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Pandemic Schooling 2020


Pandemic Schooling 2020 350Hey parents, is school going well so far? Our son’s school year started 2 weeks ago and it’s better than I thought. Earlier this year, his school shut down in March and never reopened for spring. That was a tough quarter for everybody. The teachers weren’t prepared, the parents had to juggle work with monitoring homeschooling, and the kids were out of control. We all muddled our way through the best we could, but the whole pandemic schooling experience gave us plenty of scars. Summer break couldn’t arrive soon enough. Unfortunately, summer is over and it’s time to go back to school.

The beginning of this school year was full of uncertainties. We had no idea if the school would be online, in person, or some combination thereof. Oregon was doing pretty well with Covid-19 and many parents wanted school to open like normal. I can understand that. After 6 months of having the kids at home, we are all ready for some normalcy. However, our district decided to go 100% virtual. This is not ideal, but it is the best option for now. We’re fully on board with the plan. At this point in the pandemic, I’m not comfortable sending RB40Jr to school in person. Even if masks are mandated, kids probably can’t keep their distance very well. What happens when some kids and teachers get sick? They’d probably shut the school down anyway. It’s better to go virtual and get that right from the beginning, IMO.

Online schooling

I’m happy to report that online schooling is a lot better this quarter. (Homeschooling was hell in the spring.) The teachers and administrators had 3 months to prepare. The result is a smoother experience for everyone. There were some hiccups, but they have been minor so far. Also, our son is in 4th grade. I think this is the sweet spot for pandemic schooling. He would have needed more help if he is younger and he’d be more rebellious/bored if he’s older. Okay, let’s go over some points.

2 weeks of soft opening – Our school had a 2-week soft opening to give teachers an opportunity to get to know the kids while slowly introducing the online format. This was a great idea. Everyone took it easy and worked together through all the kinks. The class had several technical issues and his teacher was able to solve the problem or find an alternative. Our district also has a dedicated IT support line you can call. Less tech-savvy parents can get help if they need it. The kids spend only a few hours per day on school over these 2 weeks.

Minimal parental supervision – IMO, the biggest problem last spring was the degree of parental involvement. I had to sit with our son about 75% of the time when he was learning online. He needed help to figure out what to do next. Also, he needed a lot of prodding to stay focus and keep going. This year, the teachers are trying to set up virtual schooling so the kids don’t need as much supervision. Our teacher recorded several tech lessons and they were very helpful for our son. These lessons are helping the kids to study independently. This is the best change so far. RB40Jr still needs help occasionally, but I don’t have to sit next to him as much. Now, he can navigate various apps and sit through the lessons without goofing off so much.

Reduced class size – We got a big surprise when school started. The number of kids in our son’s class dropped from 32 to 20. Wow, that’s a huge reduction. I think some parents formed pods with several kids and hired private teachers. Some probably sent their kids to private schools. Those schools are more flexible and some are holding in-person classes. Lastly, our school had many international students last year. The parents attend college in town and brought their kids with them. Most, if not all, of these international kids are gone. Anyway, a smaller class is better for any kind of schooling.

Social interaction – In my opinion, the worse thing about online schooling is the lack of social interaction. Our son has a class meeting every morning at 8 am. (Training for real work?) It’s good to participate with the whole class, but each kid only gets to talk for a few minutes. Next week, they’ll start splitting up into small groups. The kids will be able to talk more so that should be good. Each group will work on problems together and build a rapport, hopefully. Also, online interaction can’t beat real-life personal interaction, so our son meets up with his closest friends on the weekends.

FIRE makes it better

Honestly, I was dreading the beginning of school. However, virtual schooling is better than I thought. The first 2 weeks of soft opening were great so far. Next week, the school will ramp up and the kids will be busy from 8 am to 2:15 pm. Hopefully, our son will be able to focus and learn without a lot of parental hovering.

Luckily, we’ll be available if our son needs help because we are home. My wife is working from home and my time is very flexible. Some of our friends are having a lot more problems with online schooling. Several families have multiple kids in different grades. Two families can’t work from home and can’t assist their kids with school. Online schooling is a lot more manageable for us because of financial independence.

Oh, one last thing. I want to take RB40Jr to Thailand for a couple of months this year. He can attend the 8 am meeting and do most of the school work later. I’ll have to talk to his teacher to see if we can work something out. I want to visit my mom as soon as possible. She has dementia and her condition is deteriorating rapidly. We applied for his passport renewal in July, but we are still waiting for it. The system is all screwed up right now. Hopefully, we get it by November so we can go.

Okay, that’s it for today. I assume you are a parent if you read all the way to the end. How is pandemic schooling going for you?

Image credit: Dilan Bandara

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, the job became too stressful and Joe retired from his engineering career to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. Today, he blogs about financial independence, early retirement, investing, and living a frugal lifestyle.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is increasing his investment in real estate with CrowdStreet. He can invest in projects across the U.S. and diversify his real estate portfolio. There are many interesting projects available so sign up and check them out.

