Virtual School: One Year Later


virtual schoolEarly on in our journey with virtual learning, whenever my daughter said she missed “regular school,” it broke my heart. Then, she stopped saying it. That somehow hurt more. I worried she had forgotten all the things that make school so exciting – friends, fun classroom traditions, hugs from the teacher. 

She was a kindergartner loving the routine of “big kid school” in the West Des Moines Community School District when COVID shut everything down last March. My husband and I made the choice to keep her online as she started first grade. The ability to continue seeing high-risk grandparents was a major factor. I feel fortunate we had a choice because I know many parents did not have this flexibility. With family close by and jobs that allowed for work-from-home, we thought we could “manage.” Little did any of us know how long we would have to keep it up. 

Now, watching her zoned into her Chromebook after a whole year without in-person contact with teachers or classmates, the mom guilt comes in heavy waves. Did we simply “manage” to ruin school for her forever?

Reflections after one year of virtual school

First and foremost, we absolutely could not have done this without help from family. I am sure that helping serve as homeschool teacher and regularly babysitting a two-year-old (our other daughter) were not things the grandparents envisioned spending a year of retirement doing. Never has “it takes a village” been more accurate.

The dynamic of being a parent or grandparent and trying to help teach a six-year-old is NOT easy. There were fights, tears, and frustrations for all of us. Some days we just had to throw up our hands and pledge to start anew tomorrow. 

I already knew teachers were dramatically underpaid and under-respected, but this solidified it. The amount of time and organization it took to convert an entire curriculum into an online format is staggering to think about. My daughter’s teacher (and teachers all around this state) deserve immense credit for fostering positive learning communities under the circumstances. 

Seeking out and connecting with other parents of students in my daughter’s class proved invaluable. We started a Facebook chat that stayed active the entire year. It became a support group for all of us.

Local Learning Resources

Learning PostSure, Amazon’s great and all, but have you ever been to the Learning Post in Urbandale? They have everything you could ever need to transform a little nook of your home into a makeshift classroom, plus provide all supplementals to the curriculum. It is a wonderful local store that became a frequent and necessary destination for us. 

The most incredible part about being a participant in an entire year of online education is seeing the milestones up close. First grade is a big year! We witnessed our daughter’s confidence grow each day, especially in reading and math.

But even as we celebrated those exciting milestones, we recognized that her interest in learning periodically waned. So much screen time impacted her attention span and focus. Her social and emotional skills were stunted without classmate interaction.

I keep hearing the expression that “kids are resilient.” I hope this is true. I recently read an article on this topic that discusses how children need some level of stress to build up tolerance because it helps them develop coping strategies to become resilient adults. But there is one key caveat: “The help of a supportive adult is critical in managing stress and thereby turning stress exposure into a resilience builder.” The article concludes: “Six decades of research indicate that a child’s resilience mostly depends on their connections to other people.”

When the world ground to a halt a year ago, we all began living in our own separate family bubbles filled with uncertainty and impossible decisions. But looking back now, a year later, I can see that it is support and connection that carried us through. Parents, grandparents, teachers and local community resources were all there to support my daughter so she could learn how to learn in a different way. We developed closer connections than ever before as a family. My daughter and her younger sister, despite a four-year age difference, became best friends. Both made lasting memories and deeper bonds with their grandparents. We all stayed safe and healthy.

So, as things start to feel like they are creeping back to normal, I have been trying to move past the self-doubt and second-guessing and mom guilt. We managed. And I think we managed to learn a lesson in resilience.

What are the biggest things you’ve learned during the pandemic?

Melissa and her husband of 10 years are parents to two girls, age six and two. She works full-time in communications/public relations in Des Moines and lives in Urbandale. Likely spurred by pandemic boredom, she recently decided to start a blog,, to write about mom stuff, beauty, fitness, cooking, home projects, and more. You can find her on Instagram at melissa.higgins.iowa.



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