The news that schools would be shuttered as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19 was delivered March 15 by Gov. Henry McMaster. Teachers and families scrambled as traditional education suddenly shifted during unprecedented circumstances. By March 18, students in Berkeley County were armed with Chromebook computers and expected to transition to online learning.
These five local families share their experiences of being challenged and changed by e-learning.
The Delpino family starts their school day at 9 a.m. All four of her young children are dressed and meet at the kitchen island with their Chromebooks powered for the day. Kara Delpino, the matriarch of the group, created a schedule that is followed consistently; she feels that routine is the key to keeping her crew on track.
“The kids are typically working on lessons that are emailed over in the morning which include Google Meets, project-based learning, reading, note taking, and everything in between,” she explained.
The children work on their computers from 9-11 a.m., and then they take a break for creativity or time outdoors. Together, they ride bikes, take walks, or watch art tutorials online. Lunch is planned for noon, followed by individual quiet time for reading and writing from 1-3 p.m.
The youngest child, a 2-year-old preschooler, uses the time to sing and learn scriptures during “Live Chapel” on Zoom, offered by Holy Cross Island School. The day ends with family soccer or just taking time to appreciate the simple things.
Delpino said that under the circumstances, the school lessons and technology have been great. The teachers have been very responsive.
“The biggest challenge,” she remarked, “is the variation in grade levels and not only being their mom but teacher for three different grade levels that have multiple teachers and so many lessons. It’s hard wearing so many hats! Also keeping a 2 year old occupied while working with the older ones has been the most overwhelming, but we are making it work!”
On Friday morning, Nicholas Haas, a sixth grader at Daniel Island School, was using his math skills to mix up some pancake batter for his family’s breakfast. Both Nicholas and Sam, a fourth grader, have “done a fantastic job of adapting to our new norm,” said their mother, Terry Haas.
She remarked that the teachers did a great job of motivating the kids during the first week, and created a seamless transition to e-learning. At the beginning, all of the schoolwork had been self-guided with links. But, a live meet up was planned with teachers and the class.
“The boys were so excited to see their instructors,” Haas added. “I’m hoping for more live classes in the coming weeks. The kids need to see their teacher; the teacher has a different perspective and sets the tone to get students back on track.”
Haas and her husband, Tim, are partners in their Century 21 real estate business. Juggling their work responsibilities with the added job of teaching has been an adjustment.
“During the workday, we used to bounce ideas off of each other and problem solve,” she said. “Now there is less opportunity for work-related conversations during the day and often that has to be saved for discussion after 8:30 p.m.”
Haas’ goal is to be open minded, flexible, and willing to shake things up a little to keep her sons motivated. She is concerned about the anxiety that all children may be feeling during these unprecedented times.
“This has brought us back to a center point of what’s important and what’s not. I’m focused on giving myself and my kids some grace,” she said.
Jennifer Smith starts her day logging into Google Teams to see what her teenage son has to do for the day. She looks for changes, teacher notes, and reviews the tests or projects coming up for the week.
“My child and I have created a master schedule and we write down all the daily to do’s, and he checks them off when done,” she said. “As the day wears on, he shows me his completed work and we ensure it was turned into the right place. Each teacher has a preference on where things get turned in and some applications are not as intuitive as others.”
She created an office space for the high schooler, complete with a printer needed for numerous assignments. Juggling the volume of work and deciphering how it needs to be submitted has been time consuming for both parent and student.
“Being at home is not the same as being at school,” she said. “The structure and support a school scene provides is hard to match. If you are an auditory learner and suddenly are forced to read more than hear, that can be a struggle.”
Feeling a sense of urgency to complete assignments is also more challenging in a home setting, she added.
Smith has found the teachers to be engaged, quick to respond to emails/questions and many are working long hours to ensure availability.
“If my student has an issue, he can usually have a response back within minutes from a teacher,” she said.
*(name changed for privacy at source’s request)
Stephanie Donley has a unique perspective as both parent and teacher. She is a third-grade teacher at Daniel Island School and has two school-aged children.
As a teacher, she believes flexibility is the key to success: “Considering this is the first time we have all encountered something like this, it is going extremely well for my class and my students. The teachers are working very hard to make e-learning assignments meaningful, easy to understand,
and to have purpose. The students and parents are doing an amazing job of asking questions when they need more clarity.”
It has taken the Donley family a few days to establish a new school routine. As a parent, Donley found herself constantly asking her kids, “Do you have anymore e-learning assignments to finish?”
Her children attend fifth- and eighth grade and now understand this is not a vacation and they will be held accountable for their work. While some initial assistance was needed, she said her kids have become self-sufficient and have messaged their teachers with questions.
“Having all eight of our kids home at the same time has been such a gift,” remarked Annie Hamlin. “With our oldest preparing to graduate from College of Charleston this May, I don’t know when we will ever get time like this again. For me, that has been an incredible blessing in the midst of this uncertainty.”
Hamlin’s other children attend Philip Simmons schools and have required little assistance in transitioning to online learning.
For Hamlin, learning how to teach and help her son, Will, who is blind, has been challenging. Hamlin said now she is even more appreciative of the creative and out-of-the-box ideas Will’s teachers use on a daily basis. Will was adopted from China in 2018 and did not speak English when he began attending Philip Simmons Middle School. All of his teachers, including his Braille instructor, are invested in his education and have a continued presence during his distance learning experience.
“All of the appointments and after school practices have been exchanged for teaching and helping and playing and enjoying each other,” said Hamlin. “So for me, while there are challenges and while we miss our teachers and friends, this is time I am cherishing.”