From a distance, our child is learning as much as ever

  • Written by Tara Gilligan Reimer
  • Published in Commentary
The author's son, Nikolai, has been in full learning gear at home, thanks to the teachers at Bellingham’s Assumption Catholic School and their hours of preparation.. Photo: Courtesy Tara Gilligan Reimer The author's son, Nikolai, has been in full learning gear at home, thanks to the teachers at Bellingham’s Assumption Catholic School and their hours of preparation.. Photo: Courtesy Tara Gilligan Reimer

It’s 8 a.m. on Monday, March 16, our first day of learning-at-a-distance-for-safety, and our third-grader is weeping. “No school at school. No grandparents visiting for Easter. You’re Mom, not my teacher. The coronavirus has ruined everything!”

One hour later, deep into a division fluency lesson, delivered online and assigned by Mrs. Paula Martin-Zender (Mrs. M-Z), our child chirped, “This is so much fun!”

Since then, our child has been in full learning gear at home, thanks to the teachers at Bellingham’s Assumption Catholic School and their hours of preparation.

With only three days of lead time, that Monday morning, Mrs. M-Z emailed a letter to encourage parents, made a video to launch her students, and tailored a week’s worth of lessons to her learners.

In trying to support Mrs. M-Z’s teaching, I fumbled through Seesaw, an online learning system that ACS kindergartners use.

I realized this was not the same as homeschooling. While I had to figure out a new online system (that kindergartners can use), I didn’t choose the curricula, wade through seas of resources or tailor lessons for my child and his 20 classmates. Nope, Mrs. M-Z did that.

So, that Monday at noon, I emailed her, feeling equal parts grateful and desperate: “Only 24-and-a-half days left!” (Monday, April 27, is the possible back-to-school date — but parents know this could very well change.)

Then Mrs. M-Z personally called every parent. I was able to tell her that our child, separated from his beloved teacher, now refers to his mother as M and to his father as Z.

But we know who the real Mrs. M-Z is. Along with the ACS team, she’s a Catholic school teacher — a highly accomplished professional who knows that learning happens in relationship with each other, not solely because of technology.

In the last week, our child uploaded fraction equations, a personal essay and a summary of a book his whole class read. He compiled a thick packet of hard-copy learning, thanks to his teachers in Spanish, music, art and physical education.

This past Friday, the culmination of our first week of learning-at-a-distance, multiple classes at ACS, filled with children of all faiths, celebrated their first virtual lunches. From their homes, students munched on PB&J sandwiches and connected online, telling stories and jokes, if only for a short time. Relationships — how we belong to each other and God — are the most important ways we share at ACS, and distance makes these ties even more precious.

Though we’re far from classrooms, though we naturally feel overwhelmed at times, we also feel more connected than ever.