MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Virtual learning is the new norm for thousands of students in the Memphis area. WREG’s April Thompson spent the day with families and teachers as they maneuver the successes and challenges of this unprecedented way of educating children.
The day starts early for 10-year-old Dey-Lan as the fifth grader gets ready for school.
He doesn’t have to leave the house, but mom Dezannae does. She tries to get him settled for virtual learning and get out the door to work.
“I am used to just waking up, getting him breakfast and putting on clothes,” she said. “Now I have to have extra time to make sure internet connections are together.”
His grandmother Denozanna is there to watch over Dey-Lan’s virtual school day.
By 8:30, after a quick bite, it’s game on.
The school day starts with the teacher signing on and students logging in. On this day it’s test time.
“I try my best to keep up with my work. I do it, but it’s not just turning out like it is supposed to,” Dey-Lan said.
First, there is an hour of science before the first of two breaks. Then 11:00 a.m., social studies.
It’s a new way of learning because of the pandemic, and student interaction is key.
And yes, there can be problems. One student’s video is lagging. She is missing the lesson.
“That’s your internet, dear. Just gonna have to troubleshoot,” the teacher tells her.
Even teachers get frustrated.
“I don’t know what happened, don’t know what I did,” the teacher says at one point. “Who knows anymore?”
Dey-Lan said these issues make it hard for him to keep up.
“That’s why I like real school better. I can keep up,” he said.
Parents and grandparents are themselves challenged by the changes.
Dey-Lan’s grandmother said he was on-time to school at 8:30 but at 10:30, the computer kicked him off.
“I feel like I am going through fifth grade all over again,” she said.
The virtual class day in front of the computer goes on until 3:30 in the afternoon.
But there’s a bright spot for Dey-Lan, when he scores an 80 on his virtual quiz.
Dey-Lan attends public school and has the option to go back to in-person learning soon. But for now, his family is sticking with virtual learning.
We also got a close up look at what it’s like for teachers
Across town, it’s mid-morning at Freedom Preparatory Charter School in Westwood, where Chidimma Emelue is teaching eighth grade history.
“This year has been really interesting, trying to take what you do in person and do that virtual,” Emelue said.
Roblin Webb, the school’s CEO and founder, said there have been challenges, but her staff makes it work.
Webb said the school has been creactive about making schedules that were more accommodating to parents. another thing we were a little creative about was trying to make schedules that would be more accommodating to parents.
“So if there are parents that work in the morning and able to take off in the afternoon, some kids have afternoon classes,” Webb said.
At Freedom Prep, those classes are only three hours in front of the computer each day. The rest is independent work.
Students don’t tire out and it allows for smaller class sizes with no more than 15 students. Attendance is up.
Another thing students have that’s proven successful here is virtual breakout rooms, where they can get 1-on-1 instruction with their teachers. For older students, breakout rooms become study groups.
“It actually allows me, a teacher, to give special attention to very specific groups. I can do breakout rooms based on their needs academically,” Emelue said.
Teachers like Roderick Barber are finding new way to keep students motivated virtually.
“I just ask them to be themselves. I am not asking for anything more,” Barber said. “I understand the things we are all going through. So that’s all I ask.”
It’s a learning curve for everyone.
“I remember we used to joke about it when we was kids. How I used to wish I could do home schooling. And now it’s like, ok, my God, I am glad I didn’t,” Dezannae said.
Freedom Prep Charter School is preparing a parent survey to see if families favor going back to the classroom building or continuing virtual learning.