HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Several school districts continued to debate whether to send students back into the classroom versus maintaining virtual learning.
One Henrico County family solidified their decision before the COVID-19 pandemic even started.
For years, 13-year-old Trenell Milana fell behind while his classmates succeeded.
“Trenell was being left behind since 2nd through 6th grade every year,” his mother, LaToya Milana said. “They’re on the 10th subject, while he’s still trying to figure out the first thing the teacher said.”
Trenell lives with autism and severe ADHD. Face-to-face instruction along with a class full of students can be challenging for him to concentrate.
“I take a little bit longer to learn something,” Trenell explained.
Desperate to get Trenell back on track, the Milana family turned to online instruction through Virginia Virtual Learning (VAVA).
VAVA is a tuition-free program that provides a personalized program of courses, caring teachers, and a vibrant school community, according to their website.
“They actually take the effort to his needs and incorporate a learning style to kind of match him,” LaToya stated.
But, education experts realized that learning is not a one-shoe-fits-all model.
For 35 years, Dr. Bela Sood has studied child and adolescent psychiatrist and serves as a senior professor for child and mental health policy at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“American Academy of Pediatrics says two hours of screen time and now we have everything occurring virtually,” Sood stated. “I’m sure it’s going to take its toll on kids as far as fatigue — Zoom fatigue.”
One of the keys to successful virtual learning is human interaction, according to Dr. Sood.
“There is social learning that goes on. There’s interaction in the school yard. It’s not just academic learning, but it’s that social interaction which is particularly important for young children,” she explained.
Sood admitted even within the regular educational setting that students do get lost.
The staff at VAVA provide families with a contact list of other students in the same grade level that live nearby to encourage social interaction.
For Trenell, he learns best in front of a computer screen.
“It’s not the teacher’s fault. They’ve got 20 plus kids and one teacher. Every kid has a unique learning style,” LaToya said.