School is ending for many Wisconsin students this week. In an extraordinary year, many had to adjust to online learning. That includes the third graders at Madison Country Day School and their teacher, Galen Wiese. I talked with a few of his students — Aadya, Briah and Gia — via Zoom and they filled me in on what it was like to suddenly go to school online during the coronavirus pandemic, what they’ve learned about themselves and their families, and what they’re most excited to do when it’s safe to be with their friends again.
(The responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.)
Maureen McCollum: What’s it been like going to school online?
Briah: I actually kind of like it because I’ve always wanted to be homeschooled. We live like a half an hour away from school. So now, we get another hour of sleep. So that’s good!
Gia: I have a few goods and bads. One good is, like Briah, I’m getting some sleep and I actually wake up before my alarm goes off!
It doesn’t take too long for me to get done with my work because I can literally just press a link and then get my assignments instead of searching through my desk and walking to the classroom.
One thing is I feel like it’s a little harder to focus. Even though I’m in an office room with the door, I feel like in the classroom, it’s way quieter and way easier to work than here. Sometimes I get distracted and sometimes when I’m really bored, I even see faces on the walls and it moves. And I’m like, “Oh, hi there, door!”
Aadya: I guess we’re getting a lot more homework since a lot of the work that we’re doing now, we would be doing at school.
Briah: Everything’s homework, now.
Maureen McCollum: Does anyone help you with your schoolwork at home?
Aadya: My dad and my mom are in meetings like 24 by seven almost. And my sister’s too young to help me with my work.
My mom is much more tense than she wants us to see. Usually she would try to finish everything at her office. Now I see that she has much more work. My dad — he has free time, so he constantly checks on me and my sister. But my mom, she is usually locked up in her room for most of the day.
Briah: Sometimes when I need help like measuring stuff or I need help with a problem, I just need my dad’s help, but he is usually on call. So, I have to wait or figure it out myself.
It’s mostly me. My brother’s upstairs. My mother’s mostly at the hospital… she helps get the things that the doctors need to help the patients. My dad’s in his office. So it’s kind of like me in working in the kitchen. We have a counter, that’s where I sit.
Gia: My dad — he’s still is going to his work because no one else is at his work, they’re all working from home. His work isn’t really big. I mean, he’s the boss anyway. So, my dad can’t really help.
My brother, he’s in college, so he’s studying for exams and stuff all day. He has both his doors locked.
And my mom, she has a lot of work, since she’s doing like five different types things at once. So I don’t really have many people to help me. That’s why I try and use resources. My mom has some time when she’s available and I ask her if she can quickly help me with an assignment. Not too long ago in the morning, I woke up extra early so she could help me with our science thing where we were measuring pulse.
Galen Wiese: I’m really proud of them because most of my students have two working parents and they’re there, yet they are having to do it on their own. They learn through my lessons, but troubleshoot the technological issues on their own and they have to be on top of their own learning. And I think most of our students are doing that. I don’t know if that’s indicative of our city or state. From talking to other teachers, you have kids that have just kind of fallen off the map.
Maureen McCollum: What’s something new you’ve learned through school at home?
Briah: I learned a lot about history, like a long time ago when there were wars and people owned land and there were the colonies. I watched “Pocahontas” one Saturday morning and I knew a lot more about the time because I recognized a lot more and why they named Jamestown.
Gia: Something I’ve gotten to work on more is time. Ever since kindergarten — when time was first brought up — I’ve never really understood time. I’m not sure why, it just didn’t make sense in my brain. But now, I feel like from homeschooling and doing it more by myself and being more independent, I’m kind of getting the hang of time.
Aadya: Instead of normal subjects…I have a box where I have random states and countries. I pick one slip out and it would name a country. Then, I try to do some research on that country and learn things about it.
Maureen McCollum: What’s something you’ve learned about yourself and your family during this time?
Briah: Well, I’m getting active outside a lot more. I’m going on bike rides a lot more. And because of the coronavirus lock down, I got off my training wheels, so that’s good.
Gia: I think after corona, which could be in a long time, but I think I’d be a little more independent. I learned how to do the dishes. I started cooking. I make the desserts. I do like so much more.
