Martha Villatoro was excited to enroll her 4-year-old daughter, Abigail, in school “to interact with other kids, since she’s an only child,” but this was cut short when the Los Angeles Unified School District closed down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The adjustment was tough for Abigail,” Villatoro, 34, said in Spanish. The little girl went from a bustling class full of children and teachers to being home along with her mother, learning through a digital device.

Abigail is one of more than 670,000 students in the nation’s second-largest school system who will be taught online when the new school year starts in August, after LAUSD announced there won’t be in-person instruction.

Villatoro was told her daughter’s school would provide them a tablet in time to start pre-kindergarten classes via Zoom, a video conference software, on Aug. 19. But Villatoro still “doesn’t feel 100 percent ready” for the new semester.

As school districts nationwide reconsider their reopening plans for the upcoming school year, a survey from the polling firm Latino Decisions conducted on behalf of Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors, a parent-led educational organization, found that Latino families “are apprehensive about the prospect of distance learning,” mainly due to concerns over internet access and children falling behind educationally while families grapple with the health and financial consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We know, as educators and advocates, that in-person instruction is the best way to deliver high-quality education,” said Stephanie Parra, executive director of All in Education, an Arizona-based advocacy group. “Unfortunately, right now it’s not the safest way.”

Robert Fernandez, 36, has three children in schools around Sylmar, California: Samantha, 14, who’s starting high school; Derek, 11, who’s in elementary school; and Roxanne, 5, who’s starting kindergarten.

Although Fernandez believes their home has good enough internet and technology equipment to do distance learning, he said connectivity can still be a challenge when all the children are using the internet while their mother also works from home.

A third of Latino families nationwide don’t have regular internet access at home. Among those who have internet, 37 percent said they can only access it through a cell phone, which is not ideal for home schooling, Latino Decisions found.

“If you’re getting choppy video, if you’re getting choppy reception, if your teacher is kind of cutting in and out due to the quality of your computer or internet speed, those are little things that can hinder their ability to grasp new concepts,” Fernandez said.

His children “were very disappointed” after learning their classes were going “completely online five days a week,” he said. “We’re basically talking about a full year worth of school that these students have had to learn online. That’s a long time, a lot of self-teaching instead of being taught.”

“My biggest fear is for my daughter that’s going to high school. We all know high school is a very crucial point in anybody’s life; it kind of develops who you are, and I think we’re robbing her and a lot of other students and children from that,” Fernandez said. He’s also afraid his youngest daughter won’t have a good “foundation for the rest of her academic career.”

Fears of falling behind

The Latino Decisions survey found that 83 percent of primary caregivers are concerned that their children aren’t learning enough from online schooling and will fall behind.

The Fernandez siblings had a test ride with online classes earlier this year as schools tried to finish off their spring semesters remotely.

“At first, they felt it was kind of cool, like a mini-vacation,” Fernandez said. “But my two oldest then felt like they weren’t getting anything out of learning on their own with little access to tutoring.”

Latino Decisions found that 74 percent of Latino parents said they would like to have more access to one-on-one tutoring for their children, and 76 percent said they want more time with teachers — whether in-person, online or over the phone. This was especially important for immigrant families who speak primarily Spanish at home, according to the survey.

Source : NBC News


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