Since the first day of school on August 17, families, caregivers and students in the Burbank Unified School District have had to adjust to a rigorous remote learning program as schools in Los Angeles County remain closed to in person instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many perspectives – positive and negative – have been posted online via social media recently. We reached out to a few families and their students to share their experiences with online learning.
“So far, my family and I are adjusting as well as we can,” commented Pamela Di Andrea, parent of William McKinley Elementary School students Joseph (fifth grade) and Evelyn (third grade.) “Obviously, none of this is ideal, but with the current situation the world is facing, we are determined to do our best to continue to move forward and accept the challenges ahead.”
“Though we are only a few weeks in, overall, I feel things have been going well with remote learning. When we have had any questions, the teachers and McKinley staff have been helpful and timely. That said, we fortunately have not experienced any major issues these first few weeks,” Di Andrea continued. “My husband and I have spent a lot of time talking with our kids to make sure they were prepared for this new way of learning. We both feel it is very important to maintain a positive morale and keep them on track with everything, which at times can be a big challenge.”
“Going into this school year, our family is at a bit of an advantage because of the age of our children. Although they do need assistance from us throughout the day from time to time, they are able to navigate the technology fairly well because they had used some of it before at school prior to the pandemic. They are also at academic levels where they are reading proficiently, which allows them to read directions and navigate assignments on their own. Also, my children do not require any additional services or interventions.”
“I have not personally needed to reach out to the district or school for any special assistance, but they both have made it very clear that they are available to help students and their families with any educational support or assistance they may need,” she added.
“My kids were disappointed when the decision was first announced that we would be having remote learning. They both really enjoy school and because we have been on lock down orders for so long, I think they were really looking forward to leaving the house and seeing their friends! I also think they were somewhat apprehensive towards continuing with remote learning after their experience in the spring since all of the learning had been done asynchronously, with only some occasional live meets with their teachers. This was a bit difficult at times for all of us in trying to maintain some normalcy with school.”
“Though I know they would much prefer going to the school site every day, I do think the addition of synchronous learning via live meets every day has made a big difference in a positive way. Overall, I am okay with how remote learning has been structured for the fall, and with the current situation that we all are facing in the world, I believe this is the best solution for now.,” Di Andrea went on to say. “The health and safety of my children, family, friends and the community in general, is paramount and we need to do our best to make it work and be as patient as possible.”
Di Andrea talked about what her children’s day of online school looks like.
“It is a big help that the school day begins for both of them at 8:30 a.m. with live, synchronous learning. My husband and I are fortunate enough to work from home, so this synchronous aspect of remote learning is essential with our schedules. Again, because of the ages of my children, they can be self-sufficient for the most part during the times of the day when they need to complete work asynchronously. However, my husband and I are able to provide guidance whenever they need.”
“One of the biggest challenges is keeping track of their schedules. My phone has more alarms than I can count!” Di Andrea also said. “Even though my kids login for their first live meet at the same time, the rest of the day their schedules differ, which has been a bit of a challenge for me to keep things straight. I wouldn’t mind if at least their lunch and recess schedules were the same!”
“Although, now that we are into the second week, we are all getting the hang of their new routines. In addition, I feel that both of my children’s teachers have been working hard to make sure and be available for their students as well as the parents for any questions that we might have. So far, I am feeling optimistic that my kids will be able to learn and be successful in the remote model.”
“The school has sent out recommendations on how to get your child ready to learn for the day and we definitely have adopted many of the suggestions which were already very similar to our usual routine during a ‘normal’ school year.
For example, we wake up with plenty of time to eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, etc., but now we include making sure to login early to check for any tech glitches and we have our daily talks on expectations for the day and what assignments they will need to work on.”
Tech and internet issues prompted the Di Andrea family to upgrade their services and equipment.
“My husband is working full time from home and I am currently a full time college student embarking on my own journey with remote learning. In order to make it work, we did need to purchase another laptop so we all could have reliable devices. We did encounter issues with our internet connection due to of all of the use, so we made the decision to upgrade our cell data plans to utilize hot spots in the event we needed them.”
