It's about 7:15 a.m. on a Wednesday and 8-year-old Craig Bloomingdale of Bettendorf climbs out of his mom's SUV in the driveway of his grandparents' home in Eldridge to begin a day of online, or "remote," learning at their house.
First he'll eat breakfast and have some down time, then school will begin around 9 a.m. when he goes upstairs to what used to be his grandmother's sewing room, sits down at a salvaged school desk and chair and, using a Chromebook, logs onto Canvas.
What is Canvas?
It is the name of a "learning management platform" made by a company called Instructure in Salt Lake City that provides preloaded, online instructional programs in various subjects. The Bettendorf school district has adopted it for all grades.
Core subjects for elementary students are literacy (this includes reading and writing), math, social studies and science.
He begins with reading by scrolling through a list of books, then clicking on one he wants. On this day it is "Tales of Sasha: The Big Secret." He reads to his grandfather, Duane Miller, for 15 minutes. A timer on the desk keeps track.
Math is with his grandmother, Lynda Miller. Included is a "math playground" with logic games. The point is sometimes lost on Lynda, but Craig seems to get it.
Science is a video on the cold and flu season. A woman explains that both are caused by viruses that are too small to see. Often, she says, these are called "germs," but that isn't really correct because not all germs are viruses.
Viruses get into the body through the eyes, nose and mouth, she says, and once inside, they copy themselves and people get sick. But the body also has ways of getting rid of these viruses.
Social studies is about civil rights leaders, with a timeline for Rosa Parks.
Attendance is required and work is graded. Craig's teacher, Mary Wendel, can see where he's been on his Chromebook and for how long.
Art, library, music and physical education are taught during in-person days at school, although at one point this morning, Craig pops up from his chair and jumps up and down, as though making jump shots in basketball, just to burn off some energy. His own physical education.
He works at his desk until lunch time.
In the afternoon he might return to a lesson, but he's mostly done by noon, so his grandparents find things to keep him occupied. At present, he's making a book rack in grandpa's workshop. Or, he might practice his guitar or do art work.
His mom picks him up between 4:30-5 p.m.
The logistics and return to 100% in-person learning
It has been nearly a year since the appearance of the novel coronavirus threw a wrench into American lives, particularly the lives of anyone associated with education.
When it became clear that students in Bettendorf wouldn't be going back to school after spring break 2020, Craig's parents, Brent and Ellen Bloomingdale, were in a panic. What to do?
Ellen works full-time as an administrative assistant at Dick-n-Sons Lumber in Blue Grass and Brent works full-time for Triple E Sales and Service, Orion, Illinois, a business that deals in Polaris and other powersports products.
Unless one of them quit their job, there would be no one at home to watch over Craig and help him with his online learning.
Ellen's parents, Duane and Lynda Miller, stepped up. "We said, 'We are here,'" Lynda Miller said.
They had Craig at their house for the remainder of last school year, over the summer — Scott County Park day camp lasted only three weeks because of the virus — and for all of this school year up until now.
Craig is one of 25 students in his second-grade class at Bettendorf's Mark Twain Elementary School who, since August, have been attending school under a hybrid schedule in which 50% of their time has been in-person in school and 50% has been remote, or online. (Exception: For two weeks in November, students were 100% remote because of a spike in COVID-19.)
Under the hybrid model, teachers are at school every day, but Craig is in school on Monday, Thursday and every other Wednesday and at his grandparents' on Tuesday, Friday and the opposite Wednesday. By splitting classes in half, schools can maintain better social distancing to help tamp down the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Beginning Tuesday, Feb. 16, all Iowa schools must offer in-person learning five days a week, so the Millers' time as teachers — having Craig two or three days a week — has come to an end. At least for the foreseeable future.
But what about other kids in Craig's grade? Are there parents who:
• Quit a job to be at home?
• Worked from home while trying to supervise school work?
• Took a child/children to day care, then came home and did all the required school work after-hours? (The requirement for attendance is that children be logged in by 11:59 p.m.)
• Found a day care that would offer support for online learning?
• Have an older child at at home who could try to do his/her own work, while also supervising a younger child?
Mary Wendel, Craig's teacher, said she did not feel comfortable answering those questions for students in her class.
But Superintendent Michelle Morse said in an email that the district understands "the pandemic has been an incredibly challenging and stressful time for everyone including those working in education, students and families.
"I appreciate the patience and collaboration of our community. ... We look forward to being able to bring our students back to school as safely as possible."
Living by the calendar
Craig Bloomingdale's family is lucky because not only are his grandparents available, but they are computer literate.
The Canvas Learning Management Platform is much easier to understand than the platform the district offered in the spring on short-notice, and it came with more and better instructions, the Millers said. Plus, with Craig in school 50% of the time, he learns from his teacher and "doesn't need us sitting by him to know how to do it," Duane Miller said.
"This fall has been a lot easier" than spring, he said.
Still, there are logistical changes. Brent takes Craig to school on in-person days so that Ellen can leave extra early to put in more time at work so that she can leave earlier than normal to pick Craig up. She is grateful that Dick-n-Son, a family owned business, has given her flexibility with her hours.
BUT, every other Wednesday is an "early out" from school. Luckily, Ellen has a friend who has Wednesdays off can can pick Craig up and keep him until Ellen arrives. Otherwise, Grandpa and Grandma step up.
"We live by the calendar," Ellen said.
So do Grandpa and Grandma.
How are the kids doing?
Students in Craig's grade are graded by the letters B (beginning), D (developing), P (proficient) and S (secure).
Craig is a bright student who has been reading since pre-school so he's secure across the board.
Although the district said it could not share grades for others in Craig's grade, Wendel said a challenge for all her students is completing longer projects.
"For example, we have been using the writing process to do opinion writing," she wrote in an email. "With the students being at school only two to three days each week, these projects take longer to complete and I find the students are sometimes frustrated with the length of projects."
As for how kids are doing socially and emotionally with the back-and-forth learning, Scott Schalk, a Bettendorf elementary school counselor, said that, overall, his assessment is that kids are doing well.
Knowing that this has been a stressful time, the district has put a renewed focus on social-emotional learning, sharing strategies of mindfulness and giving children an opportunity to talk to each other when they are in school.
Each week, the schools send home a form in which students can note on a scale of one to five (or with smiley faces and frowny faces for smaller children) how they are feeling about school, about home and about friends.
"We call it Feedback Friday," Schalk said. "It gives the teachers insight."
"All the school districts, you've got to applaud them," Duane Miller said. "All these school districts had to throw things together."
Adds Lynda Miller: "I just have to admire those teachers with what they are doing."
As for Craig's mom, Ellen, "We've done OK," she said. "He misses his friends. There are kids in his grade he never sees. He wants to be back in the classroom (fulltime)."
On Tuesday, that will happen.