Students have gotten used to a new normal of learning

Maia Turkel (Courtesy of the Turkel family)

Nine months into the coronavirus shutdowns, many have found ways to cope with remote learning. Teachers have shared their highs and lows of online learning, and parents have talked about adjusting to having children at home all day, every day, and ensuring that learning continues outside the four walls of a classroom.

And when it comes to the students, some are attending in person, others are doing hybrid learning — attending in person some days and online the rest of the week — and others have returned to the classroom. Some have thrived and loved the opportunity to remain safe at home with family and pets, while others have found the limitations of seeing friends and teachers difficult.

The JT spoke with nine students from four families, who shared how they have been navigating the changes to their education.

Maia Turkel

10, fifth grade

Maia Turkel, a student at Krieger Schechter Day School, misses her teachers and friends, but she has come to enjoy virtual learning.

Before the pandemic, she was able to see her friends every day at school, on playdates on Fridays and for Shabbat dinner. “I miss not being able to be with my teachers and friends,” she said. “I miss hugging my friends, being at recess and being on the playground. Though I am sad, I think that staying home is keeping me safe, and I get to hug my pets. I love animals a lot.”

Technology has made it possible for Maia and her friends to stay connected. “I still see them on Zoom,” she said. “But I get really excited when we see each other outside, while socially distancing.”

And although Maia misses being able to hug her friends, she loves that she gets to be home with her family and her three pets — a ferret named Mochi, a 14-year-old Schnauzer named Paz and a 4-year-old Cockapoo named Nova.

The most exciting school project Maia has done at home has been dissecting a lamb’s heart for science class, which her school dropped off. “It was really interesting and so cool to see it in person instead of in videos,” she said. “I got to stretch my fingers through the arteries.

“Overall,” Maia continued, “I am pretty happy, though I do miss my friends.”

Roni Posner

Roni Posner (Courtesy of the Posner family)

12, sixth grade

Roni Posner, a sixth grader at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, said that, in the beginning, virtual learning took its toll.

“At first,” Roni said, “when school closed, it was all pretty nerve wracking because I had never used Zoom and I didn’t know how it worked. It took me a month to figure it out, and I started playing around with it and figured out how meetings worked.”

Beth Tfiloh started this school year with two options: Students can attend school in person, or virtually via Zoom. Over the course of the year, many students who started virtual learning have begun going in person.

Roni and his three siblings attend Beth Tfiloh virtually.

Not seeing his friends in person has been hard, Roni said. “I spend time with my friends on Zoom, and sometimes we do homework together on video calls, but it’s not the same as being with them in person.”

Roni also likes that “teachers are more experienced with Zoom now and are doing a really good job.

“There is a big difference between this school year and last year,” he said. “In the beginning, sometimes you couldn’t hear well, or the teachers couldn’t hear us. But now, there is a much better set up.”

One of the most adaptable subjects for virtual learning, Roni said, has been math. “The teacher is very good in Zoom and makes sure we understand everything in class.”

Despite all this, Roni is looking forward to going back in person and said he hopes to return to school soon.

Eliram Posner

Eliram Posner (Courtesy of the Posner family)

10, fourth grade

Eliram Posner didn’t like virtual learning at first.

“In the beginning I didn’t like it because it was surprising, and we had no idea what was happening,” he explained. “I am enjoying it more now because we get multiple breaks during the day, and there is less of a chance of me getting COVID.”

But over time, Eliram has adjusted well to virtual learning, “I like learning on Zoom. It is much easier now. For example, if there is an activity on the website, the teacher can share the screen and project it on the board.”

Eliram’s favorite subject is art, which he takes every Thursday. “It’s really cool. I like that you take a few materials, and a little time, and in a few hours you have a whole piece of art.”

Still, Eliram said, “I miss my friends a lot. Practically all my friends are in real school now, and I barely get to see them.” Eliram does see his friends “once in a while” via Zoom, when there is a school assembly, or a “meet and greet” when students can be together while maintaining social distancing.

“We can’t touch each other. It’s annoying. If you want to get close to someone, you can’t.”

Eliram is looking forward to the day when “we can go back to school and see all my friends again.”

Yair Posner

Yair Posner (Courtesy of the Posner family)

8, second grade

“I like it, but I also don’t like it,” Yair Posner said about virtual learning. “I am safer at home because if you go to real school, you are together with other people.”

Yair said that he has not been able to get together with his friends but has enjoyed playing virtual games like Cahoot. “The computer asks questions, and if you get it right, you get points, and if you get it wrong, you don’t. We can play it in class” for the subject he’s learning.

