Turns out kids do miss school. Well, most of them.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced Bloomington-Normal grade school and middle school students and teachers to interact in online classrooms. WGLT's Jon Norton asked three of them to grade the online experience and tell us how the pandemic has changed their lives.
Haley Martin is a seventh grader at Thomas Metcalf School in Normal. She says learning online lets her study at her own pace.
“And I think it’s really fun because the teachers provide all kinds of websites and games to explore. And who wouldn’t like learning in their pajamas,” she said rhetorically.
Martin feels grateful for the structure that even virtual learning brings, but misses being in the building with friends and other students.
“I had a bond with all my friends. We would always bring each other’s attitude up and be positive. I do miss them, but I can FaceTime them,” said Martin.
Across town from Metcalf school is Washington Elementary in Bloomington. It’s more than a century old. Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson II went there as a kid. So did 5th grader Dao Marshack Valentin, until the pandemic. Valentin said he misses being in the storied building at State and Washington streets.
“It’s better than the video calls because I actually can see the teachers and my friends better, and I can talk to them better,” said Valentin.
Both Unit 5 and District 87 schools had spring break about the time the pandemic came down. Valentin said some teachers were especially good about keeping students engaged even at the start of the closure when everyone was figuring out how it is all supposed to work.
“Every day at 9:35 to 9:50, we call connect to the Zoom meeting and do something fun. We also hang out and talk to each other about stuff. We’ve recently been doing different things,” he added.
“I don’t really miss the school thing; I miss the people there,” added Nia Thompson, a sixth grader at Bloomington Junior High, frustrated at having to stay in the house most of the day.
“I miss my friends and one of my teachers,” she said.
Staying at home felt like a vacation or snow day at first to Thompson. Unlike Valentin, she says she wasn’t connecting with other students through the teachers. She misses them but has adjusted.
“I’m calling and texting them. Also using FaceTime,” she said.
Some students say they’re surprised they are learning as much online as they did in the classroom. Metcalf seventh grader Haley Martin is one of those. But Martin said not having teachers to turn to immediately can be a challenge. Nia said she feels she’s learning less through distance learning. So does Dao Valentin.
“Some classmates don’t do the assignments. But if we were in school, then they would be forced to do the assignments,” said Valentin.
The pandemic has unsettled many adults, but these three students say they are not alarmed. Nia says she and her friends don’t talk about the pandemic, but said it became real to her once it arrived in Bloomington. Haley Martin concedes the damage the virus has done can be unsettling.
“But I know that since we’re staying inside you most likely won’t get it. And if we keep washing our hands and follow medical protocol then we’ll do fine,” she said.
Valentin said he’s hasn’t really talked about the coronavirus with friends, just with family.
“It is pretty scary that people can die. To think that my grandmother or grandfather could is a little scary,” he said, adding he’s been mostly rolling with the changes.
Valentin said he was mostly an indoor kid but has found out he enjoys playing outside, something he’s doing more now that he’s not in a school building all day. His is sad to be missing the final grade school talent show, orchestra before school, and patrol. If school opens in the fall, he’ll go on to Bloomington Junior High.
“It does make me feel pretty sad that (this is) the one year that we’re not coming back to this school that this all needs to happen,” he said.
Valentin said the only surprise to extended online learning for him is that just one of his teachers regularly uses videoconferencing.
Haley Martin said it's the length of the school day.
“I thought it would take much longer to learn, but actually … for what they give you it doesn’t take a lot of time to study and practice,” she said.
Martin says she also believes elements of e-learning are a viable replacement to in-school work. She says what she is learning is the same, it’s just taught differently.
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