“Both the school and district have said that they can provide technology and internet hot spots for families to borrow if needed. We did consider at first reaching out to the district for assistance because we had faced some economic hardship at the start of the pandemic, however, we were able to overcome this hardship, so we no longer required any assistance.”
“I feel good about how we get to learn from the teacher seeing them at a Google Meet everyday,” commented Joseph. “I like Google Classroom because we can ask questions really fast and chat with the other kids in the class about school work also. I do miss seeing my friends and playing with them at lunch and recess.”
“I feel pretty good but not too good because I miss all of my friends, seeing my teacher and past teachers in person,” said Evelyn. “I don’t really like being on the computer because I would rather be in the classroom. But I am glad that I get to still do school at McKinley because I love McKinley. Even though I miss being at school, I like doing the Google Meet everyday so I can at least see my teacher and friends in class.”
On Monday through Thursday, the elementary school distance learning plan for grades one through five allows for two 60-minute periods of live instruction in Math and English/Language Arts in the morning, with a break in between, followed by lunch.
After lunch, there are 110 – 120 minutes of asynchronous learning, which includes 45 minutes of live virtual instruction (which can include small group interactions, individual support and teachers answering questions/emails or providing enrichment in PE, Reading, Social Studies, Science, Art or Music, or Math and English/Language Arts if needed.)
On Fridays, one hour of live virtual interaction with students is held. The weekly plan is similar for Kindergarten students, but with the live interaction typically in 40 minute intervals for Monday through Thusday.
Carey Bennett-Dean and Kevin Dean are the parents of fifth-grader Olive Dean, a student at McKinley Elementary. They have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My husband and I both work in the entertainment industry; Kevin is a Key Grip and I am a Costume Designer. Neither of us has had work since school closed on March 13,” Dean explained.
“We are grateful that BUSD pulled together a distanced learning model so quickly,” she said. “Truthfully, one of the most important things my daughter has learned [is] that everyone has challenges and it takes all of us being thoughtful and super patient to sort them out. She’s also really seeing how much stuff parents, teachers and administrators do behind the scenes to keep everything running smoothly.”
“Online learning has been a welcome way to organize our day and serves as a path to keep us learning.”
“Overall it has worked rather well. There are the occasional assignments that won’t open or are otherwise compromised. Like today, Olive opened an assignment that had already been filled out by another student. In our experience there’s some funny issue like that each day but the kids write their teacher about it and it gets resolved,” Dean continued. “I have yet to need to seek help from the school district or even her teacher. I do have a text chain going with other parents in her class and we communicate any issues and challenges and help each other sort them out.”
Olive says she likes “not being in a rush to finish assignments, doing things at her own pace and having snacks whenever she wants.”
“She definitely gets computer fatigue and often finds learning by herself at home boring,” Dean admitted, and “she says the hardest thing is that she dearly misses her friends and the social aspect of school.”
“This go around, having the teachers there in person is huge for us. Olive would much rather be taught from her teacher than from me and her morale is much better with the enthusiasm and connection from her teacher,” Dean said. “I appreciate that the assignments are posted per day, as opposed to posting all the work for the week on Monday which is overwhelming.”
“Overall, with the computer model, I think creativity suffers greatly as they are no longer drawing or using color in assignments. Being able to communicate that way and express herself through art or artful assignments is really what makes Olive tick. She used to thrive on those type of assignments, even making wonderful doodles on regular assignments and going the extra mile to make the assignment great. Now she keeps a piece of paper next to the key board on her desk to draw on while listening.”
“I think she also learns kinetically, so having to sit for long stretches and be at attention in a computer screen is hard and exhausting for her. Normally, being able to move around and be in the flow of her day, energizes her.”
What does Dean find positive about the remote learning model?
“Having the assignments post each day and notated as to when they are due is so helpful! I go over everything with her after the first in-sync session and I do have to monitor to make sure it is all getting done. Olive will talk herself out of needing to do ALL of the assignments, so it takes paying attention on my part and finding the right balance of keeping her motivated but not being too much of a nag,” she explained. “Breaks, snacks and ultimately making sure I hold space enough so she is not so distracted that she can’t get all the reading done.”
