Dickinson High School

Winnie the Pooh can’t go outside because of coronavirus,” five-year-old Mateo told his parents this week, five weeks into the struggle to adapt to learning at home during Covid-19 school closures.

Jersey City students have not been inside a school since March 16, when schools closed physically due to the spread of the virus. Parents suddenly doubled as teachers as learning through paper packets, Google Classroom, and Zoom commenced. Kids have been managing their own unique stresses with life slowed and stilled, conducted mostly within the walls of their homes, unable to play outside as parks citywide are now also closed.

Virtual Classroom
Photo by Jersey City Staff

Like Pooh, Mateo reports being sad that I have to stay inside.” And Mateo has lots of company. Learning at home is not as difficult as you would think it would be, but it’s way less fun,” says Ella Johnson López, in eighth grade. I’m missing the fun part of the year.” Eighth graders, like many high school seniors, are sad to skip the celebrations of their final year in their current school.

Teachers, know that you are missed. If you don’t understand something, it’s harder to figure out by yourself,” says sixth grader Mia Johnson López. Second grader J.B. Dickinson agrees. If there was worksheet, if it was wrong, she could just say it,” he explains. JB looks forward to seeing his teacher online every day: There’s lots of Zoom.”

All the children who shared their experiences miss their friends more than anything. I miss the environment, my friends, classmates, and human connection,” says Isabella Levin, a senior at McNair (and daughter of the editor of Jersey City Times). Socializing is the fun part, and that’s taken away,” says Mia.

Despite all these drawbacks, life for K-12 students under the school closures has had its upsides. Esha Shah, another 12th grader at McNair, has started cooking more, been making pasta from scratch, and even taken up embroidery. Five-year-old Mateo countslearning with Daddy” and recess with my scooter” as benefits to staying inside. Camila Suarez points out that she has become really good at typing,” and she is comforted knowing her family is all fine. Her brother, 11-year-old Mateo, has discovered what many adults who’ve worked remotely have known for a long time: the joy of working in one’s pajamas.

That Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on our city, killing many loved ones, is not lost on even younger children. Speaking for kids in the earliest grades, Mateo, 5, knows that is bad and people are dying”; and JB says that he would like adults to know “that kids are going through something — a catastrophe.” A bit older, Mateo Suarez feels a sense of dread that I can’t see my friends,” and his sister Camila is feeling scared that I might get it.” Even high school students, more used to working online, find that motivation is a challenge. It’s hard to focus on work,” says Levin.

Instruction and food services for children will continue through at least May 15. Packets of home learning materials” were sent home with K-12 students in Jersey City’s public schools before schools closed on March 16. Thereafter, schools pivoted to become food distribution centers for those city kids who receive free lunch and breakfast.

This week, students who need Chromebooks, laptops, or Wi-Fi hotspots will be able to pick them up from schools. And while all state testing has been cancelled, AP exams for high school juniors and seniors have not. They’ll be administered next month albeit online and with questions that are shorter than previously and with open-ended responses.

Eventually, at some point in the undetermined but hopefully not too-far-off future, 11-year-old Mateo would like to be able to tell others that it was a tough time, but we got through it together.”

For more on the impact of Covid-19 on Jersey City families, see Alexandra Antonucci’s article on the transition to online learning.

Header: Dickinson High School, Jersey City Times File photo

Carly Berwick has worked as an editor for The Week, ARTnews, and Metropolitan Books. A former columnist for Bloomberg News and The New York Sun, she also has reported on education for TheAtlantic.com,...

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