Jordan Fields rolled out of bed at 7 a.m. on Sept. 8 and got ready for her first day of high school.
But the day looked nothing like what Fields had envisioned. Instead of getting dropped off at school to meet her new classmates and teachers, Fields was beginning her high school experience sitting behind a computer screen.
“It’s so weird. It’s my first year in high school and I’ve never even met half of the people in my classes,” Fields said. “It’s nice spending time with my family every day, but at the same time, I miss actually seeing my friends and my teachers.”
In early August, the Grand Ledge Public Schools announced its decision to start the school year online for the first trimester. The district’s initial plan was to allow families to choose whether their child would return in-person in the fall. However, after reviewing guidelines and recommendations from the state, the school board decided the safest option was to begin with virtual instruction.
“None of us would go to online learning as the best practice, however, this is what we have to do to be safe and we will continue to review our decision on a monthly basis,” School Board President Denise Dufort said.
The decision to switch to virtual learning has affected every family differently. Kristy Merignac, a mother of four, said she has been pleasantly surprised with how smoothly she and her family have adjusted.
“At the beginning of the school year, I was very nervous and stressed,” Merignac said. “I have four kids so I didn’t know how it was going to work out. My husband is working at home too so trying to keep everyone on task made me really worried, but the school has made it very manageable.”
Merignac said a positive aspect of virtual learning is the extra time that has been spent teaching her kids about social and emotional lessons.
“It is hard on a lot of these kids to not be in school,” Merignac said. “A lot of kids are having anxiety. I know just from my personal experience, I have two kids who have dealt with a lot of anxiety since COVID. My second-grader just learned about taking deep breaths when they’re frustrated or when they’re upset and it has given her a lot of new coping mechanisms.”
Although Merignac has been satisfied with the district’s efforts to make virtual learning as efficient as possible, not every family has had the same positive experience. Kim Simpson sent her son to Beagle Elementary School at the start of the school year. However, after experiencing difficulties during the first week of virtual learning, she decided to switch him to a school with in-person learning.
“On the first day we tried to get into Zoom from both my phone and the Chromebook but we couldn’t get in,” Simpson said. “After three days of fighting with the school, I was so mad that I pulled him out and signed him into St. Michaels. He is loving it.”
Grand Ledge High School Principal Ken Wright said he knows virtual learning can be overwhelming and confusing for students. Wright said his biggest concern for students is that they are missing out on human interaction.
“They are already missing our big events like homecoming and sports games, but there are also a lot of very small interactions you have with kids in the hallways or at lunch that lead to lifelong friendships,” Wright said. “Students are missing out on those opportunities and there’s just not a good way to replicate that in a virtual setting.”
Brenda Corby, a Spanish teacher at Grand Ledge High School, said she worries that because students are missing out on human interactions and a classroom environment, it may be affecting their level of motivation.
“It’s tough because I can’t constantly tell them to do their work,” Corby said. “I’m trying to help them by telling them it’s going to be tougher for them when they come back to school because they won’t know what they learned if they don’t do the work or come to Zoom sessions.”
Corby also said she urges parents to cut teachers some slack during this period of virtual learning.
“We are all new teachers here,” Corby said. “We all started off not knowing what we were doing. It’s like our first year all over again, and even teachers that have been teaching for 25 years, it still feels like year one. We are just asking for grace and patience right now. Us teachers are trying our best.”