Parents: Wilton’s youngest struggle with distance learning
WILTON — Despite positive reports from administrators on the start of school — and positive hopes for the first in-person day on Tuesday — some kindergarten parents still have major concerns.
On Thursday night the Board of Education heard a spectrum of commentary on how the first virtual week went, with building principals painting rosy pictures and technology staff promising that various software and online-access issues are heading toward abatement.
Several Miller-Driscoll School parents wrote in, however, expressing worry that their children’s first experience with public school — carried through a computer screen — is a virtual disaster.
“This is not the way to launch our youngest students on their learning journey,” said one parent, who like others indicated the situation may be manageable for older kids but not for early elementary. (Poor audio quality made the names of some of those submitting public comment difficult to discern.)
“‘Mom, I can’t do this again,’” she quoted her five-year-old son as telling her in tears on Wednesday. “‘Mom, this is too long for me,’ and ‘Mom, this makes me feel sick.’”
While she and others said they didn’t fault the teachers for the situation, the virtual format discourages and restricts the requisite movements of young students, limits their access to help, increasing their wait time, and leaves instructors with an inability to read the emotions of those students with whom they’re trying to connect.
“It is too much to ask of a five-year old to sit in front of a screen until 3 p.m.,” Doug Davison wrote in an email.
“Our son and the rest of the children are clearly done by 12,” he wrote. “It is a struggle to get them to sit until 1.”
He and several others urged that remote learning days for younger students be kept to half-days, while others simply urged the return to in-person instruction.
“It’s common sense that kindergarteners can’t learn by staring at a computer for five hours a day,” wrote Matt and Jacqueline Gallo, who expressed strong criticism with the school administration for not thinking this through.
“I am also extremely worried for them at this point,” parent Ray Erickson said of his two children, noting his kindergartener is crying and constantly stating he hates school.
“Children are not wired or conditioned naturally for staring at a computer screen,” he said.
“A five-year-old child should not be taught remotely,” he said, claiming his child is holding on by a string and that the district is “failing our future generations” if swift action isn’t taken to remediate the situation.
Miller-Driscoll principal Kathryn Coon, however, said only a small group of parents had reached out to her about the issue.
She downplayed concerns, noting that even in a regular year, kindergarten students have a hard time adjusting to public school and are often tired and tearful throughout the day.
“It’s a long day for kindergarteners no matter what,” she said, also noting that distance learning is a difficult adjustment for all kids.
“We’re weaving in all kinds of breaks but it is a lot of screen time,” Coon acknowledged.
Noting she’s aware of the issue, however, she said a survey would go out for parent feedback, with responses to be shared at next week’s school board meeting.
“Depending on what they share, that could certainly influence our thinking,” Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith said with regard to expediting a return to fulltime in-person learning, at least potentially in elementary.
“We’ll continue to get some feedback from our teachers, and then we’ll make adjustments as needed,” Coon said, encouraging that parents reach out directly to teachers for help.
“We are getting amazing feedback from parents and they could not be more complimentary of the staff,” she said, lauding one teacher who dressed up as a hot dog bun.
Board member Jennifer Lalor, who has been the most outspoken about a rapid return to full-time in-person instruction, said she had received a lot of questions about morning and afternoon kindergarten from parents.
Smith noted that while half-day kindergarten was considered — as it’s being executed in other nearby districts — it was deemed too expensive because of the additional bus runs needed.
Also, he said, it would disrupt the cleaning and disinfecting strategy that is in place at the school, per state guidelines.
Lalor also reported instances of students losing their connection to Zoom classes, having to then wait for 10 to 20 minutes in a virtual waiting room until they were again recognized by teachers and signed back in.
“For my money, having the waiting room feature is essential to the safety,” Smith noted, sharing that there were two reported instances this week where unauthorized people “Zoom bombed” high school classes and made racial epithets.
Fran Kompar, director of digital learning, said the first day the district was “overwhelmed” with calls for tech support, but said these continue to decrease.
She said helping amend issues is more time consuming in the virtual situation, given it sometimes requires a Zoom meeting with parents. Many issues of dropped Zoom meetings, she said, relate to connections at people’s individual homes.
While the schools are basically fully staffed with certified teachers, the district is scrambling to find a way to get more substitutes into its stable.
Maria Coleman, director of human resources and administration, said many of the current subs are retirees and expressed discomfort in coming back during the pandemic.
“One neighboring district is offering healthcare for this year only,” she said, as a way of encouraging recruitment of substitutes.
“We’re going to need to change our strategy,” she said, promising more details at next week’s board meeting.