Alumna shares unbelievable challenges that COVID is creating for working families with school-aged children.
“Our oldest son doesn’t have insurance and we are worried that, if he gets sick from COVID, we won’t be able to pay for his healthcare. We want our four children to do virtual learning,” said the mother who sat across from me. We were sitting in the conference room rather than my office since parents weren’t technically supposed to be in the building. Her husband sat silently next to her. I knew he didn’t speak English and felt like he was being excluded from the conversation. I asked if I could speak in Spanish.
As the Reading Specialist, I explained the staff’s concerns about the children learning from home. Aside from concerns about engagement and quality of learning, we had practical concerns, such as, internet connection and sending expensive math manipulatives home with students. It was at that point that the mother explained that they were afraid that the children might bring home COVID to herself and her husband. If she and her husband got sick, then they wouldn’t able to work on the farm and, if they weren’t able to work on the farm, then they wouldn’t have an income.
I immediately realized the unbelievable challenges that COVID was creating for them. Should they choose a higher quality education for their children or the assurance that they could put food on the table?
“En definitiva, la decisión es de ustedes como padres.”
It was a Friday. They decided to have the children start virtual learning on Wednesday so that teachers could gather together their materials and schedules. I spent the weekend modifying the curriculum to suit virtual learning, posting assignments in Google Classroom, and checking emails from teachers who were letting me know which lessons they live stream so I could mark it on the children’s master schedules.
“My screen is frozen. Can you hear me?” I asked my student after I asked him to go find his whiteboard and Expo marker.
“I can see you and hear you Mrs. Vos.”
His screen would resume streaming about every five minutes. I kept asking him to show me the word he had made on his magnetic letter board and he would hold the board up and the screen would freeze. I couldn’t check for understanding.
“Tell me the letters you used,” I said as I quickly thought of a workaround.
Workaround. This word would come to summarize teaching during a pandemic.
This encounter exemplifies the economic and racial disparities that COVID has revealed. The rich can afford to have their children learn virtually and the poor cannot. Spotty internet is educational certain death during a pandemic. Virtual learning in the spring for my English Learners meant showing up on time for Book Club on Google Meet and getting kicked off of the meeting due to bad internet. After trying to join two or three times, they gave up in embarrassment and frustration. I also sit on the other end of the meeting and sometimes put my head in my hands after the meeting and dream up ways to reach students with spotty internet.
My ever-present and pervasive worry is that these students can’t afford hiccups to their learning experience. Every time I look at my screen and see my English Learners frozen in mid-learning I feel the educational gap widening. We continue to wait for the promised internet hotspots. In the meantime, my English Learners at home are not getting the same education as the children who are learning face to face.
Anna (Turner) Vos, ’97 is a reading specialist at North Cape School in Franksville, Wis. She has a Bilingual/Bicultural supplement. She earned a BA from UC San Diego in Spanish Literature and a Master of Arts in Language and Literacy from Cardinal Stritch University. She lives in Brookfield, Wis. with her family.