“She mostly works independently and only asks for help on assignments here and there. It’s really more the stamina and motivation to press through and get everything done each day that is a true challenge.”
Olive wishes there was “time to socialize.”
“I am acutely aware of how little exercise she is getting,” Dean continued. “It is tough to get her to do the GoNoodle assignments anymore so I really have to work in ways to get exercise. We do a daily walk, for sure, but she never gets to run and scream and laugh with other kids like she got to do daily at recess.”
“I have heard that older kids have to prove that they are exercising; is there something we could do to that end?” Dean wondered. “Some team building or off line challenges that they compare notes on each day would definitely help with motivation and make it more fun.”
What does the Dean family’s typical day of remote learning look like?
“We wake up, do some chores, check in on Teddy Bear the hamster, eat breakfast then she’s off to school. I monitor from a distance and work to keep her motivated to keep going and get everything done. We often read our separate books while sitting together as it’s the only way to create an atmosphere to get reading done. She’s mostly done with all school assignments a little after lunch.”
“In the afternoon she has online art classes and we are going to be starting in-person-distanced volleyball and Japanese lessons (her wish because she loves anime so much!) We also make time to play with friends online on Roblox or Minecraft or just chat on the phone together. We are seeing friends safely in person, maybe only once or twice a week. Exercise is the real challenge. We go for a walk everyday but the quality of exertion and silly exuberance is just not the same as what she used to get at school and playing with friends.”
“My husband and I are not working from home in a significant way as we are out of work until the movie studios are able to open up,” Dean added. “However we are all usually on Zoom calls of one nature or another. Sometimes there are three Zoom calls happening at once and the challenge is finding a place to take the call where we are not interrupting each other.”
“Our house has a desktop for Olive, two laptops and two iPads, two phones and an iPod, all of which we have accumulated over the years and all seem to get a work out every day. We have alarms on all the devices to remind us to put them down.”
“Our internet has been seeming slower but we’ve luckily not had any significant issues. We have definitely had issues with Zoom and Google along the way as we learned the little tricks to making things run smoothly, like turning devices completely off more frequently, clearing the cache and sometimes just having to hop onto another device quickly while we sort out the one that’s not functioning. It’s a group effort to keep it all running smoothly.”
Kristi Dadekian has three children utilizing remote education in her household: John Burroughs High School (JBHS) junior Sonya, and Luther Burbank Middle School eighth-grader Lana and seventh-grader Georgia.
The first week of 100% distance learning was “up and down” for the family, Dadekian admitted. “Fortunately for me I have older kids who are more self sufficient and tech savvy so it’s a bit easier than those who have elementary school kids.”
Most of the issues the Dadekian girls faced involved technology.
“For some reason the Google Classrooms don’t work as well as Zoom,” Dadekian said. “My younger girls are using Chromebooks that we got from the school. When they are on Google Classroom they sometimes get kicked off and have to try to get back on. My oldest is using an older Mac laptop that we had and she doesn’t seem to have that same problem.”
“We are trying to work it out here, but might have to talk to the school soon if it keeps happening. I have given my laptop to my youngest when it keeps happening to her.”
Dadekian acknowledged her daughters are doing fine with remote learning “but they really miss being at school with their friends and teachers. I feel the same. I miss them being in school too.”
“In some ways it’s kinda okay because we aren’t running from one thing to the next or having to rush out the door in the morning. I don’t mind the slower pace. However, we all feel more cooped up than ever. Some days my girls don’t even leave the house and it can get to them. I told them they need to walk around the backyard during class breaks.”
“I think the fact that the teachers are actually teaching them live is great. At least for the age of my girls. I think the only thing that could be better is better connection with the computers.”
The Dadekians also had to upgrade their internet service to accommodate learning and working from home by multiple members of the famile.
“My husband is a movie trailer editor. Currently he doesn’t have a steady job, because of the pandemic, but he does do freelance work when he can. When he does, he needs the WiFi at top speed for the videos he edits,” Dadekian explained. “We had to switch over to a different provider with a faster internet during the spring for that.”
