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Learning at home a challenge for students and parents

Pippa Combs works on her lesson at home.

By Larry Stombaugh
For the Clemmons Courier

Like hundreds of West Forsyth seniors, Avery Browning never could have envisioned staring at a computer screen rather than at her teachers to learn the material being taught to her as a 12th-grader in the spring of her senior year. When Gov. Roy Cooper closed schools on March 15 due to the coronavirus pandemic, that became the new normal for students all across the state.

Browning considers herself to be a kinesthetic and auditory learner so learning through an online platform has been particularly challenging. “Being in a classroom and being able to do so many activities with my peers helps me learn,” she said. “In some of my classes such as early childhood education, we learn from experience most of the time. Since we won’t get to attend our internships for that class because of the virus, we won’t get the hands-on experience we need.”

A particular challenge for Browning has been accessing her classes while her younger siblings are also working on their classes online. This has resulted at times in slow internet connections or in a website shutting down.   

“Each class is different,” she noted, “and for some of my classes we have been doing work on the computer the entire year so it isn’t as bad. It is hard having to adjust to doing classwork online with the uncertainty of whether it will work when you log on.”

Despite the frustrations and challenges that Browning has faced as an online student, she has maintained an amazingly positive attitude. “I have been able to spend more time with my family,” she said, “and I have been able to do some things that I wasn’t able to do before because I was so busy. It is true that you don’t really appreciate something as much as you should until it goes away. I have told everyone to look on the bright side of life.”

Browning is a talented young lady who has performed in drama productions both at West Forsyth and in community theatre venues for many years. She is holding out hope that the musical “Brigadoon” will still take place this spring if school resumes. She and her drama peers have put in more than 100 hours to prepare for what would be her last appearance in a school production.

For Casey Blair Combs, the mother of two young children, the demands of helping them convert to learning online has been challenging as has been the case for the Browning household. Her oldest child Pippa is a second grader, and Parker, her youngest child, is in kindergarten. Both are students at Clemmons Elementary. “The biggest challenge for me with children at multiple grade levels is having to split my time between the two of them to give them the help they need,” she said.

“The teachers have done a phenomenal job in creating the online curriculum,” she commented. “It seems to be an appropriate workload, and they have been so supportive. The most difficult part is really the way the girls miss their teachers and being at school with their friends. Their teachers have left audio and video messages for them, and they watch them over and over again just to be able to see and hear their teachers. They really love being at school, and they have had to adjust to not being with some very important people in their lives. I have enjoyed working with my girls, and it makes me extra appreciate of the extra effort of their teachers to get them to this point.”   

Pippa’s second grade teacher is LaToyia Grant, and Parker’s kindergarten teachers are Karyn Williams and Kim Stombaugh. Like their students, the teachers are also dealing emotionally with not seeing their students in person, and they are trying to maintain a personal touch by sending video messages online and cards through the mail.    

Both of the Combs children offered some thoughtful comments about how their lives have changed with the conversion to virtual learning. “I like being at home because I enjoy spending time with my family,” Pippa said. “I don’t like how it is hard to do everything online, and I miss having my teacher and my friends there to learn with me.”

Parker had some similar thoughts. “I don’t like doing the reading at home, but I love having my Mom teach me,” she said. “I really miss my teachers and friends.”