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{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Kevin September 18, 2020, 6:55 am

    I can’t wait until I never have to hear about Google Classroom assignments again! Until then, it certainly has been an adventure!

  • Buckeye Girl September 16, 2020, 5:22 am

    It is definitely interesting hearing the various approaches on virtual learning.

    The struggle is real in our household. In our district content was created online over the summer. The content seems to be pretty good, but there must have not been enough time to properly QC the content. Lots of issues. The teacher is also greatly struggling with technology. For the 5th grader there is a morning zoom to talk about assignments. No teaching though via zoom.

    The 7th grader is having a different experience. The focus of the district’s virtual program has been on flexibility. That translates into no mandatory zooms. So zooms end up being geared for questions. I am not thrilled. When I signed up for our district’s virtual program I was not looking for a self-study program. I would like more student-teacher interaction. Had I understood the program better I likely would have signed up for an online program in our state where there is some teaching occurring via Zoom. For 7th grade teachers have classroom students and virtual students. Virtual students are assigned to a period in the teacher’s schedule.

    We would prefer to be in the classroom but my son has severe viral induced asthma and I have contact with my Mom who lives in a nursing home (take her to doctor appointments) so we selected virtual.

    This is not easy!

  • Mr. Grumby September 14, 2020, 11:34 am

    I’m not a parent but am.always interested to learn what challenges people are facing. The school issue is perplexing, and I’m glad I don’t have to deal with making those decisions. So far it looks promising for you and the family, and I’m sure the break allowed teachers and schools to fine tune the processes.
    Hope you get to Thailand.

  • Rex September 14, 2020, 11:22 am

    I have three older ones that started remote school about 5 weeks ago. They are a Senior, Sophomore, and 7th grader, and very self-sufficient so I have to spend zero time during the school day helping. I do hear the occasional gripe that ‘the internet sucks’, and when I try to explain to them that it does not ‘suck’ but that their chromebooks and school’s connection is where the problem lies, I just get glazed over eyes. They have found their own fix for that issue now. Two of them just use their chromebooks to be on the video feed and then do all of their work in google classroom on another computer/laptop.

    We get to choose to go back to in person schooling every 9 week grading period. I have been surprised at the low number of cases in my kids’ schools and in our school district as a whole.

    • retirebyforty September 14, 2020, 12:08 pm

      That’s great to hear. I thought older kids would be more bored with school. The teachers must be keeping them busy with assignments. Hopefully, the number of new cases stay low.

  • Tawcan September 14, 2020, 10:59 am

    2020 has been a year of uncertainties. We have the option of doing gradual entry where kids would do at-home learning in the morning then go to school twice or three times a week. The at school attendance would increase as they get closer to January. We also have the option of doing full time school. Both of our kids are doing full time school since they really miss the social aspect. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

    • retirebyforty September 14, 2020, 12:05 pm

      Good luck! Hopefully, nobody gets sick at school. Your location is doing much better than the US.

  • Done by Forty September 14, 2020, 10:32 am

    I’m so sorry to hear about your mom, Joe. Hopefully you can get out to visit with Jr.

    Great that school is better this fall than it was in the spring. That gives me hope more schools will be able to handle 100% virtual, which is really what we should all be doing right now: at least until our countrymen wake up & we can get this pandemic under control.

    • retirebyforty September 14, 2020, 12:04 pm

      Thanks. Dementia is a horrible disease.
      100% virtual schooling is a great fit for us because we are both at home. It’s a lot harder for families that can’t work online.

  • mary w September 14, 2020, 10:13 am

    It looks like the time zone difference would work great (8am in Portland is 10am the next day in Thailand). Glad the online is working ok for RB40jr.

    • retirebyforty September 14, 2020, 12:02 pm

      Actually, it’s 10 pm in Thailand. 🙁
      I think we can stay up late and wake up late. It should be okay.

  • Ed September 14, 2020, 7:48 am

    I’m really glad to hear it’s going better so far, Joe! The spring was such a shock and no one responded really well. A lot of us spent the summer trying to make sure it would be better if we needed to go online again. I know we’d ALL prefer to be back in-person schooling!

    • retirebyforty September 14, 2020, 12:01 pm

      Thank you to all our educators. It was a big adjustment, but schooling improved a lot since spring.
      Having 3 months to prepare made a huge difference. I can’t wait for in-person schooling either. Hopefully, we can get back to it next year.

  • Jim @ Route to Retire September 14, 2020, 7:29 am

    Glad to hear online schooling is going pretty well – I know you weren’t thrilled at all with homeschooling in the spring.

    I would bet the teacher would be fine with RB40Jr going to Thailand later this year. He’s young enough that it’s not the end of the world if he misses some schooling, especially if he’ll be doing some of the work while there.

    We’ve started our homeschooling year as well while on the road and it seems to be going pretty well. We’re using a different base resource (Study.com) and Faith seems to be better with it – too bad it’s not free like Khan Academy! 😉

    • retirebyforty September 14, 2020, 11:58 am

      Homeschooling is a lot better this time around. 3 months of preparation helped a lot.
      I’ll check out study.com. That might be helpful when we take a year off to travel.

