Virtual learning has become the new normal in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dallas ISD elected to begin the 2020 school year three weeks later on Sept. 8, rather than begin online education on Aug. 17 like other North Texas districts, but DISD students will still have the option to learn virtually, even if trustees choose to open schools physically.
The sudden switch to virtual learning in the spring came with numerous difficulties for students, their families and their schools.
West Dallas neighbors Ofelia Villanueva, Manuela Wences and Maria Valdovinos all expressed that slow internet speeds were one of the major difficulties they faced.
“When trying to send my son’s homework to his teacher, the internet doesn’t work well,” Wences says. “We called [Spectrum] to tell them the internet was too slow, and they told us it’s because so many people are using the internet.”
Wences also cites the quality of her children’s devices as another obstacle to online learning for her two kids. Lorenzo De Zavala Elementary, where both her children attend, gave the family one laptop to help her kids complete online schoolwork last spring.
“That laptop only accepted my son’s password. I wanted to try and access my daughter’s account, but it didn’t work,” Wences says.
Wences says she often had to text pictures of her kids’ completed assignments to their teachers because they were unable to turn in the assignments online.
“I don’t know if it was just me, unable to figure it out, but I also asked a friend to come look at it and they couldn’t figure it out either,” Wences says. “I would say that the laptops they lent out were a good option for people that don’t have them, but the least they could do is show us how to use them.”
The mothers agree that parents were not given the resources they needed to help their kids with virtual classwork.
“There are moms that just can’t help their kids and need help from the teacher to understand the work,” says Valdovinos, who witnessed her cousin’s struggle to help her children with schoolwork this past spring.
“I think it would be a good idea to train us as parents,” says Villanueva, who emphasizes the need for training in Spanish as well. “[My son] struggles with translating things for me when I ask him to explain what he’s struggling with. I don’t know if he’s right or wrong because I don’t know English.”
Wences and Valdovinos are concerned that young children attending school online were not properly engaged in their studies. Monika Robinson, an instructional coach at Readers 2 Leaders in West Dallas, highlights the same issue when discussing the nonprofit’s virtual summer programming.
“The challenges were keeping the kids engaged,” Robinson says. “Lacking the face-to-face interaction will always be a downfall with virtual learning.”
Readers 2 Leaders, a literacy program that usually hosts in-person summer camps, made the switch to virtual camps due to the pandemic. The organization utilized the video conferencing tool Zoom, and provided laptops to families who did not have access to technology. Despite the challenges of virtual learning, Robinson says the Readers 2 Leaders summer programming was well received by students and parents.
“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive,” Robinson says.
Readers 2 Leaders is looking into continuing its virtual programming this fall.
Although Villanueva, Wences, and Valdovinos say that online learning for students is not ideal, it did come with some benefits.
“The good part is that I have [my son] at home under my watch. I can check on what he’s doing and make sure he’s doing his homework,” Villanueva says. “I love having my son home.”
“I’ve had more communication with [my kids] and have been able to spend more quality time with them, be more involved with their homework, and we’ve had a lot of fun,” Wences says.
Valdovinos even expresses benefits in her personal life as a result of a new online world.
“It has allowed us to connect with our family members online and figure out how to use the internet better,” Valdovinos says. “We’ve never learned how to connect online before this. These are just small details that we’ve learned in the middle of this pandemic.”