“We kept our other internet provider too because it was cheaper, although slower. This way we have two different internets to use when everyone needs to get on. I substitute in the district, and so far haven’t had any jobs for that yet and not completely sure how that will work yet.”
Remote learning is “fine for now, but I want to go back to school!” commented Lana.
“I get frustrated when I get kicked off of Google Meet,” said Georgia. “I miss being in school.”
“I think so far it’s going ok, but obviously I’d prefer real school,” added Sonya.
Diana Lucas is a Kindergarten teacher in a charter school outside of BUSD and is currently teaching her class remotely. Her three children attend Burbank schools: seventh-grader Dylan and eighth-grader Jared go to Luther Burbank Middle School and daughter Lauren is a senior at John Burroughs High School.
“We are all adjusting to remote learning and our new settings at home as our classroom. The first week back, the kids experienced delays, glitches and disconnections at times during their live instruction,” Lucas commented. “We anticipated needing a good WiFi signal, so we had our service provider come to the house to relocate our router to the middle of the house where the signal can be reached by all learning areas. This week has been much better.”
“On a typical day, the kids are receiving synchronous, live instruction from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. They attend three classes per day. We lunch for an hour, and then go back to complete asynchronous (online) assignments until they are completed.”
Lucas noted her son Dylan takes about one to two hours to complete his work on those days, Monday through Thursday, “He is a G.A.T.E. student who works hard at his academics.”
“I don’t really need to monitor the kids’ study habits, but like to check on what assignments they are assigned and help answer anything they may not understand.”
“I like the distance learning schedule,” commented Dylan. “I like that the school day is shorter and I only meet with three classes a day. I have less homework because of this. I don’t like distance learning because I miss seeing my friends.”
“I am fortunate to work from home and be with my family,” said Lucas.
“Last Spring, when the kids weren’t able to return to school, it was more difficult for families. We were all new to the challenges we were facing. For example, we were all sharing one laptop! That was tough!” she continued. “The kids were assigned work via Google Classroom without any type of teaching or instruction. So, there were many days where we would take turns doing research and completing the assignments.”
“BUSD was much better prepared for the return of students by loaning out Chromebooks for any student who needed one, and the teachers and students now have class meetings via Zoom or Google Meet, Monday – Thursday, with a full day of asynchronous learning on Fridays,” Lucas also said. “For now, we are taking it a day at a time. We are blessed to be healthy and safe at home, but look forward to the day that we return to in person schooling.”
The Goulet family have also adjusted to the remote learning approach and have marked the differences between the last few months of school in March through May as compared to the current Fall semester.
“Things have, surprisingly, been going very well for Eliza. You can feel and see the difference from how the school year ended in May,” commented Amy and Derick Goulet, who also noted their older son, who graduated from JBHS in May, is currently a college freshman taking classes remotely at home. Daughter Eliza is a seventh-grader at Luther.
“Thankfully, we have only had minor issues with distance learning. A few times last week while Eliza was in a live class session she was disconnected or bumped off. Being disconnected caused her to panic a bit, but she was able to log back in, get connected and carried on. We requested a hotspot from the District before school started and I think that has helped alleviate any major technology issues.”
“Eliza has adapted well to distance learning. She enjoys only having three classes a day and likes the slower more leisurely pace of learning from home,” Amy went on to say. “She hasn’t felt the same pressure as when in-person, moving through six classes per day combined with homework and extracurriculars.”
“Her one complaint is that it is still sometimes hard to understand assignments, especially those given for asynchronous or independent learning. She knows she can always seek help or ask questions through the Google Classroom or via email, but because you are not face to face the response is not always immediate. Because you have three classes per day, not seeing and connecting with teachers daily is difficult too.”
“As parents, our biggest concern is that these students are only experiencing three classes a day. Are they learning half as much as they would if in-person? Will they be prepared to advance to the next grade? Are they forced to learn/complete material independently that they would have otherwise learned in person and therefore risking not grasping the concept correctly?”
“Eliza is extremely self sufficient and responsible. She needs to be monitored very little. She knows how to log in, be on time, navigate the Google Classroom, ask questions electronically and submit homework assignments. We are very lucky in that respect, but with that said, I still log into the Aeries Student Portal to monitor attendance, grades and missing/incomplete assignments.”
