"About 2 months into quarantine and distance learning, we began to see signs our 9 year old was developing issues related to social isolation from her peers. Initially this began as various small anxieties, but slowly over time became life-threatening. In early June we spoke to our pediatrician who told us the American Academy of Pediatrics was much more concerned about children’s mental health than the chances of them getting COVID, and recommended we try to have as much in-person, socially responsible contact with other kids as possible, including any type of in-person summer camps.
As time went on the anxieties began to keep her from leaving the house and made our child fearful of everything in life, including screens (which she decided were making her feel sick). In early August she stopped eating. This was a slow and undetectable process, and by mid-September she was completely starving herself, including refusing water. On a few occasions she very narrowly escaped being hospitalized. She has had to go on a very rigorous and strict re-feeding program that consumes most of her (and our) days. She is under the constant care of a pediatrician, dietician, and therapist, and has had to go on independent study in order to avoid screens for school. Getting her healthy has become a full-time job for our family and we are fortunate enough to have the financial resources to provide this type of care for her. I can’t even imagine if we were not in a position to help her in such an all-encompassing manner.
Prior to this experience, our daughter was the type of kid who lit up the room when she walked in. She was happy, confident, active, and deeply empathetic. On multiple occasions, teachers told us they specifically requested to have her in their class. She has always been popular with her peers because she has a positive attitude toward life and is truly friendly to all children. She was a competitive athlete who traveled both nationally and internationally for competition, and has been part of a team who won a world championship. She has always dealt with the intense stress and anxiety that comes along with type of dedication to a sport in a completely healthy manner.
I share this story to help illuminate the effects of social isolation on just one child in BUSD, though I am sure there are many more kids who have been suffering in other ways that are just as severe. Our pediatrician has said the best thing for our child is to be around other children and return to school in-person. We completely agree and are dismayed that BUSD and the BFT have taken a stance otherwise."
From a parent of one child at BAM and one child at King
"This is much worse than people realize. My kids are having a very hard time. They were kids who had good grades and now they have really bad grades. Especially my son, he is really going through it. He is in 7th grade and it's bad to the point that he has real anxiety and struggles. If he had in person classes, he would have more time with his teacher to ask questions. My son needs in person classroom time to be a good student and not have so much anxiety."
From a parent of two children at King and one child at BAM
"I'm a single mother of a BAM 4th grader and King 8th grader. At least once a week I am brought to tears by the sadness I feel when watching my kids interacting with the current distance model of education. It is truly heartbreaking. I hope you will consider my story, knowing that it is the same story of many many other parents.
My children are losing their love of learning. I have watched both of my children, both previously avid lovers of learning, lose motivation and engagement with distance learning. My children both always went the extra mile with their work and in school---volunteering to be more involved, take on special tasks and certainly ready to do any extra work for the fun (and reward of it). My youngest daughter in particular has basically lost interest in school and while always being one of the kids at the top of her class, is surely falling behind where she would otherwise be.
What happened to school being fun? I have seen class time turn into a punitive discussion of who has their camera on, whose work can be viewed clearly in google docs and general zoom meeting management. It's painful to listen to and I know even more detrimental and painful for the teachers and my children.
Kids are losing their basic right to socialize and be part of a peer community. In the few times that the kids have been broken out into smaller groups, the excitement and joy is palpable and almost always results in a verbatim report out from my youngest daughter. How long will we deny kids these basic needs? How will they be able to socially navigate returning to school if this continues? What is the impact on them outside of school?
Social skills are dwindling. My once chatty daughter who was always very outgoing in class, never contributes unless called upon and even then it it is in a whisper. Children cannot form the relationships and confidence to be active participants in a class community online. My oldest daughter, repeatedly recognized for her thoughtful ideas and contributions to class, no longer participates. One teacher said she has not said a word all year.
Arts and music have all but disappeared. Berkeley schools used to excel at bringing the arts to class and fostering a rich musical community. Art projects are now a thing of the past. Music is a lonely exercise in trying to play with another student (once a week) and only meeting as a group once a week to discuss music (not play), down from 4 days a week. I am seeing the musician in my daughter silenced.
Of course, teachers are suffering too in distance learning. They seem understandably frazzled and the amount of time they get with the kids is so minimal---would they even recognize my kids at the return of school? In recent parent conferences, the only feedback I received about my child was whether they turned on their camera. By this time in the year teachers should have had the opportunity to get to know their kids.
I fear I may lose my job. Juggling to try to help two kids in school with the inevitable technological glitches, while trying to fill the enormous gap in teaching that my children are not receiving, means that my work takes the back seat. I am falling behind on deliverables and cannot afford a tutor or extra help. The stress of having two kids in school while working is incredible and is wearing on my health and my parenting capacity as well as threatening our livelihood.
