Many students in Southern Maryland learned virtually for a year before having the opportunity to return to school buildings for hybrid instruction, with a number of them opting to continue in the virtual format for the remainder of this school year. While many parents, teachers and students have been impacted differently, most agree some in-person instruction is better than none.
Julia Nichols, a parent of two students in the St. Mary’s public school system, shared with Southern Maryland News this week her kids have done fairly well with virtual and now hybrid instruction, where students attend in-person school some days and work from home via computers other days.
“We were fortunate enough to have a device for everyone and good internet connection” when school shutdowns first began, she said. And although there was a transitioning period for her kids, they mostly were able to handle their schoolwork on their own without having to be checked on, the mother said.
She mentioned her son and daughter adjusted quickly to their hybrid routines since they returned to school buildings every other day in the beginning of March.
Derek Nichols, a senior at Leonardtown High School, said the biggest challenge for him during virtual learning was “staying motivated during class” and “doing the work” he was assigned. Although Derek said he feels he experienced some learning loss from spending so much time behind a screen, with hybrid instruction he feels like he’s catching up and is able to enjoy interacting with his classmates and teachers.
According to Julia, even with hybrid instruction, Derek is hesitant to take certain Advanced Placement tests, feeling like he hasn’t absorbed as much of the material as he needs to be able to pass.
His younger sister, Maggie, an eighth-grader at the Chesapeake Public Charter School, shared a similar experience as her brother, noting she wasn’t remembering lessons very well when learning 100% through a computer.
“With hybrid, I’m learning new things,” she said.
Brandie Edelen is a teacher for Charles County Public Schools, where until April 19, only small groups of students have been able to return to buildings for hybrid instruction. As a special education teacher at St. Charles High School, Edelen teaches English to ninth through 12th-grade students.
She said she has the largest class so far of returning students at her school, totaling five kids.
In her experience, she said a number of students in special populations have seen a positive impact on their grades when participating in virtual and hybrid learning since they are not being distracted by other students in the school.
“Many students are self-conscience about maybe not being as proficient in some subjects as other students,” she said. “So when you take out the audience they used to have, it isn’t as important to be popular.”
“There’s no doubt kids learn better in person,” Edelen mentioned, but many parents of students in special populations opted out of returning to school because of the progress they were making. About 90 kids, or one-third of the special student population at St. Charles High School, decided to participate in hybrid instruction rather than 100% virtual.
The teacher said hybrid instruction has its benefits, while those who may not have done well virtually now have face-to-face interactions with the teacher, who can easily help with any questions.
She said every one of her students so far has “been ecstatic to be back,” when normally kids complain about having to go to class or writing a paper.
“Kids are not regressing, they are at least maintaining” their education, she said. When the rest of the students who are choosing to return to the school buildings come back after spring break, Edelen expressed the possibility that it may impact some of the kids who have been improving.
Although some special education students were able to thrive in a virtual learning environment, others experienced more of a struggle. Theresa Kuhns, a mother of three students in Calvert County Public Schools, shared her experience with virtual and hybrid learning.
Her third and fifth graders, both of whom have individualized education program plans, have been attending school in person Monday through Thursday each week since February. Prior to this taking place, both children were unable to communicate in typical ways while learning through a screen and always needed someone to walk them through the day.
“Both have differing abilities and had shown no academic progress since last March’s shutdown,” she said. “It is heartbreaking as a parent to not provide your child with a way to be successful.”
Since the change in attendance in February, each has begun mastering skills and making progress to complete their goals academically, in such a short amount of time, Kuhns noted. “We are seeing great progress and the school data proves this — many children require in person teaching to make progress and advance to the next level.”
Her youngest son is in kindergarten and now attends school four days a week every other week. During the time he is in school, Kuhns said she noticed he has increased energy.
“He comes home excited to tell me about his friends and what he did in school and what he learned,” she claimed, compared to his virtual week where he is distracted, walking away from the computer and finding reasons not to sit in his chair. “If he had an option to be in full time, despite having an underlying health condition, he would attend.”