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Chesterfield, Hanover families share different virtual learning experiences

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Posted at 6:04 PM, Sep 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-09 18:44:58-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- One day after server capacity issues caused widespread connection problems for Chesterfield County students trying to log on for their first day of virtual learning, multiple parents and school officials said day two went more smoothly.

Kimberley Johnson, who has two students in Chesterfield schools, said she heard some families still experienced issues logging on, but day two was a “breeze” for her family compared to day one.

“Yesterday was quite a bit different... we didn’t get online until probably second or third period for some things. Everyone just did their best,” Johnson said.

The beginning of every school year comes with a hiccups, Johnson said, and with more than 60,000 students and 8,000 employees, many Chesterfield families thought issues with virtual classroom were inevitable, she said.

“This is the first year that the transportation director got a break because if it wasn’t internet issues, we’d be like, ‘where’s the school bus!” Johnson said. “I am getting a lot of exercise running from room to room. ‘I need help logging into this’ or ‘where is this link my teacher wants me to find.’”

Chesterfield School leaders said although they do not anticipate a widespread issue like they experienced day one, the school system is prepared and expecting some families will experience technical problems.

“We’ve still seen some families having some connectivity issues, whether they’re on our side with server capacity or whether it’s connectivity that families are facing in their own homes,” said Shawn Smith, a spokesperson for Chesterfield Schools. “Our families have done what we’ve asked of them. They’ve gone directly to their teachers, to their schools to let them know what issues they’re facing.”

In Hanover County, 61% of the student population opted to return to school buildings, after county leaders gave families the choice between face to face and fully virtual learning. Hanover County Schools have guidelines in place that call for everyone to wear masks inside school buildings, promote social distancing, and include enhanced learning practices.

Still, for the families at Liberty Middle School, plans to send students back to the building were scrapped last minute after three employees tested positive for coronavirus before the first day of school. Joe Hoffman has two kids who were set to return to Liberty Middle before the district announced they would temporarily close the school.

“All their clothes were laid out; they’re book bags ready to go,” Hoffman said. “It’s just been quite an ordeal trying to figure all these things out. I understand we’re in an emergency, but sometimes you really got to plan for emergencies and what if’s.”

Hoffman feels the school did not do a good job of gaming out the plans for an emergency closure like this one. He said other families with students planning to attend school in-person should prepare for a potential closure, just in case.

“I hope you have support systems; I hope you have things in place to answer this,” he said.

No matter what the beginning of the school year looks like, it is far from normal for most students because of COVID-19.

For Madison Johnson, Kimberley’s daughter, the first two days of virtual 8th grade have definitely been different.

“Everyone was lagging really bad. Sometimes the voices of the teacher were cutting in and out,” Madison said. “I think it will be pretty easy to get used to it for a while, but just right now it’s a little odd. Just because of how everybody is and everyone hasn’t seen each other in a little while.”

With thousands of families juggling virtual learning or heading back into classrooms with a deadly virus still present in the community, Madison said her first two days of this school year have certain taught her one thing: do not hesitate to ask questions.

“Don’t be shy about it, don’t be afraid, don’t be embarrassed, because if you are, you might not know something you might miss,” she said.

Liberty Middle School will resume instruction Thursday and Friday, but fully virtual, according to the school’s website.

Chesterfield families can access resources for virtual learning here.