“The typical day of distance learning consists of getting up and ready for school, having breakfast and being logged in to class by 7:55 a.m. There are three classes per day, each consisting of a 45 minute ‘live’ instruction followed by 35 minutes of teacher support where the teacher is available and ‘live’ to answer questions and help with classwork or independent learning assignments. There is a 10 minute break between classes. The last class of the day ends at 12:20 p.m. followed by a lunch break until 1:30 p.m. Students are expected to be working on asynchronous or independent work from 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.”
“My husband is currently working out of the home due to COVID, so he’s able to provide support and answer questions for Eliza as well, in real-time,” continued Goulet. “The hotspot allows Eliza to have her own WiFi dedicated to schooling, even though my husband is working only ten feet from her. It has alleviated the strain on our network provider so far.”
“Our son started remote learning at UC Berkeley just this week, though, and he’s already expressed issues with our current WiFi situation. We have been able to manage our computers pretty well and are conscious of each other’s virtual calls and schedules. If two people are having Zoom or Google Meets at the same time, things can slow down. We will have to see how it plays out in the next week or two, if we have to bump up to a better network.”
“What I would like to say to parents and fellow students is, I know it’s hard and I’ve had my hard days too, but I’m telling you, you will get used to it for the time being,” said Eliza. “I believe in each and every one of you!”
George and Michelle Robinson’s son Dylan is a sophomore at Burbank High School. So far, their experience with 100% distance learning has been positive.
“Thus far it has been going well. One of the benefits was our son took an online class over the summer. It helped him prepare for some of the technology hurdles students are facing today,” they said.
“As expected with technology, some days it works seamless. But we have had the internet go down but thankfully we were able to reconnect, or have the backup device that does not require WiFi,” the Robinsons continued. “We ended up upgrading our WiFi system just prior to school start. Especially because we have two students and both parents working from home.”
“With the support of teachers and counselors, the routine, class expectations and Zoom etiquette laid out, this week is going better,” they acknowledged. “Also, our employers are very supportive and are aware of the challenges. As parents we are here to support Dylan in any way needed.”
“I feel more comfortable with it now, especially with what I learned with online learning with World History over the summer,” commented Dylan. “Especially with uploading assignments and calendaring.”
“What I like about it, is that all we are all learning and working in Zoom, with Google Classroom and Google Meets,” he continued. “My assignments are easily accessible in Google Classroom. I check what I need to do and what I am missing with Google Classroom, which is great. I’m currently liking the class structure, and the amount of time spent in each class.”
“What I dislike is not being with my classmates and interacting with my teachers in person,” Dylan added. “Especially, when there may be a time that we could all discuss a problem or assignment, and sometimes it’s hard when everyone is talking at the same time on Zoom.”
“Being on Zoom means making sure you pay attention, that is important. It’s important for the time we have with the teachers to listen and understand. You just can’t go back to the classroom and ask a question,” he explained. “That doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to the teacher, it’s just different and not as immediate. I also miss seeing everyone on campus. Especially the excitement that is normally felt the first week of school. I’m an athlete as well, and missing my Football and Baseball teammates. Not being on campus affects students in so many ways.”
“We like that we are able to be there for Dylan if he needs us. We dislike that he is missing out on the interaction with teachers and friends,” the Robinsons also said. “We do provide tech support when needed. Making sure the headphones are still working, connectivity works, or if there are issues with the mic which are challenges anyone can face.”
“Dylan has a zero period and Zoom begins in our house at 7:00 a.m., Monday through Thursday, and goes until 1:30 p.m. each day. He also has class check ins on Friday. He continues with assignments after school.”
“It can be challenging at times, with both parents online, and two students, one of whom is a college student (recent BHS 2020 grad Justin Robinson,)” they said. “We each needed our own computer set ups, whether hardwired or WiFi based, so that we are all able to be successful throughout the day. It’s being mindful of the student needing to focus and have an area they can do that. Along with parents needing to balance phone calls and Zoom calls.”
“We support each other through it all, as we navigate through these ever changing times,” the Robinsons added.