By Dr. Bill Hunter, Stella Martinelli of Grafenwoehr Elementary School, and Vivian Velez of Vilseck High School
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — When DoDEA Europe closed schools indefinitely due to COVID-19, many teachers, parents and students did not know what to expect. “It was like that one dream that kids have about not going back to school,” said Brett Faraason, an eighth grader at Netzaberg Middle School. “I thought that this would mean waking up late and hanging out with my family.”
When schools opened up for digital learning, the digital classroom looked different compared to what students were used to in a regular classroom.
“At first, I was really happy about it,” stated River Rocha, a ninth grader at Ramstein High School student. “I thought that it would be fun. I can learn from home, be on my computer, and each class is only 30 minutes.”
According to students, the biggest difference between the two learning styles is the change of teacher accessibility.
“The most difficult part of learning at home is the limited access to teacher help,” stated Vivian Velez, a ninth grade student at Vilseck High School. “The teachers are not able to guide students as effectively through online school.”
“In virtual learning we get a lot of assignments just sent out to our Google Classroom, but the teacher isn’t always there to explain things,” says Stella Martinelli, a fourth grader at Grafenwoehr Elementary School. “That freaks some kids out.”
At Wiesbaden High School, ninth grader Savannah Bussa says that the most difficult part of learning at home is being away from her classmates. “I can get a good learning experience, talk to my teachers and get help when I need it,” said Bussa. “But I can’t get face-to-face contact with my peers.”
While adjusting to the physical limitations of a virtual classroom, students still report that there are many things to enjoy about learning from home.
“I enjoy that I get to take breaks whenever I want,” said Jayden Choi, a fifth grader at Grafenwoehr Elementary School.
“Just being at home is fun,” Rocha agrees. “I get to be with my family, my dog, and I get a chance to create new memories that I couldn’t before. The shorter day is also a plus.”
Some of the older students say that they benefit from the shorter day, because it allows them to learn at their own pace.
“I like that you can get done with all of your work in half the time of regular school hours,” says Jahvon Hunter, a ninth grader at Vilseck High School.
Robert Rasmussen, an eighth grader at Netzaberg Middle School, adds, “I have the freedom to work at my own pace, schedule my day the way I want, and can enjoy some more family time.”
As students discover the benefits of virtual learning, many still yearn for normal classes to resume.
Tilly Glaser, a fourth grader at Grafenwoehr Elementary School, summarized the mood of most students when she stated, “For once in my life, I want to go back to school!”
“I agree with her,” stated Martinelli. “I miss all of the teachers, recess on the playground and playing with my friends.”
With the recent announcement that DoDEA schools will remain in a digital environment through the end of the school year, students have developed recommendations for others to succeed in a virtual learning environment:
Editor’s Note: Current and former students of Dr. Bill Hunter’s Jedi Leadership Academy, at Grafenwoehr Elementary School, were asked to share their experiences with digital learning. This article was written by Dr. Hunter with assistance from Stella Martinelli, a fourth grade student at Grafenwoehr Elementary School, and edited by Vivian Velez, a ninth grade student at Vilseck High School.
Sidney Sullivan, with the U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria Public Affairs Office, also contributed to this article.