How Parents And Children Are Coping With Distance Learning : Consider This from NPR It's September and millions of kids are going back to school this month. Millions more already have. And while some students are beginning the new year in physical classrooms, many are still learning in online classrooms that schools transitioned to when the pandemic began in March.

Remote learning isn't easy for anyone, but it's especially challenging for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other learning disabilities. NPR's Jon Hamilton reports on the challenges facing these students and their parents, who are often required to become educators to make it work.

Not all parents have the privilege of being able to help their children with remote learning though. Many students also face the challenge of logging on for school without reliable Internet. NPR's Anya Kamenetz and WWNO's Aubri Juhasz report on "learning hubs" that offer free child care and additional learning resources — but only for a lucky few.

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Getting Back To School Isn't Easy For Anyone — But It's A Lot Harder For Some

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Getting Back To School Isn't Easy For Anyone — But It's A Lot Harder For Some

Getting Back To School Isn't Easy For Anyone — But It's A Lot Harder For Some

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/907177047/908488750" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's September. Millions of kids are starting school this month. Millions more already have.

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CHARLIE PIERCE: Well, my friends kind of really wanted to hug me. I mean...

AMI PIERCE: We had talked about...

CHARLIE: Not hugging, so...

PIERCE: ...Keeping our distance because we are huggers by nature.

CHARLIE: (Laughter) Yes.

CORNISH: Ami Pierce's daughter Charlie's school, Fort Street Elementary in Maine, is back in person. Cases there are pretty low, but still, there are precautions.

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PIERCE: Everybody has their mask?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah.

PIERCE: All right.

CORNISH: Parents have to quiz their kids every morning with three required questions.

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PIERCE: Is everybody feeling OK?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yup.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yup.

PIERCE: Nobody has scratchy throats or coughs or - you tasted your breakfast, right?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Yes.

CORNISH: After students are dropped off at the school's entrance, they stand in line, state-mandated masks and face shields firmly in place.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Good morning. How are we?

CORNISH: In that line, they're standing 6 feet apart, and they wait for a temperature check.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Good job.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: OK. You can go right to your class.

CORNISH: Those classes are half-full. Half the students come to school in the morning, half in the afternoon. Some families decided to stick with all-remote learning, but according to district superintendent Elaine Boulier, most parents wanted school open.

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ELAINE BOULIER: Listen. The parents in the community - they've been waiting for us to go back to school for a long time (laughter).

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS - back to school doesn't mean back to normal. From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Tuesday, September 1.

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CORNISH: It's CONSIDER THIS from NPR, and we do know something about what can happen when you get a bunch of kids together in close contact.

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KEN O'KELLEY: Hello. My name's Ken O'Kelley, and welcome to YMCA Camp High Harbour at Lake Burton and Lake Allatoona.

CORNISH: At a YMCA-run summer camp in Georgia, they had a lot of precautions in place.

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O'KELLEY: So what we want to do is show you the things that we're going to do to keep your camper safe.

CORNISH: They produced this six-minute video to let parents and campers know how different things would be this year.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Molly here is going to take the temperatures of everybody in the car.

We're going to take the trunk out of the car for you after we wipe it down.

This year, the cabins are going to stay together as cohorts.

CORNISH: Campers even needed a negative COVID test at the beginning of camp.

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O'KELLEY: We're so excited about this summer, and I know that this has been really different for us.

CORNISH: There was clearly a lot of effort and the best intentions. It wasn't enough.

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STEVE OSUNSAMI: Health investigators who have looked into this case say that what happened at this camp is instructive to parents and school systems who are sending their kids back to class.

CORNISH: The CDC put out a big report on this camp last month after 260 campers and staff tested positive. The report said the kids weren't wearing masks and spent a lot of time close together indoors.

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OSUNSAMI: In a statement, the YMCA, who runs the camp, says they followed every best practice as outlined by the CDC and the American Camp Association.

CORNISH: It's clear that the virus is less deadly in children. It's also very clear they can still transmit it to others. And this is not a case of panic data. It's not just about one Georgia kid's camp. From late May until late August, as some schools began in-person classes, the American Academy of Pediatrics compiled data on cases, hospitalizations and deaths from around the country, and it found that numbers in all three categories are rising faster in children and teens than in the general population.

Of course, the situation with schools is different depending on where you live. In New York City, for instance, teachers came to the brink of a strike this week because they said the city's school reopening plans weren't safe enough. Today they reached a deal to reopen school buildings on Sept. 21. And then there's Maine. As you just heard, some kids are headed back to school some of the time. And for millions more children, back-to-school this year is entirely online. It's not easy for anyone, but the problems with online learning are especially stark for kids with ADHD and their parents. Here's NPR's Jon Hamilton.

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JON HAMILTON: Keriann Wilmot's son, who is 10, was diagnosed with ADHD in December. In January, his school near Dallas started him on an individualized education program, and Wilmot says it was working. He was staying focused and getting more assignments done.

KERIANN WILMOT: He had had about 2 1/2 solid months of support when COVID happened, and all of a sudden, it just disappeared.

HAMILTON: Instead of a school and teachers, Wilmot's son had a laptop and his mom. She's not just any mom. She's an occupational therapist who specializes in kids with learning disabilities. Even so, working with her own child was tough.

