Remote learning adds a new layer of stress to the holiday season

Education. Local schools in New York and New Jersey have switched to 100 percent remote learning around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Over the border in Pike County Pa., the Delaware Valley School District is planning to stay open – but gearing up in case the state shuts schools down again.

| 27 Nov 2020 | 07:37

Orange County, N.Y., school districts have made swift pivots to fully remote learning for the weeks following Thanksgiving and Christmas. “The current surge in cases in the aftermath of the Halloween parties and social gatherings, is a preliminary indicator of the tidal wave of cases expected after the Thanksgiving and winter holiday breaks,” said Orange County Commissioner of Health Dr. Irina Gelman in a letter to area schools, urging a holiday “pause” of in-person learning.

Sussex County schools, too, made the switch as a result of rising Covid cases, with the region currently flagged as a “high risk” territory by the New Jersey Department of Health.

Over in neighboring Pike County, Pa., the district is hoping to continue with in-person instruction.

“I watched the numbers in Orange County, my god, they’re having over 100 people test positive a day. I think we had eight yesterday in Pike County,” said Dingman Delaware School District superintendent Dr. John Bell. “So it’s very different.”

The district has no intention of closing the schools, but is sending kids home with Chromebooks over the regular holiday breaks just in case the state steps in and shuts down in-person learning.

“That way if the state did something to us that we didn’t see coming down the Pike, then every kid would have their Chromebook at home, and we could improvise if we had to,” added Bell.

Holiday spirits

Kids and parents alike are feeling strained as they shift back to fully remote learning.

Stacy Mott’s son Jacob, an honor roll student at Chester Academy, was on a hybrid learning schedule up until this week. Now, his school district is virtual until Jan. 18.

“He has no problems keeping up with the work,” said Mott. “That’s not our issue here at all. But just mentally, you know, there’s a big change in his spirit. He’s not as excited about school. He’s definitely just trying to look ahead to going to college now.”

And while she’s upset that her son’s senior year has been so lackluster, Mott considers herself lucky to not have children in elementary or middle school. “I think it’s a whole different ballpark for them,” she said.

Michelle Kelly’s kindergartener, Zoey, just switched from five days in person at Durban Avenue Elementary in Hopatcong, N.J., to fully remote schooling until mid-December.

When Zoey found out, “she was not a happy camper,” said Kelly. “She’s a very social child. She’s like the mayor: she knows everybody, she talks to everybody. So when she found out she really was not okay. She wants to go to school every day, she wants to see friends, she wants to see Mrs. D.”

Michelle, who has been on furlough since April, is right there with Zoey throughout the school day to make sure her kindergartener stays on track.

But in households with adults who are at work during the day, parents are turning to family members outside of the home or daycare services to help their children navigate online learning. Neither options are ideal for social distancing -- and the latter comes with an added financial cost.

“This is tough times for everybody, and a little tougher as we make the shift to full remote,” said Jessica Packer, who is sending her first and fifth grader to Warwick Day Care while in person learning is on pause. She works at the daycare center, and is lucky to be able to enroll her kids at a discounted rate.

If the Warwick Day Care wasn’t an option, “it would be very difficult,” to find a service she trusted to get her kids through the virtual school day, she said. “Especially my younger one -- first graders need a lot more support than older children do.”

Warwick Valley Central School District in Orange County is supposed to be going virtual for two weeks following Thanksgiving and Christmas, which would allow for in-person learning from Dec. 14 to 22. But Packer isn’t convinced that they’ll return that week.

“We’ll see what happens there,” she added.

Low bandwidth

Spotty internet access is yet another obstacle standing between students and their education.

David Tinker, of Newton, N.J., has a second-grader virtually attending Merriam Avenue Elementary School. “Newton and it’s surrounding area are plagued with outdated infrastructure,” he said. “Every day I hear at least one of my daughter’s classmates experiencing issues, and we are not without our own. Remote learning has become an essential piece of our culture and our towns are not keeping up with demand.”

James Riley, also from Newton, is facing similar issues. He has three kids attending local elementary and middle schools.

“I work in IT, so we’re not running into as much trouble as most folks might, but we have CenturyLink DSL and are waiting anxiously for Planet Networks to finish deploying to our neighborhood,” said Riley. He expects Planet Network’s lowest package to be eight times faster than what CenturyLink is currently offering.

Riley’s kids had just adjusted to in-person learning when it was announced that they’d be going virtual again. But, he said, they are “okay for now.”

“It’s easier this time because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“She’s a very social child. She’s like the mayor: she knows everybody, she talks to everybody. So when she found out she really was not okay. She wants to go to school every day, she wants to see friends, she wants to see Mrs. D.” Parent Michelle Kelly