Education News

Some Houston Kids Call Online School ‘Long and Boring.’ Here’s Why They’re Sticking With It

In just over a week, the Houston Independent School District will resume face-to-face instruction. But more than half of its 200,000 students plan to stay home and continue learning remotely.

Lily and Piper Jordan wear masks and sit on their front porch. They've spent the last five weeks doing virtual school at home.
Lily and Piper Jordan say it’s been easier to get on each other’s nerves while they stay at home for virtual school. But they say they’re glad to have each other during the pandemic.

It may sound kind of weird, but the thing Piper Jordan was looking forward to most in middle school was the chaos.

“I really, like, imagined a bunch of people crowded up in the hallways trying to get to classes,” she said.

Piper’s 11 years old and just started sixth grade at Hogg Middle School.

“In elementary school, you only have two or three classes a day,” she said. “And there’s not much of you being able to have as many teachers, so not as many like friends in your classes.”

Making new friends was something her older sister Lily also wanted. She's 14 years old and just started her freshman year at Heights High School. She heard about fun events like spirit week.

Everyone is involved, not just a few people like in middle school because they were embarrassed,” Lily said.

COVID-19 put all of that on hold — the busy hallways, new friends and traditional high school milestones. Instead, the two sisters have spent the last five weeks at home, learning virtually.

“Every time I think about it, I’m just like, ‘Ugh, another week,'” said Lily. “I mean, we bought these glasses so that the computers don’t mess up our vision.”

Her sister Piper joined in as they chatted on their front porch, wearing masks.

I describe online school as long and very boring, because you’re just sitting in front of a screen like basically all day looking at the same things, at the same app or link or whatever your teachers had you go to,” she said.

Both miss their friends. When there's a break, Piper will FaceTime with her best friend, and Lily finds herself picking up her phone a lot

“I’m looking for someone to text me or some sort of notification from my friends,” Lily said. “But if you were in school…you’d be talking to them.”

Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan gets her temperature screened on her forehead before entering a school facility.
Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan gets her temperature checked before entering a virtual learning center on the first day of school. HISD has remained virtual since Sept. 8, but has opened virtual learning centers for children who don’t have access to technology.

In just over a week, the Houston Independent School District will resume face-to-face instruction. But more than half of its 200,000 students plan to stay home and continue learning remotely, according to the district’s survey results.

Jennifer Hamad is one of them. She's a high school senior and speaker of the HISD Student Congress.

“I think it's actually been better than expected,” Hamad said. “I’m very, very lucky to have really, really awesome teachers, they’ve made it a wonderful experience.”

Hamad said until there's a vaccine, she doesn't feel comfortable going back to the classroom — though she understands the desire to be back together.

“Students, we’re social animals. You’re young, you want to be out and talk to your friends and, you know, be together in person,” she said. “But, you know, as much as students might say, ‘Oh, school’s boring,’ because of virtual learning, well, they’re not going to get that alternative, even if they’re doing it in person, either.”

Hamad said she sees a misconception about what students who do go back will experience.

“It’s going to be, you know, you basically being either babysat or monitored by your teacher. It’s not really going to be that interactive in-person atmosphere,” she said.

Many Houston parents felt they didn't have enough information to make a decision about in-person learning. That's why LaTasha King-Crump is keeping her two daughters at home.

Her family may reconsider after they see how face-to-face instruction plays out for the next six weeks.

I just felt more comfortable if they already have reopened, they already came up with a plan and it was communicated before we had to do all that,” she said. “That would have been a lot better for parents.”

King-Crump said she’s found online school works better for some students than others. Younger kids, she said, have struggled with the social distance. But her older daughter, who’s in eighth grade, is making better grades in online classes, since she doesn’t have the typical middle school distractions.

Elementary school age boy wears a mask and logs onto his online class on a laptop.
HISD will resume face-to-face instruction for families who don’t opt out starting Oct. 19.

The two Jordan sisters have also signed up for more remote learning. Piper, the sixth grader, said she was convinced virtual was better after talking with her best friend about the changes to learning in person.

“At the beginning of the day, you walk in, they take your temperature, you’re in a big long line with a bunch of other kids. You can’t talk to anyone the whole day, you have desks six feet apart. You’re basically still going to be staring at a computer the whole day, they may change your teachers,” she explained.

“It’s basically going to be like a prison,” she said.

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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