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Why Some KPS Families Are Sticking With Virtual School

A woman reaches into the frame to pick up notebooks, drawings, and a bag of pencils, which are scattered on a coffee table
Shafkat Anowar
AP Photo

Sarah Davis of Kalamazoo has three children in the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Sitting at her kitchen table, she recalls learning the district would let families decide whether to bring their kids back to the classroom or continue with virtual school.

“And then I just kind of brought it to the kids," she said, "Like, ‘knowing that you will need to like have a mask on the entire time you are at school, knowing that maybe you’d be socially distanced, what do you wanna do?’”

Her 12-year-old Emerson wanted to go back. He’s going into sixth grade at Linden Grove. He’s old enough to be vaccinated and he’s willing to wear a mask.

“It’s not just that I miss my friends, it’s I miss having materials to play with and help me learn instead of just a computer and a worksheet,” he said.

But Emerson’s younger sisters, Maggie and Sofia, are opting to stay home. They are two of more than five hundred KPS students – about four percent of the total – who plan to keep learning virtually, at least for this fall.

Parents’ reasons for keeping their children home vary. For some it’s about safety. Even with masks, they're not ready to send their kids back, especially as the Delta variant surges. Others are keeping their children home because they’re thriving in virtual school. And for some families, it’s both.

“His overall learning improved at home”

For parent Angela Gross, safety was the main concern. She says her family has gotten through the pandemic without contracting the virus, and she wants to do everything in her power to keep it that way. But her 11-year-old child will not be eligible to get the vaccine by the start of the semester.

“He won’t be 12 until the end of December,” Gross explained. “Because KPS offered options and flexibility we just decided to keep him home until he can get vaccinated.”

Parent Ameythist Hagenbuch said she does plan to send her nine-year-old son Nikola back to school if the Food and Drug Administration allows the shot for younger children. But she added she’s also seen great improvements in his reading during virtual learning.

“I would definitely say that his grades and his overall learning improved at home,” Hagenbuch said.

She said schooling at home was a lot more streamlined than in-person class. In a normal day Nikola would wake up around nine in the morning and finish his work by one in the afternoon. Hagenbuch said Nikola was able to get through the content more quickly without all the breaks that would happen at in-person school.

“We finished up about two weeks early before Christmas, so we actually had all of December off, and then we finished the end of the year early too, so we could go on vacation,” she said.

Sarah Davis said she had a couple of reasons for keeping her younger children, Maggie and Sofia at home.

“I have one kid” – that’s Maggie – “Who’s just like, ‘I’m not wearing masks. If I have to go back and wear a mask the entire day I’m not doing it,’” she said.

Davis added that the structure of virtual school works well for her daughters. She said they enjoy the extra playtime it gives them. Maggie has ADHD, and Davis said she struggles with a sit-down setting.

Davis said she also finds herself teaching a little. She recalls one occasion with her son Emerson.

“We were reading a social studies lesson, and he was like, "'Mom, you actually aren’t reading the lesson right now, you’re ad-libbing, you’re adding your own information.’ And I was like ‘well, yeah, you need more information than this.’”

Looking forward

KPS Superintendent Rita Raichoudhuri said the district wanted to accommodate families who wanted to keep their kids at home.

“We’re not post-pandemic yet, so we knew a lot of families, especially for our younger learners who don’t even have the option of being vaccinated that it was important for them to feel safe,” she told WMUK.

Raichoudhuri added the district recognizes remote learning has worked well for some children’s learning styles. She said 15 to 20 percent of students saw their grades rise in virtual school.

“For some students, that was the preferred method of learning. They took on more leadership skills, they learned how to self-advocate, they were able to go at their own pace,” she said.

Beyond the pandemic’s end, whenever it may be, the district says it will continue to allow students to learn from home through what it is now calling the KPS Virtual School.

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