Foss: Students still learning, growing as COVID-19 crisis continues

Mekeel High School student Khayr Barkley, 15, does his school work with his mother, Tayika Barkley, in Schenectady last month
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Mekeel High School student Khayr Barkley, 15, does his school work with his mother, Tayika Barkley, in Schenectady last month

Categories: News, Opinion, Schenectady County

I keep reading articles about the challenges of online learning. 

Subpar attendance, spotty Internet connections, disengaged students — the list of concerns goes on and on. 

Which is why I’m happy to report that some students really are learning and doing classwork from home. 

For the past five years, I’ve helped fourth- and fifth-graders at Schenectady’s Pleasant Valley Elementary School put together a school newspaper. When COVID-19 forced the school to shut down, I assumed my little newspaper team was finished for the year. But that hasn’t been the case at all. 


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With guidance from the teacher who oversees the team, the students have kept writing, producing a variety of content for the paper. They’ve met with each other online, and conducted interviews online, too.  

The most recent issue, which came out last Friday, includes articles about Mother’s Day, a profile of one of the school’s teachers, an essay about losing a tooth (“On Sunday, April 26, 2020 around 8:30 p.m., I was eating POPCORN!”) and a review of the film “The Secret Life of Pets.” 

Remote learning might be a poor substitute for the classroom, and a frustrating experience for students and teachers alike. 

But that doesn’t mean nothing of value is getting done. 

I’ve been impressed with the work produced by the students on the newspaper team. 

Their writing has gotten better since the beginning of the year, and their insights more thoughtful and sophisticated. One of the things that jumps out at me, when I read their work, is how much they enjoy expressing themselves. 

Educators have warned that students — especially students in lower-income schools — are likely to fall further behind as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the sudden shift away from in-person instruction.  

And while I see no reason to doubt this, I also see no reason to overlook the enthusiasm many students still have for school, even now. Online school might not be ideal, but the kids I deal with at Pleasant Valley are eager to learn, and working hard. 

In the most recent issue of the Pleasant Valley paper, some of the students share their thoughts on learning from home. 

In an essay titled “Benefits of Online Learning,” a 10-year-old named Randy observes, “Even though I enjoy doing my school assignments at home, on my own time, in my own space, I think it is important that we socialize with our friends, teachers and society to improve our mental wellness. … I cannot wait for school to open so we can see our school, friends and teachers.” 

Another fourth-grader wrote that she enjoys “eating breakfast while you are doing your homework. You don’t have to dress up fancy like how you dress up to go to school, you can stay right in your own pjs. The only things I don’t like about staying at home are you don’t get to see your friends and favorite teachers when you are home.” 

It’s clear that we lose a lot when schools are closed. 

Kids miss seeing their friends, teachers and other trusted adults. They miss participating in  extracurricular activities like music and sports, and attending school-wide events. They miss the stimulation that comes from being in a classroom with their peers. 

But they’re still learning, and growing, and when I read the writing from my newspaper team, it gives me hope.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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