Some Durham families are happy to say goodbye to virtual learning, others call it a ‘life changer’
Durham School Boards will offer a virtual learning option for 2022-23 – but there has been a sharp decline in interest as families seek a more normal school experience.
For some, virtual learning has been a difficult journey. It was an option families chose based on pandemic concerns, but they didn’t like the long hours in front of a screen and the lack of socializing.
Others call virtual learning a “blessing” and a “life changer,” saying it allows their children to escape issues such as bullying, constant illness from school germs, long bus journeys and other challenges.
The Department of Education has only committed to funding virtual schooling for 2022-23, but some parents would like it to become a permanent option.
Gwyneth Evans has two children who have been attending virtual school with the Durham District School Board since 2020 and says it is an option her family wants to continue for the long term.
“For us, the pros have spent more time together, a lot less stress, the kids are a lot happier, their grades have improved a lot,” she says. “When they were in an in-person school it was a struggle to get them to school every day, crying they didn’t want to go… my kids will stay in the virtual school as long as it’s available, that which I really hope is a permanent option.”
If virtual school is discontinued, Evans plans to homeschool her children.
Karin Parma is another local parent who would like to see virtual schooling offered permanently – she finds it beneficial because her daughter has already struggled with bullying at school.
“The online school has been a blessing. The teachers have been amazing. It’s been consistent. There’s been no bullying because they’re all on screen, they’ve established positive interactions,” she says , noting that her daughter’s grades have also improved.
For Chathura Ahamed, a mother of three, virtual learning over the past two years has been life changing in terms of maintaining family health.
Previously, Ahamed said school germs made someone sick about every 10 days – just as the illness passed through family members, a new illness arrived at the house.
“We were all sick all the time. It was so exhausting. It was my whole life, just coping with the disease,” she says. “How many times have they been sick doing virtual school? Maybe twice.
At the DDSB, 1,916 students have registered for virtual learning for the next school year, 1,107 in primary and 809 in secondary. That’s down from a total of 7,700 virtual school enrollment for 2021-22.
The decline is also similar in other boards – the Durham Catholic District School Board has around 330 total pupils enrolled in virtual for 2022-23, compared to 1,220 this year.
Kate Pain is among DDSB parents who are sending their children back to in-person school after two years of online learning.
Her eldest son was halfway through kindergarten in the spring of 2020 when schools closed.
He has a congenital heart defect, which prompted the decision to go virtual.
“We wanted to be very careful,” says Pain. “No one knew how it would turn out and we did everything we could to make sure he was safe but also still engaged and learning.”
Her son has been attending virtual school for the past two years and is now finishing Grade 1 — he will be heading to Grade 2 in person.
Pain says virtual school was great at first, but now his son’s engagement is waning and he needs more socialization.
“The teachers are amazing. It’s remarkable to think about how quickly everyone has adapted to a virtual environment. It’s all going so well and I’m sure they’re working tirelessly to make it happen,” Pain says. “Overall, I feel very lucky to have had the virtual option, but it’s no longer a good fit for us.”
Emma Cunningham is another parent who is sending her children back to in-person school in the fall after a two-year stint of virtual learning – her son for kindergarten and kindergarten and her daughter for 4th and 5th years.
“My kids are extroverts who can’t wait to get back; their social world is not as crowded as usual,” she says.
She worries about the possibility of another wave of COVID in the fall and says having to choose between virtual and in-person for 2022-23 by March this year was “incredibly anxiety-provoking”.
Cunningham, who is running for a trustee seat this fall, calls the DDSB’s rollout of the virtual school “remarkable” and says her children had excellent teachers – her son’s kindergarten teacher has even dropped off exercise books and coordinated crafting and baking with the class.
School boards say two years of offering virtual learning have revealed pros and cons.
“The most obvious benefit is flexibility. Some students also find virtual learning to be a very effective model of learning,” says Galen Eagle, communications manager at the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland Clarington Catholic District School Board, where 173 students will take virtual learning in 2022-23, up from 571 This year.
He says such low numbers for 2022-23 will make it difficult to deliver the virtual program effectively.
“With such low enrollment numbers, it is difficult to staff and provide consistent programming for K-12. Many of our virtual teachers teach multiple grade levels in the same virtual classroom and it can be difficult for high school students to access the same level of diverse course material as they would in a physical school,” he says. .
Gerard Winn, superintendent of Durham Catholic, said the board “believes that in-person learning is the best option for the vast majority of students, particularly when it comes to positive mental health, wellbeing and development. socio-emotional development.
He says challenges with virtual learning included problems with internet connectivity in students’ homes, maintaining student engagement and lack of social interaction – survey finds 43% of DCDSB high school students who took virtual learning this year struggled to maintain friendships.
Winn also says there were positives – “anecdotally, some families have shared that they struggle to get out in the morning while juggling multiple children of different ages, making lunches, forgetting indoor shoes, etc. These families shared that they found it easier to stick to their schedule while having their child at home.
It is not yet known if any school boards in Durham will offer virtual learning beyond 2022-23.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Education reporter Jillian Follert has reported on virtual learning in Durham schools since its first rollout in September 2020, including the challenges of teaching kindergarten online, fluctuating demand for virtual learning as the pandemic ebbed and flowed, and the anxiety families faced having to navigate decisions between virtual school and in-person school.