‘They’re Going To Suffer Later In Life’: Parents In Rural America Speak Out About Remote Learning

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Elizabeth Weibel Contributor
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Parents in rural America have witnessed a change in their children’s education, mental health and day-to-day lifestyles as a result of the switch from in-person instruction to virtual and hybrid learning.

Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced in March 2020 that starting Mar. 16, K-12 schools throughout the state would be closed for 10 days in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. At the time, parents could not imagine that their kids would still be dealing with the challenges of virtual learning into the following school year. Especially for families in rural parts of America, and single parents working two jobs or more, the challenges of balancing this new learning style hit hard.

Parents and kids explained to the Daily Caller that they felt virtual learning was not helping their children and that extensive damage was being done. Parents described seeing kids paying less attention to Zoom sessions, which changed patterns in their children’s day-to-day schedules and attitudes. The sharp increase in screen time far exceeds what these parents would normally allow, and its many effects have proven detrimental.

Ann Wilbur, a parent and single mother with two sons, told the Caller she noticed her children were displaying shortened attention spans while on their live sessions and found that the teachers didn’t have as much time to devote to the students. She notes this was especially true for her son in second grade.

“I feel like they don’t learn online, because they don’t pay attention like they would be in class,” she said. “He doesn’t listen in class so he doesn’t even know what he’s supposed to do. I don’t think it’s just him because I see the other kids playing around and stuff.”

“The teachers don’t have time to do anything. They literally go through as quickly as they can and get the work done because they’re only on there for three hours.  So, they’re trying to teach Math, Reading, Social Studies, and Science all in three hours,” Wilbur told the Caller.

Wilbur added that she felt extensive damage was being done academically to the students. “I think it’ll be very sad to see what happens in a couple of years with these students because I don’t think that they’re going to learn as much as we did,” she said. (RELATED: ‘Failure Rate Is Going Up’: School Choice Advocate On Virtual Learning’s Impact)

As a result of the switch to remote learning, students in about 40% of the school districts across the country have already started to show drops in their grades, according to a CBS News article from Dec. 2020. For instance, the article notes that in Houston, Texas, 42% of students in the Houston Independent School District earned “one or more Fs in the first grading period, which was 100 percent virtual. Last year, only 26 percent fell into that category.”

In addition to poor grades and shortened attention spans, there has been a measurable increase in stress among students. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study regarding the number of emergency room visits related to mental health. The study showed that compared to 2019, mental-health-related visits for children aged between 5-11 increased about 24%, while visits for children aged 12-17 increased about 31%.

Laurie DeMark, whose son is in his senior year of high school, told the Caller that she was seeing a change in her son’s day-to-day schedule and patterns.

“He does his work when he wants, stays up late. Definitely, his sleep patterns have changed.  They’re not holding them accountable to get up at a certain time and be on there,” DeMark explained. “The kids are having to teach themselves.”

DeMark’s son expressed his frustration with remote learning and the lack of guidance from his teachers.

“I haven’t had a single Zoom session where they’ve actually taught. I’ve had two Google Meet sessions that were face to face, and they asked if we were alright with our work,” he explained. “They’re just giving us work and telling us to do it.”

“If your child isn’t a self-motivator it makes it challenging,” DeMark added.  “They don’t have someone, especially when they’re older.  You can’t be on them, they need to learn that this is something they have to do.”

Laurie Lopatofsky, who has three kids in 7th, 6th, and 4th grade, told the Daily Caller she feels that one of the many challenges of remote learning is that it takes away the opportunity to earn a good quality education.

“Sitting behind a screen getting lessons and printed worksheets like robots is not the best way to learn,” she commented. “My kids are all hands-on.”

Lopatofsky noted that another drawback to remote learning is having fewer opportunities to socialize with other people. “The biggest challenge of distance learning is the absence of human contact. Friendships, birthday parties, endless sleepovers, afternoon play dates,” Lopatofsky said.

Another parent, Jen Chuplygin, also expressed the necessity of socialization for children, explaining that virtual learning should not be a long-term solution.

“I think if it’s absolutely necessary it is ok for a very short time. But it is definitely not a solution for long-term learning in my view,” Chuplygin said. “I think kids need to be in school around other kids and socializing. I don’t think there are any pros to virtual learning.”

Other parents cite changes in their children’s attitudes as a result of staying home and taking part in remote learning.

Parent Courtney Boice explained to the Daily Caller that she watched her son’s attitude change over the course of the pandemic. She explains that at first he was excited to be able to learn from home. “He was excited to be home and could learn in his bedroom,” Boice said. But his positivity quickly soured.

“After a time, it turned into ‘I’m sick of this’ attitude,” Boice explained. When she and her husband were notified that her son could return to in-person learning, he didn’t want to go.

“It wasn’t like him at all. He has always loved going to school,” Boice said.  “And now? He was more interested in sitting home in lounge clothes in his bedroom.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Education updated their guidance on Jan. 7 on education protocol for public schools during the pandemic. Their website lists recommendations for the types of learning styles for grades K-12 depending on how many cases are reported in the schools’ county during a 7-day reporting period. Recommendations for learning styles range from fully in-person, hybrid learning, fully remote learning instruction, or hybrid learning for elementary only.

“I don’t know how parents who have multiple kids can do it,” expressed Patricia Striefsky, a parent and local newspaper publisher. “You literally can’t work if you have kids who are smaller. Who is going to do class with them?”

Striefsky’s son, who is in his senior year of high school, also attends the local trade school for welding. Both learning centers operate on a hybrid-learning method.

“You’re just getting the knowledge part of it,” Striefsky’s son explained about having to learn to weld virtually. “Actually, a lot of people in the welding class are failing because he posts a daily check-in form and daily journal on Google classroom, and people aren’t doing it.”

Striefsky expressed deep concern for her son’s future – and for the future of an entire generation.

“I think it’s more annoying for me than it is for him. Because I know that these kids aren’t getting what they’re supposed to. They’re not learning, they’re going to suffer later in life,” Striefsky concluded.