by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It was a somewhat unfair “either/or” question asked of John Anthony Seibert, a third-grade student at Sacred Heart School in Ottawa.
Would you rather go back to school or do remote learning from home?
But he was not at a loss for an answer.
“It’s complicated,” he said.
On March 17, Gov. Laura Kelly ordered all kindergarten through grade 12 schools to close and to cease in-person instruction for the rest of the school year. Colleges and universities closed, too.
The learning, however, didn’t stop. Schools and families scrambled to try something most of them had never done before: distance, or remote, learning.
They discovered that it can be done and has both advantages and disadvantages. The jury is still out about the experience because, well, it’s complicated.
Pressed for an answer, John Anthony chose both. He’d like to go back to school and be with his friends, but he’d also like to continue some remote learning.
The Seibert family: It’s a balancing act
Andy and Katherine Seibert have three children: John Anthony in third grade; Hazel in first grade; and Vincent in kindergarten. They’re members of Annunciation Parish in Baldwin and send their children to Sacred Heart School in Ottawa.
“The school was very on top of keeping parents informed, so the transition was fairly easy,” said Katherine.
The teachers of Hazel and Vincent use an online remote learning program called Seesaw. They have a lesson plan each day for the children, who go online to do their assignments.
John Anthony has a daily Zoom video conference with his class and teacher. The third-grade students also use Gmail and the apps Remind and ReadWorks — things already used in school, but more intensively now.
There are some challenges.
“It’s a bit of a challenge because we only have one [computer] at home the kids can use,” said Andy. “We have to share the time and plan it out so each can have time on the computer.”
“But if all three were on different devices, that would also be hard, because they all need our attention,” said Katherine. “We can focus on one child at a time.”
One concern is bandwidth. They live in the country, where internet service isn’t as robust. And in addition to having three kids learning online, the two parents have to work online, too.
“Being organized with the three children and balancing that with the work we have to do for our jobs [is a challenge],” said Andy. “We haven’t gotten into a routine yet, but after three days, we’re getting there.”
The Brown family: Unexpected benefits
Michael and Kristin Brown, members of Sacred Heart Parish in Ottawa, have three children. But only second- grader Marshall is old enough to attend the parish school.
“Nothing like this [school closing] has ever happened around here before,” said Kristin. “I wasn’t that concerned about how we would handle it, because I knew the school would help us with as much guidance as they could, and Marshall has a really great teacher this year.”
Kristin appreciates the flexibility. Marshall gets to learn at his own pace and school doesn’t take up the whole day, which expands family time. Because he’s a gifted student, Marshall was given a computer by the Ottawa public school district.
“It wasn’t really difficult at all to get started,” said Kristin. “It was pretty easy. We had a lot of instruction. They told us exactly what to do. Marshall didn’t struggle at all.”
The Wilson family: New uses for familiar tech
James and Nancy Wilson sent four children through Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas. Their daughter Natalie, class of 2020, is the last.
Neither the Wilsons nor anyone else foresaw the exodus because of a pandemic. Things have worked well, however, because the school did things that put it in a good position.
For some years now, each student has been issued their own Chromebook that they can keep upon graduation. Teachers and students have long used Google Classroom, although they are using more features and video conferencing now as well.
“It wasn’t too difficult to get started,” said Natalie. “We’ve used the different applications we are running before. . . . The students should know how to use them, for the most part. The hardest part is not seeing our classmates and teachers in person.
It has gotten easier, though, she said. The challenge was really “just getting into a routine.”
Some courses translate well into online learning and some don’t. If she were returning to Ward next year, she’d consider taking a mix of online and in-person classes.
“If there were a way to blend them together, that would be ideal,” said Natalie. “I’m pretty traditional and I like being able to see people in person. I like . . . face-to-face interactions.
“But there are benefits to online learning. . . . [But] I don’t think strictly going to school online would be beneficial to anybody. Then, people would miss out on social interaction, and it would be difficult going into a working world and try to learn how to navigate social activities from then on.”
Yareli Castor: Grew up with tech
Yareli Castor is old school when it comes to education.
Castor, who will graduate in May with an associate’s degree in liberal arts from Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, likes meeting people in class and taking notes with pen on paper.
But when closure of the school forced her to do remote learning, she was ready. Castor grew up with tech.
All students and teachers at Donnelly use Canvas, an online learning management system in use before the pandemic struck. It can be used for remote learning.
“I know Donnelly offers online classes,” said Castor. “I’ve never taken them because, personally, it’s just not how I learn. But when Donnelly said we’d have to go online, I realized there were other tools in Canvas that I’d never seen or used before.”
Her professors have been good about making opportunities for discussion, but it’s still difficult to ask questions and have class discussions.
After she graduates, Castor will continue her education and, thanks to this experience, she is more willing to learn online.
“Before, I was afraid of taking online classes,” she said. “You have to really have your time management together. . . . It’s too easy to put work aside.
“This helped me get my feet [wet]. I would do online classes in the future if I needed to, but I prefer to be in a classroom.
“I like people, and I like to interact.”