St. Johns County students, parents navigate new challenges of virtual learning

St. Johns County students started remote learning this week

Jiselle Hill, a second-grade student at Timberlin Creek Elementary School in St. Johns County, works on school work in her bedroom.
Jiselle Hill, a second-grade student at Timberlin Creek Elementary School in St. Johns County, works on school work in her bedroom. (News4Jax)

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Tuesday started like any other normal school day for Jiselle Hill.

Hill, a second-grade student at Timberlin Creek Elementary School in St. Johns County, ate breakfast around 9 a.m. and then got dressed for school. But instead of walking to her bus stop not far from County Road 210, she made the short walk to her bedside desk to log onto her computer.

“It’s kind of fun and kind of weird,” she said Tuesday. “Weird because I’m just working on a computer, fun because my mom is my new teacher.”

Hill is one of more than 44,000 students in St. Johns County who started virtual learning this week in the midst of a growing COVID-19 pandemic.

After campuses around the state closed their doors, school districts scrambled to figure out how to ensure students could continue their educations from home. As expected, there were growing pains in St. Johns County on the first day of the new virtual school year.

The online learning system, Schoology, experienced wide-spread technical issues when students flooded the system Monday. Some students were still having issues submitting work on Tuesday.

Brennan Asplen, Deputy Superintendent for Academic and Student Services, told News4Jax on Tuesday that the national website vendor, PowerSchool, worked to fix the issues and things were better on Tuesday.

“This week we’re just trying to move to this entirely new environment for everybody,” Asplen said. “And we just want people to get comfortable with it, be able to get logged in, be engaged. So by the end of the week, you know, we’ll see it as a huge success if we have everybody here to be on the different platforms that we have, and engaged in the schoolwork.”

Asplen is asking students and parents to be patient and reach out to teachers with any questions or issues.

Outside of system errors, many parents face the additional challenge of trying to keep their children on task while also working from home themselves.

Jessica Hill, Jiselle’s mother, has to balance her finance job, which has also gone remote, while keeping an eye on her daughter’s schoolwork. Meanwhile, her husband Jason also helps out while they both try to keep track of their energetic 1-year-old.

“It’s hard for me to not be constantly over her shoulder, making sure to do the right thing,” Jessica Hill said. “This is her first time on the website, this is my first time on the website, Jason’s first time, so it’s trial and error. So I sit her down at the computer, I tell her this is what you’re going to do and then I walk away because I have work to do, and by the time I come back, she’s done, but I’m not sure if she’s understood the whole assignment.”

Jessica Hill said her daughter’s teacher has been available and checking in when possible and they have two standing parent-teacher check-ins each week.

After the school district announced schools will be close for at least another month, through May 1, Hill said she’s preparing for virtual learning to continue for the rest of the school year. Asplen said the district is also preparing for that possibility as the number of COVID-19 cases in the state keep going up with no sign of slowing down.

Jiselle Hill hopes she can return to campus before the school year ends May 27.

“I think it’s boring,” she said of homeschooling. “I miss my friends.”

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