'It's a little weird': River Valley students adjust to virtual learning at home

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THREE OAKS, Mich. - This week on The Learning Curve our team went up to Three Oaks, Michigan to see how River Valley’s virtual schooling works.

On Tuesday you heard from teachers and administration about the district’s live streaming option. And Thursday our team spoke to students behind the camera about how they feel about it all.

River Valley School District has 576 students, just under 20% have opted to go virtual. For some students, we spoke to the only reason they did online school was because of the live stream option.

For River Valley’s online students, each day starts as it normally would.

“I kind of just wake up, kind of wake myself up, you know, maybe get dressed," Elizabeth Lumley, a 10th-grade virtual student said.

But after waking up, it's a different story.

“Go downstairs and just do class," she said. “I go downstairs, away from my bed because I like to separate where I sleep and where I'd have school. So I don't fall asleep doing school. I just go through hour by hour, I take my breaks when I can.”

“When I get up, I come in here, start my laptop, get into my first classes. And then I go get breakfast and wait for it to start," Audrey Hirdning said.

For 6th-grader Hirdning, the situation isn’t always seamless.

“It's online and at home. That's a little weird cuz you can only see the teachers and not your classmates," " she said. "It's kind of hard because, like, sometimes the teacher forgets the online students are there.”

Especially when it comes to an internet connection.

“And I'm just sitting there like, like even the reload button. Like, come on to get in a class. Let's go," she said.

And this last spring, wasn’t much better for Audrey.

“I didn’t like last spring because like they just send me videos. And I have to like, watch them. Like yeah, I had a question. And then I was like, but I can't ask the teacher because she's in the video," she said.

Other students saying they have seen an improvement over the last school year.

“I think it's better than you know last March, I definitely feel like I was kind of confused. I didn't really know what was going on," Lumley said.

“Back in the spring, obviously, we didn't have a lot of time to plan," Patrick Breen, the Middle/High School Principal said. "Just the lack of structure, and lack of rhythm for any educational setting. We really wanted to fix that. So the planning there was, we wanted any virtual option that we provided to, to give very much of a River Valley experience as possible. And the big thing with that is to not have teachers be overwhelmed and have it not be sustainable.”

That’s when school officials installed live stream cameras, so teachers can teach their kids both in-person and virtually at the same time.

“We figured why not just throw a camera in the classroom and give structure to the virtual students," Breen said. "It allows us to give a guaranteed curriculum allow us to keep them on track.” 

“Once I found out that there was an online program. I knew that's what we were doing," Autumn Cox, Audrey's mom said. "I just feel that it just made a really big difference. Like I feel like she succeeds more because it's someone that she kind of knows and that she's met because we've talked to them for."

“I think it's really cool because like you can share your screen and you can see all other people you can share. You can unmute your mic and talk to them. Yeah, it's kind of like when the teacher flicks you in groups just online," Hirdning said.

“I really like it. Because, you know, I'm still getting the same experiences that I would if I weren't in school, I'm still having the same teachers, you know, having, you know, my friends, students," Lumley said. "I like it a lot more than having a teacher that I didn't know or no classmates that I could talk to you.” “they, some of my teachers, they like to follow up after the classes, making sure I understand the material and then I'm prepared for tests or quizzes that I might have the next day. You know, they like to make sure that we're keeping up with the people in the class.”

But is the education the same for those doing virtual instead of in-person learning?

"100%. I Do," Lumley said.

“Well, we, that's the challenge. So we do the best that we can. By constantly checking up on them, as far as so they have, they can talk to us, and we can talk to them. They can chat it up through chat methods. So if they have questions during class, we can answer them," Shawn Gedert, a High School Math Teacher said.

"Yeah, I think naturally, it's your natural tendency will be to the person that's right in front of you in the desk. I mean, that's going to be a given when you're teaching in the classroom when the student raises their hand, you're going to see that you're going to interact with that student. However, you know, even as I've popped into classrooms, it's really, really interesting to see how real-time that interaction is with the, with the virtual students," Breen said.

"I think it's as close as it can get. I don't think there's a substitute for being in a classroom. I think you missed that interaction. I think there's a little dynamics that happened that you know if you're at home that you miss, but it's a heck of a lot better than having a virtual teacher that you've never met," Scott Bojnich, River Valley Schools Superintendent said.

And although things are different this school year some students say they’re still getting a good experience.

“You know, it's been different. Obviously, I'm at home. And there are people here, but it's also been the same. I've been learning the same, you know, still doing well, thank god. And, you know, I still talk to my friends every day like I would at school. Sometimes we have conversations through, you know, online. It's been the same, but you know, a little different," Lumley said.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your school district, reach out to us! Email learningcurve@abc57.com and we will get right back to you!

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