Experiences With Remote Kindergarten Show Equity Divide
It took only a few days for Dannia Hernandez to realize her plan for her daughter Jasmine's kindergarten education wasn't working.
"When we first started Zoom classes it was a disaster," she said.
Jasmine is attending Jefferson Elementary in North Park. Hernandez can't work from home, so her plan was to have her mother help Jasmine with online school. But her mother struggled with navigating the technology, a bad Internet connection and following the teacher's instructions.
"Jasmine needed somebody who can help with assignments, and there were times where my mom was telling Jasmine to sit down and pay attention to the teacher, but she said, 'no, the teacher is telling me to stand up,'" Hernandez said.
So then Hernandez brought in her cousin, who takes night classes in college, to help guide Jasmine. It's better, but there are still lots of issues.
"She had a couple fits," she said. "She was like, 'I know the answer, I know the answer,' but there's too many kids."
Hernandez is worried about her daughter being so stressed out, but also about her falling behind.
"I've thought about just pulling her out," she said. "But then at the same time, I think, maybe just the little bit that she's getting, or the assignments, or the one on one she's getting from my cousin, it is helping her."
Last week, San Diego Unified announced it was bringing back about 10% of students for in-person learning, but that move won't help the vast majority of kids still trying to learn from home during the pandemic. And in no grade level are students, parents and teachers having a more difficult time than kindergarten.
Kids doing kindergarten remotely are supposed to learn to read, follow a teacher's instructions, work with peers and stay on schedule, all for the first time, and without the structure of being in a classroom or the patient guidance of a teacher.
Everyone involved says it requires regular adult supervision, which is exacerbating inequities that already exist among families who can afford to hire a tutor or have a parent around, and those who can't. Even more alarming for school district officials, data showing that many families haven't enrolled their kids in kindergarten.
Across the district, kindergarten enrollment is way down. At the end of September, there were about 2,500 fewer students than expected, and two-thirds of that drop were kindergarteners.
"In some cases, parents are making a conscious decision to not enroll their students, but there are other cases where parents may not be clear about the process," said Richard Barrera, vice president of the San Diego Unified School Board.
He said the district is trying to find families of kindergarten students to get them signed up.
"That's a challenge because if a student is not in our database, because they've never been enrolled in our district, we might not actually know who they are," Barrera said.
But even if online learning is far from perfect, they want students to be enrolled, he said.
"There are very clear benefits to students starting in kindergarten, being part of a classroom, part of a learning community," he said. "We're able to distribute laptops, include those students in our food distribution program."
Same grade, different realities
While Hernandez is at her wits end in North Park, Nicole Ramos has transformed her San Carlos living room into a classroom. She and fellow Benchley/Weinberger Elementary mom Shaffana Cagasan have created what in pandemic-speak is called a "learning pod."
On a quiet morning last week, four kids sat and worked on their laptops. Word cards were on the floor, charts were on the walls and a giant timer helped the kids stay on schedule. The room smelled like warm muffins, and after awhile the kids stopped to take a snack break.
While kindergarteners Maya Ramos and Kaia Cagasan munched on muffins outside, their teacher quizzed them on what they've been learning.
"What's a good word that starts with J?" she asked.
"Jellybean!" Kaia responded.
Ramos and Cagasan both work full time and are paying a private tutor $2,500 a month to guide their kids through online lessons each day, plus come up with extra activities.
She helps them through their daily list of assignments from their teachers and supplements the learning with extras, like science experiments and games outside.
The contrast between Hernandez's experience and what's happening in learning pods is stark. While parents like Hernandez are thankful if their kindergarteners can get just a little learning, the Ramos and Cagasan kids are launching ahead in their kindergarten curriculum.
"I feel like Maya and Kaia are learning to read," Ramos said.
Her complaints are that the online learning is so focused on to-do lists of assignments and doesn't seem to be creating deeper learning experiences. But she said all things considered, it's going really well.
"The kids every morning wake up and they're excited for school, excited to see their friends and to get to learn next to them and find those moments to connect and play," she said. "My kids don't wake up moaning and groaning that they don't want to do school, at the end of the day every day they tell me they had a good day."
In fact, even if her kids' schools reopened, she's not sure she would send them back, because she doesn't want to disrupt the routine they've established.