COVID-19 one year later: Parents, students make virtual learning work

Published 8:00 am Saturday, March 27, 2021

NATCHEZ — At the start of the 2020 school year, there was no other choice for Chesney Doyle than to enroll her kids in virtual classes.

Doyle said her husband and mom were vulnerable to COVID-19 and local schools did not offer the interactive virtual learning experience she wanted for her son Archer and daughter Alston, so she decided to enroll her kids at St. Andrews in Jackson.

“When we made that decision there was no vaccine,” Doyle said. “There was not much research about children and the virus. There was no way to say our children weren’t going to come home after a full day at school and then pass the virus on to an older member of the family.”

The most challenging part for Doyle’s family has been losing a loved one to COVID-19 despite their best efforts.

Once, Archer asked his mom why his grandmother, Kathie Blankenstein, died when she did everything she could to protect herself from the virus.

Doyle said it’s difficult to reflect on her children’s virtual education because of the irony of trying to protect her mother from the virus only to lose her.

“If you have been through what my family has gone through with this virus, you don’t want anyone you know to share this experience,” she said.

However, Doyle said some good has come through the virtual learning experience.

With virtual learning, her children have learned to self-manage, an important life skill. Learning self-advocacy was also important for her children, she said.

Virtual learning through St. Andrews has allowed her kids to have a classroom setting but still be COVID safe. She said her daughter and son have been doing great with their schoolwork and socially they have made virtual friends.

Carmen Brooks Drake, who works as the county prosecutor, also enrolled her nine-year-old daughter, Shelby, in virtual school through Natchez-Adams School District to safeguard her family’s health.

Drake said she could not guarantee Shelby or other children could comply with COVID-19 guidelines while at school, so she moved her from Cathedral to the Natchez-Adams School District so she could do school work from home.

As her daughter is working on schoolwork, Drake is working from home from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., she said. With her work demands, she is not able to be as present with her daughter as she would like to be, which causes added stress, she said.

For Drake, not being able to provide supervision to her daughter as she works has been one of the challenges of this past year. While her daughter does complete her work, Drake said she sometimes will forget to hit the submit button so Drake has to make sure she does.

“It is not what we are used to,” Drake said. “I tell other people all the time. Americans are not used to raising their own children. We are used to them being away at school with trusted professionals.”

Just like the Doyle twins, Shelby has been able to make friends through her online classes.

Socially, Shelby has been able to interact with other kids in Google Meets, Facebook or FaceTime and Drake has been able to control the amount of time her child spends socializing.

Shelby said she has seen her friends from Cathedral in person a handful of times. She said she is able to play Roblox and Fortnite online with those friends. She said it is fun having virtual school because she does not have to go anywhere for school.

“You get to watch what happens,” Drake said. “It is like you are in a big reality show.”

Distractions have been a challenge for her daughter, Carmen said. Sometimes Drake will look up from her computer to see Shelby playing with the dog or not paying attention to class, where if she was in a classroom she would not be as distracted, Drake said.

“I can control things such as game consoles or television. I can’t control her imagination,” Drake said. “She can fixate on something. She needs constant supervision.”

Drake said her daughter has learned the importance of diligence.

“Keeping her on task was a challenge for me, but thankfully she is pretty mature.”