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Ginnie Graham: Distance learning not ideal but provides consistency and safety

Ginnie Graham: Distance learning not ideal but provides consistency and safety

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It was tense when my daughter couldn’t figure out integers. It was worse when she realized I was of no help.

The following tearful meltdown was about more than just frustration with higher functioning math. It was isolation from friends and the inability to ask a teacher in person, sitting side-by-side, to puzzle through a lesson.

She’s a kid who thrives on the energy of others and misses things like homecoming, pep rallies, school clubs, her Nana and weekend getaways.

By contrast, my teenage son is perfectly content holing up in his room, setting his own schedule and communicating virtually. Though his grades are like watching the stock market with all the ups and downs.

He embraces the distance and doesn’t want to return to classrooms. That gives me a different kind of worry.

For months, I’ve been manning the daily routine from my kitchen table, doing my work from a laptop and trying to keep my kids on task. I’ve managed a half-baked job at both with occasionally feeling an overwhelming loss of control and stress.

It’s fortunate I have a job during this economic collapse, but striking a balance and keeping the peace can put me in tearful meltdowns.

So goes distance learning and life in a pandemic.

The Tulsa Public Schools board is going to decide next week on whether to accept Superintendent Deborah Gist’s recommendation on how to reintroduce students back into physical classrooms. It’s a hybrid, phased in approach that seems reasonable.

Opinions about distance learning is polarizing among parents, colored by national political overtones and differing views on risk taking.

Academically, my kids aren’t getting the same quality education. That is no one’s fault.

Teachers are doing a Herculean task by pivoting into online learning. Different platforms are needed, tailored to the courses offered by the schools. Classes dependent on student interaction require creativity.

At first, my teenagers were asked to be online for each hour of each class. That was six to eight hours daily in front of a screen, followed by homework. The normal practice of allowing kids to do work in class was lost in this model.

There were miscommunications and technology hiccups.

Our school shifted based on that feedback, but getting the word out to all parents is another battle. Some parents cannot be easily found even when using social media, text, phone calls and email.

Teachers are finding a groove. Some alternate days on Zoom and giving assignments. Some grade differently, with a focus on projects or completion of work.

It is not as simple as putting the usual classroom work online. This is a transition I expected and appreciate the teachers who took on the challenge.

This doesn’t mean my kids aren’t learning. They are getting assignments to read, write, finish worksheets and watch videos. They see their teachers regularly.

Anytime a child gets a set of instructions and follows through, they are learning. Only now, parents must be part of that process. It’s an added pressure on parents, but a temporary one.

Most important: The COVID-19 virus has not entered our home. My kids have remained safe and healthy.

We don’t live in fear or let the pandemic dominate our lives.

But, we know people who have died from it. We know people seriously sick from it. We understand the grim realities of an unpredictable new virus.

That means we are cautious and mindful that some of our loved ones, and complete strangers, might not be able to fight off an infection.

My husband has been teaching in-person at Broken Arrow Schools as a special education teacher. He is the reason we are reluctant to be around our older family members.

The suburban districts choose in-person learning, and those have unique challenges.

The latest Tulsa Health Department data shows the highest risk of spread are in the outer areas of the county, including sections of Bixby, Jenks and Broken Arrow. These cities also do not have public mask mandates.

As students get exposed to the virus, they are quarantined at home. Teachers must keep track of which students are in quarantine, absent or in class with lesson delivery designed for each situation.

These rolling sets of quarantines and absences makes teaching tough.

Worrying about the safety of a work environment adds to teacher anxiety. Experienced teachers in the older ages are understandably apprehensive about being in large groups.

Masks work. Social distance works. Washing hands should be an already established habit.

None are foolproof.

Some teachers won’t return to the classroom until the pandemic passes because of compromised health. Substitutes are in short supply.

Tulsa County is fortunate to have a health department setting standard for how to provide clear, consistent and understandable facts. School board members in every district ought to be leaning heavily on its data.

That’s where I hope TPS board members turn for information first in striking a balance of student education, staffing levels and parent needs.

I want my children in a classroom for many reasons, but only if it’s safe for everyone.

Featured video:

On Sept. 11, the Tulsa World Let’s Talk virtual town hall and the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma cohosted a town hall forum on State Questions 805 and State Question 814.

Featured gallery: COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues

Ginnie Graham


Twitter: @GinnieGraham


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