Learning from home in a pandemic
By Cheryl Parker

[Editor’s Note: Following is the second of a three-part series on the challenges of teaching and learning through the COVID-19 pandemic.]

When Tom and Kay Alferink volunteered to host a foreign exchange student this year, they didn’t know the experience was going to include all of them being quarantined in a pandemic.

Richard Acquaye hails from Ghana and is finishing his junior year at Jesup High School, as is his host brother Casey Alferink. His other host brothers are Ethan, who is finishing his freshman year, and Aaron, finishing seventh grade.

English is the national language of Ghana, so language has not been an obstacle for Richard. He had less exposure to computers in his home country, however, so that has been a bit challenging; especially now that that has become the medium of learning the last two months. Regarding difficulties brought on by the quarantine, he says, “This interrupted my exchange year. I don’t like not getting to experience prom & play soccer, but I am at least learning other ways of going to school.” It is unknown when he will be able to return home. He said, “I have mixed feelings about going home. I will be happy to see my family, but sad to leave here, too.”

Reflecting on the learning-from-home experience in her household, Mom Kay Alferink says, “My kids are pretty self-sufficient when it comes to their online schooling. In our home, it is not an option for them to not participate, even though it is technically not ‘required’ by the state of Iowa. They know what we expect of them and, so far, they have done a great job staying on top of their assignments and classes.

“As a parent,” she says, “I wish the online instruction was a bit more equivalent to their in-class instruction, but, with such little notice, their teachers have done a good job putting something together to keep the kids going in the right direction.” Kay thinks the home experience is a lot more efficient – they just tune in to their classes and proceed to do their assignments. With on-campus learning “kids spend a lot of time in homeroom, going back & forth between classes, etc.” It may be more efficient, but the boys all prefer the experience of going to school at school.

In the Alferink household, the most challenging thing about learning from home was that the classes did not meet at the same time they would have had school been in session. As an example, if Spanish was usually second period, it doesn’t meet at that time anymore. Kay made a spread sheet so everyone knew when each boy is to check in to each class. This was especially hard for Aaron (7th grade), before they realized that classes are recorded, so, if it is missed, it can be viewed any time after that.

Read the rest of this story in the May 20 issue of the Citizen Herald!
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