I have too much on my plate to continue to write about the myriad ways distance learning is negatively impacting my family. But I can tell you that both of my kids dream of returning to school and mention how they long for it each week. My youngest daughter told me if she could have one thing it would be to go back to school."
From a parent of one child at BAM and one child at King
There is not a day that goes by where my sons don't ask when school will begin. They are bored and dispirited by Zoom school. Most terrifyingly, they spend the extra hours every day, "playing" with their friends in the only way open to them: Fornight, Madden, Insagram and an endless loop of YouTube videos. While adults are "managing" the COVID crisis, our children's brains are literally being hard wired to addictive digital games and devices whose purpose is NOT to educate or enlighten, but instead generate revenue from our beloved children's eyeballs. While we're fretting over the public health crisis before us, the lack of leadership and urgency in getting kids off screens is creating a child welfare crisis that may last for our children's lifetimes. Looking at this from a consumer tech perspective, we've created the perfect ecosystem to lock in the 5 to 18 demographic as habitual digital consumers whose every action and engagement can be monetized.
"I have two young children in elementary school and online learning is far from adequate. My very bright 2nd grader is completely bored by the online lessons and relies on a parent to teach him and stretch his development. My kindergartner is learning a lot, but also requires a parent to assist, ask questions, negotiate technology. This puts an overwhelming burden on our family, with two working parents, and it also disrupts the family dynamic. For families who are unable to negotiate flexible work schedules, this home schooling would be a year lost. I find this long-term closure to be a failure on the part of BUSD to prioritize kids' well-being, particularly the youngest kids for whom virtual lessons have limited value. I'm also dismayed by the obvious gaps in how students are progressing this year and the lack of equity and even a lack of will to insist that public school students are given equal opportunities to be successful, as their private school counterparts. BUSD had 8 months to actualize an opening plan that was ready on Day 1 of being given the "go ahead" by county health officials. It's shameful that BUSD students are still at home during this time, while other sectors of the economy have loosened restrictions. Kids shouldn't bear the disproportionate burden of this pandemic, and yet, in Berkeley, their interests seem to be on the backburner. Schools should open, restaurants and gyms should close."
From a parent of two children at Washington
"The continued closure of BUSD schools despite the current Public Health order stating BUSD schools could have already re-opened for my child has been completely devastating for our family. I am a full-time parent working in a local hospital every day for our community without the privilege of even working from home or having a reduced schedule. I am here, showing up to do my essential job, which has certainly been scary, especially in the early days before we had this much data, even though schools have not been doing essential jobs in a way that benefits anyone. My two young BUSD elementary school students are struggling with the lack of connection to and complete boredom from this pathetic thing we are calling “distance learning.” My younger student begs to not have to do a zoom, literally cries when we make him watch zoom classes. And he used to love school and learning! The main thing my children are learning that school really stinks. Since mid-March, I am struggling with distance parenting while here doing intense work at the hospital. Are my young children able to find the zoom link at the right time? Does my young student know how to plug in the computer charger when his device runs out of battery? Is my student focused and organized to take her math exam? Is my student crying again about the lack of hope that schools are ever going to open? My students’ father is fortunate enough to be able to work from home, but he also has mandatory meetings, etc., is struggling to do his own public job while navigating the equivalent of corporate jobs for our young children. My children are isolated. My children are not learning. My children have decreased confidence about learning because this model is not working. My children are not learning social emotional skills. I lie awake at night worrying about the certain detrimental effects on our family and our whole community. It’s scary, and so sad.
Like children of many essential workers, the day BUSD’s summer break started, was a glorious day. Why? Because the City of Berkeley opened camps. My kids had safety, structure, routine, social interaction, physical activity, and supervision. They (and us parents) THRIVED during this pandemic. And I could do my job more effectively. But then, sadly, summer camps ended because schools were back in session and here we are, back in the misery of distance learning and distance parenting.
I would like to see specific plans for how we are going to get our students back to school ASAP. It is very unrealistic to think our schools will get back to operating at a pre-covid basis anytime soon, for probably years. What is the plan to maximize outdoor space? What are the specific criteria to get teachers back in schools and are we there yet? Can we hold the Union accountable to realistic criteria? Can we stop with the moving targets and open our schools if the Health Order allows? Are we shifting classified employee roles to support current school conditions? What is the plan? Schools are essential! Like many families, we will need to start examining other school options if BUSD doesn’t get our students back in school by January at the latest."
From a parent of two children at BAM
fretting over the public health crisis before us, the lack of leadership and urgency in getting kids off screens is creating a child welfare crisis that may last for our children's lifetimes. Looking at this from a consumer tech perspective, we've created the perfect ecosystem to lock in the 5 to 18 demographic as habitual digital consumers whose every action and engagement can be monetized.
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