  • Lazy Man and Money September 14, 2020, 5:20 am

    We are starting in-person school this year. Part of that is the benefit of private school, but the almost all of Rhode Island public schools are doing it too. Our kids started last week and so far so good. I think they are doing the soft opening too – getting everyone prepared for new ways to enter the building, how to take mask breaks and everything else. They’ve sent some pictures and while you can see that the desks are far apart, the young kids still sit in a circle pretty close to other students. One picture had the teacher holding a student’s hand. It’s not the kind of thing I’d have passed around.

    I think you right that 4th grade may be perfect. I know that K and 1st was too young last year for the sudden change – especially with two kids as you mention.

    We applied for our passport renewal back in May or June and I got mine a week or two ago. My wife’s got rejected due to a blurry picture (CVS’ fault). They are working through the system and the website updates were good, so hopefully, it works out for you.

    • retirebyforty September 14, 2020, 11:52 am

      How many kids are in each class? K and 1st are both hard to control.
      My son’s attention span was much shorter when he was at that age. He’s a bit better now, but still need a constant reminder to keep working on school stuff.
      Thanks for the info about the passport. It is approved!

      • Lazy Man and Money September 16, 2020, 6:08 am

        There are 19 in the first grade with two teachers and three classrooms split between them. I combine it because there’s natural intermixing, but it could almost be thought as about 10.

        There are 17 in 2nd grade with one teacher and one “associate teacher” (lessor degree and experience) that is more combined and has a couple of rooms.

        One of my kids has no attention span, but he’s pretty good with masking and COVID preparation by now. It would be tough to have a whole class of him. A half class would probably be tough too.

        Good stuff on the passport, they shipped in around 2-3 weeks.

  • nicoleandmaggie September 14, 2020, 5:13 am

    So far we’ve been really impressed with the quality of virtual schooling for our kids, especially for DC2. It’s going much better than it did in the Spring when DC2 finished her work for the week on Monday.

    • retirebyforty September 14, 2020, 11:50 am

      Regular school would be best, but virtual schooling came a long way since spring. I’m impressed with our teachers too. They are doing a great job with the constraint.

  • The Crusher September 14, 2020, 4:10 am

    My youngest son actually just started college in NJ. He is on campus but at the moment his classes are virtual. Some lab instruction is in class but as a freshman he has none of these this semester. If the spread of infection remains modest, the hope is that some of his subjects will pivot to in class teaching at some point this semester. Overall, I think it a reasonable approach. It is a logical attempt to move forward and IMO better than simply huddling at home as so many are. Of course, my youngest is 18 years old so older and at least slightly more mature than a 4th grader. Maybe…

    Joe, so sorry to hear that your mom’s condition continues to worsen. All the best to you and your family.

    • retirebyforty September 14, 2020, 11:49 am

      That’s a good compromise. Hopefully, he’ll be responsible and act safely. The news of college kids partying is probably overblown. If he keeps the circle of contact small, it should be pretty safe.
      Thank you.

  • ezdividends September 14, 2020, 2:58 am

    I am still teaching my older one at home. The younger one does nothing but jump and dance around all day. But I am in a special situation where the older really needs to be homeschooled until I actually move home or to a proper English environment. Luckily this job only gave me 10 hours of instruction per week this semester and 3 hours of online courses to teach so I can still dedicate some time to his homework.

    • retirebyforty September 14, 2020, 11:46 am

      It sounds tough with 2 kids in different grades. Good luck!
      Your employer gave time to help with schooling? That’s a great benefit.

  • Financial Freedom Countdown September 14, 2020, 1:57 am

    No pandemic schooling updates from me; but glad it is going well for you. The cooking videos at least show you both having fun.

    With my cash out refinance I was planning to buy a rental this fall. But given the recent government rules; I am considering that rental property would be the worst investment.

    • retirebyforty September 14, 2020, 11:31 am

      Good luck with finding a rental. The price is high so it’s hard to make the numbers work.

  • Mr. Tako September 14, 2020, 12:32 am

    It sounds like our school system is running things pretty similar to yours Joe. A morning Zoom meeting with the teacher, then individual work time, then a Zoom meeting again at the end of the day.

    With two kids it’s pretty hard to keep them studying and focused. I’m not sure they’re actually learning anything at this point. The teachers are trying, but I’m not sure they understand how to teach virtually.

    The kids get very little 1-1 interaction with the teacher, so I suspect I’m going to have to be their teacher this school year again.

    Oh well, at least I’ve got the time for it.

    • retirebyforty September 14, 2020, 11:31 am

      Today is our first full day. It’s pretty busy. He’s online most of the time. There are several meetings throughout the day. It’s really like training for real work.
      You’re right about 1-1 interaction. That’s hard with online learning.
      Also, I still have to help him focus. If left alone too long, he’d get distracted by something or another.

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