CROFTON, MD — A hug. A smile. A high five. These are just three of many things students learning from home really miss. Elizabeth Fine of Crofton, a former public school teacher who gives private music lessons out of her home, delved headfirst into virtual learning when Anne Arundel County Public Schools finished the spring semester and started off the fall semester with online learning.
Her sons had to adjust as has she, Fine told Patch.
Nicholas, 15, attends Crofton High School as a sophomore. Nate, 12, is in sixth grade at Crofton Middle School. In order to attempt to successfully adapt to learning from home, Fine set up desks in the boys’ bedrooms and bought them a chair for the fall semester in the hopes of avoiding the neck pain they experienced while learning from home in the spring.
“We also needed a new Chromebook to log on with. We talked about how important attendance was and how interacting on camera with their teachers and peers is essential. Secondary students are so much less likely to engage on camera than littler ones, so we emphasized the necessity of interaction prior to online learning,” Fine said.
Because the boys are older students, Fine isn’t teaching them, but rather supervising what they’re doing, a process aided with Google Classroom alerts.
“I have their login information and can go on and clarify things with them if needed. I make sure they are up and logged on for each class. I also encourage my kids to print anything they can so they don’t have to stare at a screen or type for every class but rather read and write off actual paper, too. That’s where I know we are lucky because we have the means to print and scan. Not all kids have this,” Fine said.
With a husband in the Coast Guard working long hours in Baltimore, Fine finds herself spending a considerable amount of time assisting her sons with their education. She will resume teaching privately in October.
“I am nervous because I do feel like the oversight of my kids is a full-time job now. I don’t know how those working full-time out of the home haven’t lost their minds trying to manage both working and virtual learning,” she said.
Fortunately, Nate enjoys virtual learning and told his mom he likes his teachers. She said his workload seems appropriate and the teachers are “energetic and happy,” which is definitely needed in such unprecedented times. Nicholas, however, is enrolled in honors and AP courses and seems to be treated as a college student with his workload, Fine said
“The amount of time my son is on the computer is staggering between synchronous and asynchronous assignments. He has detailed homework for every class, along with finishing his classwork. The public needs to realize that the learning time has been cut more than in half for high school students. What used to be 90-minute classes two to three times a week is now 45 minutes twice a week, so they are needing to do much more on their own in order to succeed, and I still don’t think it is enough time for our high-schoolers to be prepared for the following years in continuous learning,” she said.
The thing Fine’s sons seem to miss the most is live teacher interaction and spending time with friends socializing.
“When working on classwork, there should be time when a student can clarify a direction, etc., but there isn’t and has to be done through email or flex time and often flex time isn’t available before that assignment is due. They’re missing simple individualized encouragement from their teachers. Missing time with friends to discuss their personal lives and their classwork and small group discussions, and just have lunch and chat. All of these things are vital to high schoolers’ success, and although we all know the teachers are working hard and trying, the virtual schedule and environment just doesn’t allow for it,” Fine said.
Thankfully, both boys play for Crofton Athletic Council, which is offering county sports, Fine said. That option is helping them out.
“I am so glad they are able to get out and play and socialize with other kids. My kids also enjoy band and are both registered through AACPS and having class right now, which gives them something to practice,” she said.
Fine, like many other parents, hopes school moves to in-person quite soon.
“I believe that if we wear masks, hand wash and socially distance in a hybrid environment with a lower number of students in class and on buses, students need to return to the classroom and it will be safe. It is estimated that students will lose six to nine months of academic progress (McKinsey study), and I believe if we don’t return as soon as possible, we will be lucky if this is truly all the decline we will see, especially academically and mental health-wise. The inequity is clear,” she said.
She also worries that the gaps in student attainment will be “widened beyond repair” if students do not return to the classroom soon.
“The virus is still out there, but if we can protect both students and teachers adequately, just as other professions and school districts across the country have started to achieve, we must return or risk the loss of public education. I’m able to stay home and make sure my kids are fed and loved and working hard. So many cannot,” Fine said.
She’s also worried about students’ mental health.
“I think we need to make sure that we know that these kids’ mental health is just as important as learning. I am not going to focus on grades but on their effort and happiness, and I will encourage my kids to be social outside with friends while being conscious of social distancing rules. They must interact with their peers,” she said.