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Parents Hope Online Learning Works

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Last month kindergarten through twelfth grade students started the academic year online, with San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) campuses off-limits until the Department of Public Health (DPH) deems in-person learning safe. After a summer of near house arrest, students are now entering their sixth month of distance learning, which started last March, when schools were closed after the City implemented its initial Shelter-In-Place order. 

According to Max Garrone, who served as Daniel Webster Elementary School Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president last year, during the initial period of virtual education there wasn’t much contact with teachers. Students were given assignments to turn in online but rarely met over video.

“No one has a great solution to this other than bringing kids back into schools,” he said. “Obviously, we can’t do this until we bring community transmission of COVID-19 under control.”

Mission Bay resident, Jay Hung, said the switch to online learning was difficult. “My youngest, who is five, could not get through [Zoom calls] by herself,” he said. “She needed constant attention” to successfully learn virtually at Potrero Kids at Daniel Webster.

Hung’s older daughter, now a second grader at Starr King Elementary, struggled through most of the spring semester. Without in-classroom supervision and support it’d sometimes take her eight hours to complete daily schoolwork.

“A lot of us, as parents, feel like we don’t know what’s going on,” Hung said. “We feel like we’re not getting that information. We’re talking to other parents to try to piece things together, but it’s very murky and we just don’t know what to expect.”

Garrone was similarly unhappy with SFUSD’s communication. “From what I’ve seen at the district level, there was very little preparation for [returning to distance learning],” he said. “People are adapting faster because they’ve been in this situation before and their expectations are adjusted.”

According to Sharon Johnson, Potrero Hill Neighborhood House (Nabe) youth program manager, in the spring elementary and middle school “…students were frightened” and “had a million questions about what was going on, and what was going to happen.”

The Nabe runs two year-long after-school and summer programs: Summer in the City, for elementary school students; and Experiment in Diversity, catering to middle schoolers. Both programs typically take place at the Neighborhood House; in March, they moved online.

Johnson worked with teachers at Starr King and Daniel Webster to help students with schoolwork over online meetings. Johnson said “it was a struggle for students,” but “children are resilient.” 

According to Johnson, during the initial months of online school students had trouble getting out of bed, getting dressed and finding a quiet space at home to study, but by the end of the academic year most had settled into a viable routine.

For the Nabe’s summer camps, which usually emphasize exploring the Bay Area using public transportation for elementary schoolers and college opportunities and community service for middle schoolers, programming had to change. While the groups were able to meet on-site at the Nabe, following DPH screening and sanitization protocols, they were limited in their activities. Both programs would typically visit amusement parks on Fridays, an impossibility during the public health crisis. Instead, they took shifts playing games in the Nabe’s gym and at Potrero Hill parks in 12-person pods.

According to Johnson, at summer camp students were properly distanced and wearing masks, but as soon as they were dropped off at their houses, they took off their masks and played close together.

“Because of their behavior, and because of the [high] COVID-19 numbers on the Hill, we decided we could not guarantee anyone’s safety,” Johnson said. The camp shifted to online-only in July.

The Neighborhood House typically provides three meals a day for their summer campers. It now delivers groceries to elementary schoolers and hosts Wednesday food pickups for middle school students.

According to Johnson, students are itching to get back to school in person. 

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