By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News
Kids in Four Points are still adapting to a new normal as coronavirus-related social distancing and school closures have profoundly changed their daily lives.
Local students — Megan, 4th grader , Lucy, 5th grader, and siblings Matt, 6th grader, and Ellie, 5th grader — share how they have remained resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few months.
Benefits of quarantine include more togetherness with family, more time for riding bike and baking, and more sleeping in. Challenges include the shift in learning in regard to some classes, missing time with friends, and the end-of-school milestone moments.
Megan, 4th grade
Nine-year-old Megan lives at home with her mom and dad and two older siblings. Normally, she attends Laura Welch Bush Elementary, but has been doing school online since mid-March, when COVID-19 caused school closures across the U.S.
At first, though, Megan had hoped for a different outcome. “I thought that we weren’t going to have school. I thought we were just going to have extra summer,” she said.
Instead, schools in Leander ISD have utilized Google Classroom, email and Zoom for a hybrid, virtual learning experience.
“So we basically get on a computer or an iPad and we go onto… this learning menu that we have,” Megan explained. “We basically just do our assignments from there. We have mandatory assignments that we have to do. And then some are optional.”
How does online school compare with in-person learning?
“It’s kind of hard to do it on a computer or iPad,” she said. “Because we’re all just used to doing it on paper.”
Still, there are perks to homeschooling. Megan sleeps in most days and sets her own schedule. Whereas during the school year she had to wake up at 6 a.m., she now wakes up at 7 a.m. or later, then lounges in bed until she feels ready to face the world.
The best perk of all? “Every three assignments I get a piece of candy,” she said.
Still, Megan misses the social and academic benefits of in-person school. She’s learned to wait to hear back from teachers when she has a question. She’s learned to ask her parents or siblings for help.
But mostly, she said, “I just miss seeing my friends every day. I usually get to talk to them a lot during the day. Like we tell each other jokes and stuff. Now I miss that.”
Furthermore, Megan hasn’t been to a store or restaurant since quarantine started. Besides family walks and stopping by friends’ houses to drop off gifts from at least six feet away, Megan’s house is her whole world.
For Megan, that’s also been a good thing. “I usually don’t really get to see my brother and my sister and my dad that much,” due to school and work schedules, “but now I get to see them every day.”
Megan is also spending time learning to bake — she made pumpkin chocolate chip muffins “without any help” — as well as improving her artistic skills by learning to draw a variety of cartoon characters and practicing sewing. She’s gotten into a new Disney show and built a candy catapult for school.
Best of all, she and her siblings planned an elaborate Mother’s Day surprise that she had plenty of time to work on. Together they made their house into Disney, complete with a few attractions.
They started the day with a special breakfast with a “Beauty and the Beast”- themed menu. Megan pretended that they were in a cafe at Disney she called Lumier’s Cafe.
Matt, 6th grade, Ellie, 5th grade
Matt,12, and Ellie, 11, have also planned a special Mother’s Day along with their younger sister, including a surprise party and gifts. Ellie made her mom a jar that contains “100 Reasons Why I Love You”.
The three siblings have grown especially close during quarantine.
“I think we get along better (now) because we get to share ideas way more, and we get to say how we feel,” Matt said.
“And interact a lot more,” added Ellie.
Only a grade apart, Matt and Ellie have always been competitive, but the two now get to take online math classes together from Texas Tech University in order to take more advanced math classes once they return to in-person schooling.
The two find math to be manageable online, but struggle in other areas.
“I think the hardest subject is probably language arts, “said Matt, “just because when you do language arts, for me, it’s easier to see the teacher demonstrate and to show how you do the lesson first.”
Matt and Ellie decided early on to make a schedule, and have largely depended on routines to keep a sense of normalcy.
“Since we have a schedule, we’re able to stay focused and we’re also still able to have fun,” he said.
Part of what they enjoy, too, about their new schedule is the ability to manage their own time.
“I like to get my work done ahead of time, so I usually take a long time to do it. But instead of getting done on Friday, I finished on Tuesday or Wednesday,” Ellie explained.
And with all the extra free time, the two are playing outside more, helping around the house and playing more family games, especially the card game Uno.
“We never get tired of it,” said Ellie. “We always play and it’s something that keeps us together.”
Each has also discovered their own preferences about the extra time at home with family.
“I know I love my siblings and my family, but sometimes I want to interact with more than just them. I’ve lived with them my whole life and I (like to) make new friends all the time,” Ellie said.
“I respectfully disagree with my sister,” Matt said. “Because of the time with my family, I feel like I’m able to ask them anything, and I can always be with them, and I won’t have to ever be alone.”
Whether introverted or extroverted, they agree on one thing: sleeping in.
“The best luxury of home schooling is that we get to wake up so late. We wake up at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. or sometimes even 11:30 a.m.,” explained Matt.
Lucy, 5th grade
Lucy, a fifth grader at River Place Elementary, has also been enjoying the chance to sleep in. Instead of her usual 7:10 a.m. waking time, Lucy now gets to sleep until 9 a.m. — though she is still sticking to a schedule.
“Then I have breakfast and school starts at 10 o’clock. And then at 12 o’clock we get to have lunch,” said Lucy. After lunch, she finishes her school work then hops on her bike for some time outside.
Lucy has been biking a lot more than usual, as well as enjoying some extra time with her pet bearded dragon, Leo. He likes walks outside on his leash and baths.
She has two older siblings at home, so there’s been more family time, and she’s watching more cooking shows and trying out what she’s learned.
“I made a cake,” Lucy explained, with just a little help from Mom. Overall, she finds she is coping well with quarantine. “It’s kinda weird, but I don’t really mind it much.”
One big change for Lucy this year, as with Ellie and all their fellow fifth graders, will be the lack of their traditional fifth grade graduation festivities.
As Lucy explained, usually, “We walk through the hallways and say goodbye to our teachers and have a mini graduation and then we go to the YMCA with our money that we raised from the business fair.”
Instead, this year they’ll have a parking lot parade at the school where students will have a chance to celebrate and to say goodbye to the teachers who have meant so much to them through the years — all while maintaining a safe distance from one another.
Lucy’s mom, Melissa, called the whole experience “surreal,” but did see an opportunity for connection in these times when connecting can be more challenging than ever.
“At least everyone is in the same situation all over the country. This is going to be a generational experience as opposed to one school that had a problem and they didn’t get to have graduation,” said Melissa. “This is something that they’ll grow up, and everyone will have had it.”
Looking back and ahead to the future, Melissa recognized that, “They didn’t have the same experiences last year, and they won’t have the same experience as next year’s classes. But they’ll at least have the same experiences as the kids in New York and California and France and Italy.”
In a world that requires physical isolation to ensure health and safety, shared experiences can provide an antidote to emotional isolation and are more valuable than ever.