. But she said not having to log in for virtual meet-ups every day also has its positives.
“I like being flexible. If my kids are screaming and melting down, then we can put it off for a little bit,” Cave said.
Cave is a stay-at-home mom, and said that her other, younger childr,en are also benefiting from remote learning.
“My 3-year-old sits with her (Danilynn), so I’m assuming she will pick up quite a bit watching her and watching the videos. If there’s a writing assignment they all get to do it,” she said.
“It’s a little harder with the 2-year-old, but he does pretty good coloring and just going with the flow.”
Learning from home
As of Aug. 26, 290 Brown County students were attending school virtually this year, which equals about 17 percent of the student population.
Remote learners should not have an impact on the school district’s budget as long as they are enrolled as a Brown County Schools student. The state board of education met this month and voted to provide districts 100 percent of the state-administered tuition support for students who are attending school via remote learning due to the pandemic, so districts will not receive less money for those remote learners.
Alisia Burton’s daughter, Alivia, is a Brown County Intermediate School student. Burton said BCIS is doing a “wonderful job” with remote learning.
Alivia works five to six hours every day, plus Burton implements extra courses at home, like art, music and physical education.
She said that there have been issues with submitting assignments on time that were counted as late due to a system glitch. “The only complaint is the having to redo and resubmit assignments,” Burton said.
Unlike Cave’s daughter, Alivia started out the school year in person. On day five, she was playing at recess and threw up after being too hot. Because she threw up, she was sent home to quarantine. She received a negative test result for COVID-19, but then began having other stomach issues, so she had to quarantine for three more days.
After that extension, Burton said she decided to switch her to 100-percent remote learning.
“The e-learning that absent kids (in quarantine) are doing versus the 100-percent remote students is night and day. It went from 30 minutes of work to five to six hours (a day) and I didn’t want her to fall behind,” Burton said.
The plan is to have Alivia return to school after this trimester. Burton has two other children who are attending school in person.
“We both miss her having that interaction with other pupils,” Burton said.
Burton said her family has reliable fiber internet through REMC, which helps with doing remote learning. She is also on maternity leave, which gives her some time to help Alivia with assignments when needed.
“She does a lot of the work by herself, but I do help ‘teach’ her new lessons. It’s a lot easier to learn something from being taught than it is teaching yourself, in my opinion,” Burton said.
Other families face more difficulties with remote learning.
Melissa Taylor has two children, in Brown County High School and Brown County Junior High School. Her son is a seventh-grader and her daughter is a sophomore.
Taylor said her daughter’s experience at the high school remote learning has been better than her son’s so far.
“I totally understand that this is a very new process for the schools, but the junior high has completely missed the mark,” she said.
Her son had previously been an A-B Honor Roll student, but now is failing three classes.
“It’s very frustrating. He has four classes and his Zoom classes last 10 to 15 minutes each. You can’t teach a class or instruction in 15 minutes,” she said.
“I’m very upset with the fact that because I chose to keep my children home due to health issues, I have my child not getting the education he deserves.”
Her sophomore has three classes this trimester where she has to log on and participate by answering questions and taking notes for a 50-minute class period, like she was in school.
“(She) is doing amazing. If, or when, the school decides to go to only in-school (instruction), I will be finding an online school program for her,” Taylor said.
“She loves that there is no drama to deal with and is doing extremely well.”
Taylor said she kept her children home to do remote learning due to health issues. “Better safe than sorry when it comes to our health,” she said.
If the option is available, Taylor said her children will do remote learning all school year. She said her kids have only had problems connecting to get assignments or participate in class a few times.
Missing out on time with friends is what her son misses about being in school, but she said he plays Playstation after school to connect with friends.
Both of her children require extra help with their classwork, but her oldest child just graduated from Indiana University with a human biology degree, so there is additional help when it comes to science and math classes.
“With her biology class, her teacher talks and moves on very fast, so my oldest is a huge benefit,” she said.