Yair is looking forward to seeing his friends when he returns to in-person school one day, and to attending physical education classes, which he misses.

Kayla Posner

Kayla Posner (Courtesy of the Posner family)

5, kindergarten

Kayla Posner enjoys online classes. “We get to play games while learning,” she said. “If we need help my teacher can share the screen and show us.”

Maya Taylor
Maya Taylor (Courtesy of Taylor family)

Maya Taylor

17, 11th grade

Before the pandemic, Maya Taylor excelled in her classes and at her extracurricular activities at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, and the pandemic has not slowed her down.

“Our last day of school was March 13. We only missed one day of school and started online on March 17,” Taylor said. “At first, I was really excited to be home. I noticed that the school had cut down on our course load a bit in order to give us some breaks, which was nice.”

She and her friends have stayed connected, even while safety precautions required that they stay home. “We realized quickly that we missed our lunch time and hallway chats so we started to meet online during breaks and at lunch just to be together.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, “it got to the point where I didn’t want to listen to the news anymore and would wait for my parents to tell me what was happening. We were definitely scared. We didn’t know what to think of it.”

She returned to school in person in October. Students wear masks and are separated by grades, she explained.

The new normal of in-person schooling is something she’s had to adjust to. “We have to stay six feet apart and wear masks, so it’s difficult to hear sometimes, and there is no lip reading. And we still have some kids who are doing Zoom. They are on our projector so we get to see them and they can still participate in our class discussions. All of my teachers are great although every once in a while we kinda forget about the Zoomers.”

One of the upsides of staying home for the first few months of the pandemic, she shared, is that her bond with her 14-year-old brother grew stronger.

“Every day we would find time to take a walk to the nearby public school,” she said. “Sometimes we would play basketball or tennis together. Recently I got my license, so I have been taking him to school. We are a lot more open with each other and we share more. We just like hanging out together more now. Maybe that came with age but the quarantine definitely helped.”

Rebecca Lewin

Rebecca Lewin (Courtesy of the Lewin family)

14, eighth grade

Rebecca Lewin, 14, was attending Pikesville Middle School when schools shut down last March. The hardest part, she said, was that she didn’t get to say goodbye to her teachers and friends when schools shut down since she was out sick the day schools closed. Once school went online, “it was boring. We had class for 90 minutes per class, and four periods. We used Google, not Zoom, and we were not allowed to put our face on camera and had to mute the microphone.”

When she learned she would not be going back to school last March, Rebecca said, “I panicked because that is my safe place.

“I miss my friends,” she added. “I call them, and I FaceTime them.”

Rebecca started at Baltimore Lab School, a nonpublic school in Baltimore City, in September. She likes virtual learning, she said, because “I don’t have to wear masks, my glasses don’t get to be foggy. When your glasses are foggy you can’t see anything.”

Micah Lewin

Micah Lewin (Courtesy of the Lewin family)

11, 6th grade

Micah Lewin, who now attends Pikesville Middle School, was a student at Summit Park Elementary, a public school in Baltimore County, at the start of the pandemic last year.

He found online learning to be “quite easy, but it was not my favorite.”

“I didn’t understand everything well,” he said. “I like that the school day was shorter, and classes weren’t as long.”

Micah missed his friends, some of whom moved to different schools or, in the case of his best friend, to another state. They stay in touch by playing online games.

“Now that I got used to it, I would prefer to stay on online learning because I think I am kind of paranoid of catching COVID because I neither need, nor want, to get COVID,” he said.

Zachary Lewin

Zachary Lewin (Courtesy of Lewin family)

17, 12th grade

What would have been a celebratory senior year, with privileges like eating lunch off campus with friends, turned into a year full of restrictions and concerns about COVID-19 spread for Zachary Lewin, who began his senior year at Beth Tfiloh in September.

“I am mostly back in person this school year, though we did school online last school year,” he said. “I don’t like that we are missing out on Shabbatons, our senior trip is undecided and off-campus lunch privileges have been suspended because it’s not safe.”

Everyone wears masks in school, he said, and they do have “mask breaks,” when, he said, “we can go outside and take them off for a bit. They can be annoying, but they are essential, and they are important.”

He had been looking forward to the senior trip to Poland and Israel and is disappointed that it may not happen.

“During our discussion about our senior trip, someone asked about Hawaii if we couldn’t go to Israel and Poland, and [Director of Education] Dr. [Zipora] Schorr did not say no,” Lewin said with
a laugh.

Haydee M. Rodriguez is a freelance writer

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