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Virtual jitters

First day of school has ups and downs for Richmond families with online learning

Ronald E. Carrington | 9/10/2020, 6 p.m.
When the first day of school came to an end Tuesday, Richmond Public Schools parents Safiya and Kendell Wilson happily ...
Chimborazo Elementary School students Kyle, 6, left, and Kevin Wilson, 8, connect with their teachers and classmates Tuesday, the first day of school, using Chromebooks provided by Richmond Public Schools. The kitchen table at the Wilson family’s Fulton home was turned into a virtual classroom when school began at 9:15 a.m., with mom Safiya Wilson monitoring activity. Photo by Regina H. Boone

When the first day of school came to an end Tuesday, Richmond Public Schools parents Safiya and Kendell Wilson happily exhaled.

Their sons, Kevin, 8, and Kyle, 6, are students at Chimborazo Elementary School. Kevin is in third grade, while Kyle is a first-grader.

The brothers had an easy time logging on with their Chromebooks and being on time for the first day after a quick walk-through by Kyle’s teacher.

The Wilsons, who both work at night, were standing by to help out. They said they will do whatever needs to be done to make sure their sons stay excited and engaged as they work with their classmates and complete online and offline assignments.

For 24,000 RPS students and parents, this was a first day like no other. Because of the coronavirus, students will be learning online for at least the first semester.

“We are all about opening with love,” RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras said on Tuesday. “The administration knows virtual learning is new and scary. That’s why our mantra is ‘Low Stress. High Grace.’ Shower everyone with grace.”

Grace settled in at the Wilson household.

“Kevin and Kyle saw about 10 to 12 of their classmates and friends, as well as their teachers as they introduced themselves,” Mrs. Wilson said. “There were enough students on the screen to know that they understood the process. Thankfully, they got it.”

Throughout the first day, the youngsters had “small assignments,” Ms. Wilson said. “First Kyle did 10 jumping jacks while Kevin put together a puzzle with his class.

“My husband and I were excited because Kevin and Kyle were excited about school. It is working out,” she said. “So far, so good.”

But things were not going so smoothly for other families on Tuesday.

Sundae Smith, a single mother working the night shift at Tyson Foods, said she didn’t think RPS was ready for virtual teaching and students were not ready to try it.

Richmond Public Schools nutritional worker Yukuri Canesius, left, and Superintendent Jason Kamras welcome Thomas Jefferson High school student Syasia Anderson and her family Tuesday morning at the meal distribution site in the parking lot of Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen in Fulton before the start of virtual classes at 9:15 a.m.

Richmond Public Schools nutritional worker Yukuri Canesius, left, and Superintendent Jason Kamras welcome Thomas Jefferson High school student Syasia Anderson and her family Tuesday morning at the meal distribution site in the parking lot of Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen in Fulton before the start of virtual classes at 9:15 a.m.

Picking up lunch at Holton Elementary School for her 6-year-old daughter, Shaylynn, a first-grader, and her 3-year-old China Barksdale, a preschooler who was to attend Mary Scott Elementary, Ms. Smith felt overwhelmed and talked about chaos in the school.

“No one seems to know exactly what we are doing or what’s going on,” she said. “It feels like the district is winging it.”

To compound her frustrations, Ms. Smith said she does not have a desk at home for Shaylynn and will need to find a quiet space in her home for her daughter to participate in virtual learning every day.

Ms. Smith also wondered how preschoolers, with their very short attention span, will sit in front of a computer or laptop screen and learn.

Asked if she watches RPS School Board meetings or informational updates and discussions for parents and students on Zoom, Ms. Smith replied, “No, because my night shift does not allow the time.”

In an interview early Tuesday morning, Mr. Kamras acknowledged there would be some technological bumps as the school system, students and family get back into the educational groove.