It was the first day of school once again at the McDow household but this year things were a little more casual. Some might even say it was a little more boring.
There were no first-day outfits, no backpacks, no pictures, and no anxiety about getting to school on time.
Instead, Sebastien and George-Arthur McDow woke up, had some breakfast, and wandered around their home in Monrovia until it was time to sit down and log onto their computers.
Monday was the first day of school for all Frederick County Public School students in first through 12th grade. The school system is operating in a full virtual mode for the first semester.
Sebastien is a sophomore at Linganore High School and George-Arthur is a fifth-grader at Green Valley Elementary School. Both said it didn’t feel like the first day of school.
But for the most part, the first day of online learning went smoothly for Sebastien and George-Arthur. Sebastien encountered some buffering and lagging screens in his first Google Meet class but otherwise, both boys said the day went off without a hitch.
Sebastien said as disappointed as he is to miss out on the high school experience, working from his home and his own room is nice.
“The nice thing about working from home is that you’re in your home, you're comfortable. At school, even though you’ve been to the building before, you’re in a whole new ecosystem with new peers and a teacher,” he said.
George-Arthur agreed but added that he was sad to not meet his friends and new teacher.
“I don’t really see [my classmates’] faces and I don’t really see their personality because they’re always on mute,” he said.
He did get a few minutes during a scheduled break however to show off his hamster and learn about what his peers did over the summer.
The boys’ parents, Rebecca and Stephen McDow said as stressful as it is to have them learning from home, they are glad FCPS decided against the reopening school buildings.
“It’s a lot better than sending them to school and being stressed about what’s going to happen there because you know, kids don’t social distance and kids don’t keep their hands to themselves especially in the elementary school. So, I prefer this with what’s going on,” Rebecca said.
Rebecca and Stephen both currently work from home. The most challenging part of the first day was managing Sebastien and George-Arthur's differing schedules.
“It’s easy when they say you’re on break but then I have to keep track of when they get back from break. So, I have like three new alarms set on my phone so I can remind them OK it’s time to go back to school,” Rebecca said. “It’s making sure we’re all where we’re supposed to be. I’ve turned into the hall monitor.”
Despite the time management challenge though, Rebecca said the virtual learning system seems much more organized than it was in the spring semester. She only wishes teachers had been given some more time to prepare and be trained on Schoology — the online learning platform being utilized by all FCPS teachers and classes this year.
She agreed with Frederick County Board of Education member Liz Barrett’s request to delay the start school year but wished the proposition had come up sooner.
“They had had so many school board meetings before the lead-up to this that it’s like why didn’t you speak up sooner?” Rebecca said.
Both her and Stephen hope a decision about next semester will come quickly because it will affect what they as a family decide to do. Rebecca said they are not yet comfortable with sending the boys back into buildings next semester.
“What we’re nervous about is that they will go back next semester...I don’t think the world would be ready for kids to be in big groups next semester,” she said. “If they give us the option to stay virtual, we will choose to stay virtual, if they don’t, we will seriously consider homeschool.”
Stephen, who is a big advocate for in-classroom learning agreed.
“As soon as I started hearing about what’s happening on college campuses and school campuses in the south, I had a change of heart,” he said. “Now we’re like we have to find a homeschool program because there is no way, even if they open up the school, that I'm letting them go in ... this is not a joke ... for us, it’s a safety issue.”
For now, though, Sebastien and George-Arthur will continue to be FCPS students and will log on every day along with 40,000 other children in the county.
Sebastien who has only had one-and-a-half semesters within the walls of Linganore High said he hopes he doesn’t have to lose out on too many of his high school years.
“I wanted to be in high school for my four years...with this there is no experience, no friends, no dances, and it just won’t be the same,” he said.
It’s less of an issue for George-Arthur, who admitted he easily gets distracted in class. But regardless, he had been looking forward to a happier time.
“I really don’t like this coronavirus,” he said. “I thought 2020 was going to be a good year.”