Challenges of virtual learning frustrates mom, her sons
The first week and a half of school was a challenge on many fronts for Rebecca Shryock and her three sons, she told the Sun. It frustrates this stay-at-home mom that students learning virtually at home are being asked to navigate technology like they are adults. “I have two college degrees and I have trouble navigating some of the platforms and some of the applications that these students are using ...” Shryock said. With a Southside Elementary School fifth-grader, a Woodford County Middle School seventh-grader and a Woodford County High School freshman, she said it’s extremely challenging for her and her oldest sons, especially. “The teachers have been absolutely phenomenal,” Shryock said. She said whenever she communicates with them via a text, email or by other means, “they are ready and willing to help in any way, shape or form. They have gone above and beyond.” On a recent Sunday, her oldest son’s algebra teacher, Pam Duncan, spent over an hour in a one-on-one virtual meeting with Jackson and Shryock, she said. “And I know that’s not what she wanted to be doing on her Sunday night, nor was it what my son wanted to be doing on his Sunday night. But she reached out to us and was absolutely willing to work with him,” said Shryock. “So the teachers and administration have been phenomenal.” Online platforms being used this year are new to her sons and other students, who must navigate the technology and also learn new material, she said. “That’s a huge challenge,” she continued. “So instead of them being in a live classroom setting, in-person where they would learn new material and then be able to demonstrate what they’ve learned through homework or testing. Now, they’re asking us to not only learn the new material, but learn to navigate an enormous amount of technology.” Shryock said it took her and her seventh-grader, Drew, over 30 minutes to locate an assignment “after digging through all of the platforms.” “After we finally found the assignment,” she added, “it took him eight minutes to complete it. ... That was very frustrating for him. It was frustrating for me as a parent. And that was just one assignment for one class. He has six classes ...” Shryock’s a stay-at-home mom, but it’s pretty unrealistic for her sons to complete multiple hours of independent learning, she said. Other families don’t have a parent at home to make sure their children are completing the independent learning, she said. “It’s hard to keep their attention. It’s hard to keep them focused, especially when the technology fails – whether it’s on our end or the school’s end or on Google’s end,” said Shryock. Her family lives on Steele Road in rural Woodford County, so their Internet service is not always the best, especially when it’s raining or really cloudy, Shryock said. She said her mother has reliable Internet service so the boys sometimes do their schoolwork at her Versailles home. One day there, they discovered the Internet problem was related to the learning platform or the school district’s technology, she said. “Teachers kept getting kicked out of the classroom when they were trying to teach and do live instruction,” Shryock said. “Live time online ... chatting would lag, so questions would go unnoticed or unanswered. So the technology has been a huge hurdle for us.” She described the teachers as very determined and extremely resilient, and they’ve told her they’re going to make this work. And she has no doubt virtual learning will get better in time, but she wants her sons in school for in-person instruction from their teachers sooner rather than later. Shryock acknowledged some families are having a lot of success with virtual learning, based upon what she’s seen posted on social media. For other families, there are more frustrations than positive experiences in terms of using and navigating the technology, she explained. “I know that I’m hearing things from my kids that I’ve never heard before, like I’m miserable. I’m a failure. I’m going to fail. I’m going to be left behind. I can’t do this. This is stupid,” Shryock said. “And those aren’t things that I typically hear from my kids.” She said her sons are afraid they’re not going to be successful this year. They don’t want to be home-schooled because they want to learn alongside their peers, and all three are active in sports, she said. “My husband and I both graduated from Woodford County High School, and it makes me very sad that my oldest is starting his freshman year in that same high school like this,” said Shryock. “Some of the best memories of my entire life were in that high school. And I just cannot imagine what his high school experience is shaping up to look like. But so far, it’s not great.” The Woodford County Board of Education voted to follow Gov. Andy Beshear’s recommendation to resume in-person instruction no earlier than Sept. 28 because of COVID-19. Shryock said her boys will absolutely be back in school as soon as in-person instruction resumes. This comes from a mom and former emergency room nurse. “My boys are more than ready to go back,” she said. “And I’m ready for them to go back. Not because I don’t want them home with me ... I like having my kids at home with me. That’s why I’m a stay-at-home mom. But as a mom, I also know what’s best for my children. And their mental health, their cognitive health, their emotional health is just as important as their physical health and physical well-being.” She’s been though a physical health crisis with her middle son, Drew, who was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in July 2012. Drew has now been in remission for several years, no longer needs any treatments and doesn’t have a compromised immune system, although radiation treatments have affected him cognitively, she said. “They need to be around their same-age peers. They want to be around teachers. They need that live instruction. They need that socialization,” Shryock said. She worries about the long-term mental health effects on middle and high school-age students, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide rates.