Yale Daily News Magazine | November 2020

Page 4

FEATURE

Kindergarten Online

The pandemic’s toll on New Haven’s youngest learners BY OWEN TUCKER-SMITH

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ometimes, when it’s time to gear up for another day of school, Vicki Parsons Grubaugh finds her 5-year-old daughter Sophie huddled beneath the dining room table. Often, Sophie is screaming so loudly that Vicki has to take her daughter out to the back porch until she calms down. In these moments, Sophie isn’t afraid of monsters, or the dark, or any of the typical terrors children hide from. She hides from school. “The computer is so hard for her,” Vicki said of her daughter. “She’s screaming, ‘I hate school. I hate computer school.’ And that’s from a child who’s smart, and a traditional learner. And that’s heartbreaking. This isn’t working for her.” Sophie is social, energetic and extroverted, Vicki told me over the phone, and she builds deep bonds with her teachers. Like many kindergarten-aged children, she loves being around other kids, so nowadays, as she isolates at home away from most of her peers, she reminisces to her parents about her preschool days. Sophie, enrolled at Worthington Hooker School, is one of around 1,500 kindergarten students in New Haven Public Schools. In August, the district voted to delay in-person learning for at least 10 weeks. As November approached, families prepared for a hopeful Nov. 9 opening. But after a series of

4 | November 2020

contentious Board of Education meetings and a spike of COVID-19 cases in the city, the district announced on Oct. 29 that kids like Sophie would have to stick with “computer school” for the time being. In the middle of a pandemic, school has been radically disrupted for all students. But for a kindergartener, Vicki said, the struggle is compounded. “[One of] the most important things you learn in kindergarten [is] social-emotional development — laying that groundwork for a love of learning and for school,” she said. “That whole second piece is missing on the computer.” Of course, these difficulties are magnified for families facing financial uncertainty. Director of Education Services at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services Dennis Wilson said at a New Haven Public Schools board meeting that many immigrant and refugee families are dealing with “the trauma of dislocation.” Wilson said that among the families his nonprofit serves, there is a middle school student who takes classes in a car due to the lack of quiet in his family’s apartment and there are older siblings who have to juggle school on top of caring for their siblings. Virtual school therefore

falls particularly short for refugee and immigrant students who are learning English, he said. “For many English language learners who thrive off their personal relationships with teachers and classmates, there is no replacement for in person learning,” Wilson said. In New Haven, some families are facing an especially brutal experience handling virtual school. But even households like the Parsons Grubaughs with two active parents and job security are in a state of chaos. “CHILD CARE IS INTERACTION”: PANDEMIC DAY CARE Earlier this fall, the Parsons Grubaughs attempted a pandemic day care setup for their children — Sophie and 2-year-old Phillip. Vicki, a licensed clinical social worker, has been cram-


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