Reflections on Elementary School, from a Distance
This year, going back to school includes all the tumult and uncertainties particular to 2020. What does it feel like to return to the classroom — virtually or not — during a public health pandemic, amidst flaring racial injustice, deep economic hardship, and spreading wildfire? What does education become from the students’ perspective while adults struggle to adapt their work and parenting practices to meet safety protocols?
All of these questions are too big for one blog post. And so, over the past weeks, we have shared a series of reflections from Bay Area youth, ranging from ages 9 to 18:
- Melanie, an Oakland public school graduate;
- Kathya, a San Francisco senior; and
- Noah, a San Francisco eighth grader.
Each wrote from their own perspectives about how they are learning, what fears they hold, and how they are adapting. Throughout, their resilience is clear.
We now complete this series with an interview of Faith, a fourth grader in a South-East San Francisco elementary school. Faith was interviewed by Milo, a sixth grader that she knows through Radical Monarchs. Radical Monarchs is an activism program that creates opportunities for young girls of color to form fierce sisterhood, celebrate their identities, and contribute radically to their communities.
Milo: How is school going for you?
Faith: It’s good. I do have one of my friends in my class, and I’m very excited about that. But, it was kind of sad that I didn’t have my other friends in it. I’m also not sure what I missed learning last year. Since I was in online school for the end of third grade, there were things I didn’t learn — like about units, kinds of thousands, and things like that.
Right now, school feels different than before. Usually, I am sitting at tables, on my bed, or just somewhere — not at a desk. And then, because I’m at home, I can go get up and get snacks whenever I want.
Those are two things make school feel really different.
Milo: Is distance learning fun?
Faith: Kind of? If we were in school right now, we wouldn’t be able to see our classmate’s dog on Zoom. Zoom can be very cute.
Milo: How do you feel about logging into school every day?
Faith: My teacher is really fun so it’s very fun. I like reading a lot, and right now I get to use a reading app which I really enjoy. Sometimes, the app reads the book out loud to you, and then you read along on your own. You can get reading awards. And if you don’t know a word, you can point at the word and the app zooms in on it to help you read it.
Milo: Do you feel like you are learning as much as you can on Zoom?
Faith: Yes, because I am actually good at using computers. When I was in school in person, I could only use the school computers on certain days. I am better at using computers now, but I still can’t really type without looking at the keyboard.
Milo: If you were Principal of your school, or Superintendent of all the schools, what would do?
Faith: If I was the Superintendent of all the schools in San Francisco, I’d make it so people can see each other. I would let students schedule meetings where we all meet in person, and see multiple classmates.
As an adult, a parent, and an education funder, one thing these student voices remind me of is that schooling is constantly layered. It is an intensely individual experience — missing friends, finding the cute, the ways a school schedule orders your life — layered within a larger system.
In that way, this anomalous moment isn’t that different from other, more regular times.
I’m reminded of how schools are places where people come together and where we’re expected to connect. Movement through the halls, random interactions over lunch, the chats before class — all that is mostly missing in our distance learning model.
Young people know it and, as these blogs consistently show, it’s what they miss most: each other.