On Monday, millions of students across the nation went back to school from spring break, but they didn’t go back to campus.
Rio Grande Valley children were no different, with students and teachers making the sudden transition to entirely online classrooms over spring break, aided by video chat, Google Docs and a variety of other technological innovations that make a fully online curriculum a possibility.
At McAllen ISD, over 22,000 students went to school online Monday. Ruvi Rodriguez’s four children — who are in grades fifth, seven, ninth and 11th — were among those students.
Monday afternoon, the Rodriguezes were finishing their first day of school from home, working on quizzes, video chatting with teachers and classmates. A dining table in their home had been turned into a makeshift desk, scattered with notebooks and papers and a mix of personal computers and devices supplied by the district. One of the siblings is in the living room, doing math problems on a smart TV.
“They’ve had their Chromebooks and iPads for a couple of years, so that helps them out,” Ruvi said. “I never really thought of using it for that. She was a little frustrated with the connectivity of the Chromebook, so we tried it out and it worked.”
Ruvi and her husband both work as nurses, and the kids were on their own for most of the day. The Rodriguez kids had pancakes for breakfast. The family dog, Pepper, is kenneled in the kitchen. The Rodriguezes will be exercising in the living room or going for a run for physical education. The rest of the instruction isn’t too much different, only it’s happening in their living room and they’re barefoot.
The Rodriguezes, and most other students in the Valley, will be going to class this way for the next two weeks, and potentially longer.
“I get out at two, which is good, but pretty much they’re on their own,” Ruvi said. “This is the first day. I still have to ask them how it’s going, but they FaceTimed me around their lunchtime and they seemed to be doing fine.”
Despite that, Ruvi said she’s tried to instill some sense of normalcy to the instruction.
“I still texted them before 8 o’clock and told them, ‘Make sure you guys are all up and ready to go.’ It’s a classroom, and I don’t want them to just be laying around,” she said. “That’s why we set this up as opposed to them just being in their rooms.”
The largest issue has been internet trouble. The Rodriguezs live in rural Edinburg and sometimes the WiFi isn’t strong enough to be effective, especially with all four of the kids using it at the same time.
“We’ve relied on their phone data for them to do homework, even before all this happened,” Ruvi said. “Now if the WiFi is low, we connect to the hotspot so they can do their stuff, but it’s still kind of slow, so that’s my concern.”
Ruvi said she’s considered going to one of McAllen’s publicly accessible hotspots, but she’s afraid that they’ll run into the same problem there.
“But I don’t know if people are using those, I don’t know if they’re going to be busy, too,” she said.
Ruvi says on the whole, the kids are adapting to the change easier than she is.
“They’re not intimidated by it, which is good,” she said. “They know more than us, I have to ask them how to do stuff. They’re tech savvy. They’re ready.”
Tyler Rodriguez, a junior, says she prefers going to school online.
“I actually like it better than going to actual school,” she said. “I’m not in a rush to get my siblings to school, and I can just wake up and my class is right there.”
Tyler is in English class Monday afternoon, working on an assignment that was originally supposed to be a group discussion. Now it’s a Google Doc where every student in the class adds their thoughts to the document.
Tyler said she doesn’t miss much about actually going to campus, except the social aspect.
“I miss my friends, but I get to see them online,” she said.
Joseph, the fifth grader, is afraid he’ll forget something and is less optimistic about staying away from campus.
“I feel like I’ll learn less,” he said.
Ruvi laughs. She says she’s a little uncertain about their homemade school too, but for now it’s the only option.
“They’re winging it,” she said. “We all are.”