Briah (laughing): What I help out with the desserts is eating them and eating the food.
Gia: (Laughing) But another thing that I learned about my family — whenever I came home from school, I’d always bug my parents because I wanted something or I wanted to do something with them. But now that I’m at home, I kind of see what they are actually doing during the day. So, that’s probably why they’d always be cranky when I get home and then I kind of bother them even more. Well, now I see why they’re cranky. Now, I think they should be more careful of that.
Aadya: I’ve been trying to take care of my sister whenever I can while my parents have meetings. She just turned three at the end of April.
After I finish my homework — or in the middle of my homework — I just go downstairs. If she’s watching TV, I leave her alone. But if she is disturbing Buddy — our puppy — or running around or spilling toys all over the place, I try to act firm. But, most of the time I end up laughing because she always says something funny to cheer me, my mom or my dad up.
Maureen McCollum: What’s something you miss about being away from school?
Briah: I miss the fun activities we would do, like gym. I miss like the fun things we could do at STEAM time and the fun art. I really miss weaving in art time. I wish I could weave more.
Aadya: Probably…friends. All my friends.
Briah: Oh yeah.
Aadya: We still get to chat on Google Hangouts or do video calls, but it’s still not like meeting them in person. Whenever we video call, it somehow reminds me that we’re far away from each other. We’re not next to each other. If we’re actually meeting in person, it makes me feel…warm. A warm, fuzzy feeling.
Briah: Like what Aadya said, it gives you a real warm, fuzzy feeling when you go on a long break and then you see your best friend standing in the doorway when you come back to school.
Gia: Yeah, I think about my friends every day. I wonder what my friend is doing.
Maureen McCollum: So when everything’s safe, what’s the first thing you want to do with your friends?
Gia: First of all, we’d have pillow fights. Then mess up all the couches. Then eat popcorn. Then watch movies. Then sneak in some chocolate wafers. Then go downstairs and have another pillow fight and watch another movie. Then brush our teeth together and eat some more candy. Then you have to brush your teeth again. And then go downstairs and then sleep and then wake up and then have breakfast.
Briah: I’d probably play hide and seek in the basement. We’d probably have a pillow fight because — I’m going to give you a little hint why — I’ve never had a pillow fight in my life.
Aadya: Something I miss doing with my friends is — there was a game, I don’t think we had a name for it. One person would be in the front. They would be a little horsey and there would be a person in the back and someone in the middle. The person in the back got to say what we were going to do. And the person in the front always made like weird noises like, “HEEHAW!”
Gia: It’s so fun.
Maureen McCollum: Do you have any final thoughts you want to share?
Aadya: Well, I think at the beginning I was all like, “Oh, my goodness, what’s going to happen? I’m so scared!” But then later, I learned to calm down instead of freaking out like I was before.
I thought, “The world has gone through all these things before. Viruses and sicknesses haven’t beaten humankind yet, so we can probably do it again.” I kept thinking that.
Gia: And another thing that calms me is that that…I think that coronavirus is there to bring the humans together by working together to beat it.
Galen Wiese: I think as an educator, I really want to reassure parents that their child is learning a ton of stuff during this time — even if they’re not even doing the lessons that I’ve provided. Just living through this time, having to help out with your family, learning how to communicate via the Internet, learning how to be more self-reliant when there isn’t a parent to be able to help them all the time. Those skills alone are immeasurable.
You know, learning about history or if they learn their spelling words for the last eight weeks of whatever grade they’re in…it isn’t going to affect them and it isn’t going to hold them back from next fall, whatever schooling looks like next fall. I just want to reassure people that: their child will continue to learn. They have supportive teachers around them that want them to grow and learn and succeed.
How we define that is going to look differently during this unprecedented time. But, I can guarantee that they’ll all continue to grow, just in different ways. Little things like learning their multiplication table — that can be done at any time. And it will be done. It will happen. It just might not be on the same timetable that we used to expect that.
MUSIC: “Calm and Collected” by Calumet (Blue Dot Sessions)
“La Branche” by Bayou Birds (Blue Dot Sessions)
“You Can Get It If You Really Want” by Jimmy Cliff