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As districts go full-remote, local parents face countless obstacles

  • Bernie Raymer, 8, Bridget Raymer, 7, and Isaac Brooks, 4, of Greenville use their mother's wireless hotspot in her car to do remote learning. Courtesy photo

  • Neighbors Evie Stroh and Abby Nimblett of Greenville remote learn together at Stroh's apartment. Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/25/2020 4:18:41 PM

Beverly Nicolo-Stroh’s Greenville apartment isn’t the most ideal environment for her daughter’s remote learning classroom. 

A nearby construction project provides a daily soundtrack of heavy machinery as Nicolo-Stroh’s daughter, 7-year-old Evie Stroh, and their neighbor, 8-year-old Abby Nimblett attend their Highbridge Hill Elementary School classes virtually, which they’ve done ever since Mascenic went to a full-remote model following a series of COVID-19 exposures in the school community. 

Nicolo-Stroh and her family will be away from the noise soon, as they’re planning a move to their newly constructed house, a dream come true for the family. But despite the fact that their new home is just a telephone pole away from Greenville’s town border with Mason – where rural high-speed broadband upgrades are underway – they can’t get access to internet with sufficient speeds for remote learning. 

“We’ve toiled over it. But staying where we are isn’t an option,” Nicolo-Stroh said. “If we don’t have internet, the result is I’m her teacher. But I will do whatever I have to do.”

It’s one of the many everyday problems that now face parents who have to find ways for their children to access school in an all-remote environment, after rising COVID-19 cases in the communities and within the schools themselves forced both Mascenic and Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative to a fully remote model through the start of January at least.

There have been several reported COVID-19 “clusters” – three or more positive cases within a group – in New Hampshire schools, but so far, no major outbreaks. The Mascenic School District has had multiple people within the district test positive for the virus, but no major spreading. The district was initially forced to shut down Highbridge Hill Elementary School due to the number of staff who had to enter quarantine after having close contact with a staff member who tested positive, leaving the building without enough teachers and staff to keep it running.

Governor Chris Sununu and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut have both encouraged schools to maintain in-person learning if at all possible, as several schools in the state have shut down for the holiday season. Sununu has praised the state’s schools for low transmission rates and precautionary measures which have prevented any large-scale transmission.

Mascenic, in fact, had voted to increase in-person learning, moving from two days a week to four. But that only lasted a single day for Highbridge Hill Elementary before lack of staff had them in a remote model, and only a few days longer for the rest of the district before the School Board voted to close the buildings.

“I was so happy to be able to go four days,” said Evie Stroh. “I wanted to see people in person.” She said she cried when she learned about the shutdown, only one day into the new schedule.

Nicolo-Stroh said she doesn’t disagree with the district’s decision to shut down. She knows the impact COVID-19 can have – her mother died of the virus in May. However, she said, after spending hours on the phone with internet providers, attempting to discern what internet access she’ll have at her new home – if any at all – and whether it will be sufficient for at-home learning, and waffling over whether and how to acquire a cellular service hotspot, she’s frustrated.

Nicolo-Stroh was initially told she might not have any access to the internet at all at her new home, sending her into a scramble to find out what other options she might have available. She has since learned that her address will be able to connect to up to 3 Mbps of internet speed starting Dec. 3. But even with a 3 Mbps connection based on her own research, that’s only sufficient to reliably run one streaming meeting at a time.

There is currently broadband infrastructure under construction in her area, which Nicolo-Stroh may be able to access in the future, but at the soonest, that work won’t be completed for weeks, and even then, it’s not certain whether she’ll be able to hook up to it. In the meantime, she said, she’s left searching for solutions with no clear answers.

Cassandra Nimblett of Greenville, whose daughter Abby remote learns at Nicolo-Stroh’s apartment several times a week, said her daughter had been thrilled to return to school four days a week, and it was a relief for her, as each day finding a place for her to do her learning is a struggle. Nimblett, a single mother, and her daughter’s father work separate shifts, and at the start of the year, it was a struggle to get her from one learning environment to another, bouncing between her mother’s home and her father’s with the help of grandparents. Nicolo-Stroh allowing Abby to remote learn at her apartment solved some of those problems, but not all, Nimblett said.

Those difficulties have only compounded the issues Abby has innately with learning remotely – which has come with its own complications.

“I feel bad, because it’s just harder for her to learn in remote learning. The difference between her report cards last year and this year, it’s just such a drastic change. Her teachers say she’s almost there, she just needs one little ‘oomph,’ but it’s hard because they’re not there in person to help her,” Nimblett said.

Nimblett said her daughter loves her teacher, and they’re doing the best they can to assist her in remote learning, but it’s just not the ideal way for her daughter to get new concepts.

“She tells me, ‘Mom, I’m trying.’ And I know she is,” Nimblett said.

Nicolo-Stroh said it’s a new reality for both parents and students.

“She doesn’t know how to look at me like a teacher,” Nicolo-Stroh said, of her daughter.

Brittney Christiansen of Greenville said finding a place for her children to learn while she’s at work is also her daily struggle. Sometimes they’re with their father. And sometimes the solution is that her two Highbridge Hill Elementary schoolers are using her car’s wireless hotspot to get their school work done while she’s driving or at work as a nurse.

“When they were hybrid, I thought, ‘We can do this, it’s only a few days,’ but now that it’s not, it’s a struggle,” Christiansen said. “Every single day is a different story. It’s just straight chaos.”

Like Nimblett, Christiansen said she’s seen her children struggle with learning remotely. While her third grade son seems to enjoy the technological side of learning, her second-grade daughter is a tactile learner and doesn’t get as much out of the experience.

“My second-grader is falling very far behind. And that’s OK. I tell her that’s OK. But she’s getting more and more frustrated and shutting down. Even if she gets by, she’s going to feel the effects of this for years to come. I worry that she might just always be a little behind.”

Christiansen said the only way for parents to get through the next few weeks is to exercise patience with themselves and their children, work with teachers, and realize, “We’re all in this together.”


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