“My oldest also helps my son with math and science a lot because learning new material takes longer than 15 minutes to explain.”
The Taylor family also had trouble with turning in assignments that later show up as missing, requiring them to resubmit the assignments and make sure they get full credit, like using screenshots to show when they were turned in on time.
“It’s a lot of unnecessary stress to get the correct grades in the grade book,” she said.
Late last week, Taylor said she had decided to send her son back to school in person after all of his grades dropped to Fs.
She said her son is concerned about losing her to COVID-19 after losing his father six years ago, so he knows to be careful at school to prevent bringing home germs.
“I think it’s the best solution for his education,” she said.
At the junior high school, there are four teachers responsible for teaching science, math, language arts and social studies to both seventh and eighth-grade students.
Those teachers have a class period each day where they hold Zoom help sessions for students who need additional assistance after viewing recorded lessons by their teachers, Principal Brian Garman explained.
The recorded lessons are “mini” 15-minute lessons and are supposed to be viewed before a student does their assignment.
“I think this is the confusion a lot of people have. We don’t teach like we used to when I was in school where you lecture for 60 minutes,” Garman said.
“You introduce skills in a 15-minute mini-lesson, then you would have some dialogue and exchange with other students, but for us we take that (exchange) out and put it in a different Zoom time for kids because not everybody needs all of that.”
All classes, both in-person and virtual, are organized through the learning management system Canvas. When a student logs on to Canvas, they see a list of their courses, and within each course tab are videos, assignments, the syllabus and other tools.
A student needs to be logging into their classes on Canvas every day.
Some materials are accessed through Google Classroom from Canvas and some videos are recorded via YouTube, then shared to Canvas.
Garman said that the instruction for in-class and virtual learning are the same. “They are mimicking what they are doing in the classroom in hopes that when kids return, we don’t want them to be behind,” he said.
Along with creating virtual lessons for students, teachers also have to focus on the students physically in class. Several teachers in the district have both types of learners.
“We also have 235 kids here that also need to be matriculating through a day and schedules, so you have to find a balance between limiting their elective choices and their experience and providing for those students, too,” he said.
“It’s just a balancing act trying to find it, because you built the master schedule based on the personnel you have. We didn’t have the luxury of just starting to hire additional people here and there. I think what we came up with was a really good plan.”
Some classes can be structured differently. For example, at the junior high, the social studies teacher records lessons, then has seventh-grade students doing two weeks of projects they work on and then turn in along with other daily activities. Other classes have daily videos and assignments.
“You have to be really self-motivated and disciplined,” Garman said about being a successful remote learner.
He described the virtual learning experience like a “flipped classroom.”
“They can watch the video, and they should watch the video before they engage in a Zoom. Then, every day during that allotted time for social studies, the kids are able to engage in a Zoom help session to get clarification, to ask questions and to get any kind of help they would need,” he said.
Teachers can also email or call students who have questions, but Zoom help sessions are easier because teachers can show students how to complete assignments.
“There will be time set aside for the kids to be able to engage and ask questions. The problem is, kids aren’t doing that. We’re not the only school struggling with the engagement piece,” Garman said.
Students who have an individualized education plans (IEPs) also can attend Zoom meetings with a special education teacher each afternoon to offer additional assistance. “The invitation is there,” he said.
“I can’t go to their house and make them click in. We spend a lot of time reaching out to kids saying, ‘Hey, I didn’t see you today.’”
Garman said he knows that this time is also difficult for parents, especially those who are having to work and manage remote learning at the same time. Canvas is also new to most parents, and he said that the school has met with a couple of parents after hours to go through the system with them and the student.
“Can we improve? Absolutely. I’ll be the first to admit it. At least every other week we’re meeting,” he said.
“We met again yesterday to talk about what things we can do to make this better with the resources that we have. We talked again yesterday about reaching out to parents again. … I get it that some parents don’t understand this (Canvas). This is like a foreign language to them. It would be to me, too.”
Learn what a school day is like for remote teachers in the Sept. 16 paper.