Mission Viejo Elementary School prepares to welcome students back. Martha Phillips/Lariat
From kindergarten to college, school plays a huge part in building social skills for children and young adults. COVID-19 has created chaos for traditional educational programs. Teachers, students and parents alike are reeling from all of the changes. This year, kids have gone from school full-time to school-at-home to a hybrid model, which has been frustrating for all.
Hybrid learning combines face-to-face class time with online instruction. In the context of coronavirus school re-openings, a hybrid model would reduce the number of students in the building by moving some of the course delivery online.
The 2020-2021 Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan was Board approved on Sept. 23. There are two options in the Capistrano Unified School district: 100% online for parents who do not want to send their children to school and hybrid models which offer on-campus classes for a few hours five days a week. There are 47,000 students in the CUSD.
Last week, thousands of children in Orange county returned to their classrooms for the first time since March when the pandemic forced shutdowns and stay-at-home orders.
Kevin (top left), Kat (top right), Mason (left bottom), and Barrett (right bottom) D’Souza celebrate Easter 2020 together. Kat D’Souza/Courtesy
The initial transition from a classroom setting to homeschool affected Kat D’Souza and her two children. D’Souza had to quit her job as a full time front office medical technician in order to help her boys, ages 10, Barrett and six, Mason, with their schoolwork.
“I was stressed,” D’Souza said. I didn’t know what was going to happen, especially with my oldest son who has ADHD [Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder] and it’s hard to get him to do stuff independently. The six-year-old doesn’t understand that it’s not playtime with mommy at home.”
The boys returned to school, but since the family just purchased a new home in Tustin, they changed school districts. This is their first year at Guin Foss Elementary School.
“They are on campus for two and a half hours in the afternoon from noon to 2:30 p.m. for four days a week,” D’Souza said. “When they get home, they have assignments to do on their iPads. On Wednesdays, they have a Google meeting from nine to 9:45 a.m. and then they have to do their homework.”
D’Souza is still unable to go back to work because the boys’ schedules are so difficult for her to manage. She and her husband agreed that she would be a stay-at-home mom until things returned to normal.
“There’s no employer who could work with such a wonky schedule,” D’Souza said. “But, the boys were very excited to go back to school after being stuck inside for the past six months.”
The Neal family celebrates Christmas 2019 prior to COVID-19. Teresa Morgan/Courtesy
Stephani Neal is a single mom of four children: Avinelle, 5, Elijah, 9, Lewcius, 11, and Cadence, 13.
The youngest, Avinelle, is entering the first grade this year and her class is entirely virtual. She has four sessions a day lasting an hour each, five days a week.
“It’s hard to get her to sit still for the sessions, but she loves doing her homework on the tablet,” Neal said. “Since this is her first real school experience, besides pre-school, she doesn’t know any different.”
Elijah and Lewcius attend the same elementary school on Thursdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and online the other three days of the week.
“They have a Google meeting on Wednesday mornings to explain what is expected of them for the week ahead and receive all of their in-class instruction on Thursday and Friday,” Neal said. “It’s hard to get them to do all of their homework online.”
The boys would rather be at school with their friends five days a week than at home idle in front of a computer screen.
Cadence, on the other hand, just started middle-school and is afraid of getting the coronavirus. She is an honor roll student who never has had trouble going to school and getting her homework done before COVID-19. Her grades started to slip and her mom didn’t know what was happening.
“It’s so hard to keep up with all of the different schedules, all of the emails, and programs that the kids have to use,” Neal said. If I didn’t have a sitter to stay with Avi and my mom to watch the boys and Cadence, I don’t know what I would do.”
Neal has continued to work full time as an essential employee at a company which turned their manufacturing capabilities into making personal protective equipment for hospitals and medical workers when there was a shortage. She is in quality control and oversees the distribution of products.
Lori Ibrahimi celebrates her 2016 summer vacation on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in Grand Cayman. John Ibrahimi/Courtesy
Lori Ibrahimi is a third grade teacher at Ladera Ranch Elementary School. She has been teaching for 25 years and has been at Ladera for the past eight years where she has taught transitional kindergarten and first grade. At the start of the online-only classes, she was switched to fourth grade students which was difficult to handle combined with learning how to navigate the online platform Canvas.
“Canvas has not been perfected for elementary school,” Ibrahimi said. “It is very glitchy.”
The transition to online classes because of COVID-19 is hard because the teacher can not always see what the students are actually doing and Ibrahimi has 32 students on Zoom which she cannot see all at one time.
“They can be disconnected and I won’t know it until I call on them and they don’t respond,” Ibrahimi said.
Ibrahami was teaching fourth graders from eight different schools because of the way the district has responded to the coronavirus situation. It has not been an ideal situation for students and teachers.
“Testing is harder online and getting an accurate result is almost impossible, ” Ibrahimi said. “It is also harder to figure out how they will all turn in their homework to be graded than it is in a self-contained classroom.”
First through fifth graders at Ladera Ranch returned last week. They split the size of the classrooms in half so there are 16 in each class. They are required to wear masks.
Mission Viejo Elementary School cordons off the playground equipment from students. Martha Phillips/Lariat
“The lunch benches are all faced the same way so they sit six-feet apart and don’t get to face each other,” Ibrahimi said. “They get to go on the playground, but only for breaks, not for actual recess.
“I love my students,” Mrs. Moros said after a day in her physical education class. Amanda Moros/Courtesy
Amanda Moros is a physical education teacher for a middle school in Orange county. She has been teaching for seven years.
“It’s been nice working from home, but an adjustment,” Moros said. “I did not have a home office, so I created one out of our master closet.”
It has been a technical challenge teaching 208 students from home. Many do not have the luxury of getting outdoors for physical activity resources that she provides on her class site.
The district uses an Apex program for Health and Education which provides study materials and quizzes for the students online.
“I tell my students, after they have finished their coursework, to make sure and work out, get off your screens, and move your bodies,” Moros said in an email. “That looks so different from one family to the next, and the recommended physical activity for middle school kids is 60 minutes a day, but I tell them even 30 minutes or five minutes counts!”
She has designed a bitmoji with different icons for students to press on to allow them to view various virtual sites like the Young Men’s Christian Association and participate in physical activities to make it fun for them.
Moros’ virtual classroom allows students to have some fun with their activities through Zoom. Amanda Moros/Courtesy
“If you click on the dumbbells on her bitmoji site, it will give you printable workouts that they can do at home,” Moros said. “I’ve also provided nutritional resources all in this virtual classroom.”