WILMOT: It was a different environment for him, and he wasn't used to this kind of work from school coming in the format of, you know, an email in his Chromebook every single day. And he would look at it and just get overwhelmed and shut the laptop and walk away.

HAMILTON: So Wilmot would get up at 6 a.m., open all her son's assignments and come up with a plan to get them done. Then she'd start her own full-time job, working online with other people's children. It was a lot, and at first, Wilmot didn't realize that her son was missing a critical part of school - recess. She thought he should do his schoolwork before riding his bike - big mistake.

WILMOT: He was like, Mom, I need the bike ride at the beginning of my day, and he was absolutely right.

HAMILTON: Many children with ADHD are less fortunate than Wilmot's son. Haftan Eckholdt is a developmental psychologist with Understood, a nonprofit that serves people who learn and think differently.

HAFTAN ECKHOLDT: Most parents have jobs, or they're looking for jobs. Most households don't have a space that they can say, like, oh, this is now your classroom. This is a space. And you'll have this, and nothing else will happen here.

HAMILTON: Even so, Eckholdt says distance learning does work well for some children with ADHD.

ECKHOLDT: There's certainly kids where not being around peers actually makes it easier for them to focus, and they feel like they have a lot more control and a lot less distraction around them.

HAMILTON: That's because there are so many variations of ADHD, says John Foxe, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester. But he says brain scans show that children with the disorder do have something in common.

JOHN FOXE: When we're recording these youngsters doing tasks in the magnet, what we find is that there are very clear differences in the engagement of the attention circuits.

HAMILTON: So distance learning will simply be harder for many kids with ADHD. Foxe says for children with more severe learning and intellectual disabilities, it's just not possible.

FOXE: For those kids, sitting at home is a disaster - absolute disaster. And we need to get them back to school, but we have to do it safely.

HAMILTON: Public health officials are still trying to figure out how to do that.

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CORNISH: NPR's Jon Hamilton.

Now, the ability to keep students home, even help them with their remote learning, is a privilege a lot of parents don't have. Some school districts are trying to help by offering free or low-cost learning hubs - basically places where small groups of students can gather with decent Wi-Fi and get their schoolwork done. It could be a YMCA, an empty university building or even, in New Orleans, a school that's pretty much closed to all other students. Here's reporter Aubri Juhasz with New Orleans Public Radio.

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AUBRI JUHASZ: At Dwight D. Eisenhower Charter School, school leaders greet mask-clad students as they make their way into the building.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Good morning. Good morning. Good morning.

JUHASZ: The school normally serves more than 600 students, but today it's expecting fewer than two dozen. That's because in New Orleans, public schools are technically still closed, and learning is entirely virtual. The students that are here are attending the school's learning hub. In the cafeteria, kids are separated into socially distanced groups of nine, each quietly working away on their own device.

They are logged in. There are signs up everywhere for the Wi-Fi for students to get onto, and then there are a lot of adults floating around to help. And all of the kids are wearing masks. Faculty are wearing masks and face shields as well.

The hub is run by educators at Eisenhower. Principal Rulonda Green says a lot of students are here for one thing.

RULONDA GREEN: It literally is to get Internet access. And if you needed technology, we have it here available for you.

JUHASZ: The city estimates that more than 9,000 New Orleans students may not have Internet access for remote learning. That's far more kids than the local learning hubs are currently serving. Eisenhower is part of the InspireNOLA Charter Schools network, which is funding and operating free hubs for almost 600 students. New Orleans public schools has committed to providing every student with a tablet or a laptop. But the devices aren't very helpful without an Internet connection.

TIMOLYNN SAMS: You can have a computer and can't utilize Google Classrooms (ph), right?

JUHASZ: That's Timolynn Sams, InspireNOLA's director of community engagement. She says the hubs are an essential tool for ensuring equal access to virtual learning. She also points out that in New Orleans, a majority-Black school district, white children are more likely to attend a private school.

SAMS: Our private and parochial schools are back in session. None of our public schools are.

JUHASZ: So while white children are more likely to be back in the classroom, Black and brown students are mostly learning from home, in many cases without reliable Internet. InspireNOLA's hubs offer both Internet and supervision, but only one or two days a week. And even with staggered attendance, the network says it's at capacity, with a waitlist more than 200 students long. The city of New Orleans is also operating learning hubs out of libraries and rec centers like this one in New Orleans East, which is open five days a week. Seventh-grader Esmerelda Smith (ph) says she's happy to get out of her house.

ESMERELDA SMITH: I just think I needed the time away from all the noise and distractions at home to come here and learn quietly and peacefully.

JUHASZ: Emily Wolff with the Mayor's Office of Youth and Families says the city has tried to make the hubs accessible, especially for low-income families and those with no Internet. But there are still considerable barriers. Families are responsible for transportation, and hubs get funding from the federal government, which involves a lot of paperwork.

EMILY WOLFF: You know, we wish we could just have them fill out a simple registration form and get signed up right away, but that's made it a little bit slower. And unfortunately, you know, for some families, they see all of that, and it's just a barrier.

JUHASZ: Wolff says families submitted interest forms for more than 1,000 students in mid-August. But so far, only 100 children are registered. The city has room for 500 students and is already looking to expand. While the district's youngest students have the option to return to the classroom in mid-September, older students will continue with virtual learning until at least mid-October.

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CORNISH: Aubri Juhasz with New Orleans Public Radio. Anya Kamenetz of the NPR ed team has more reporting on learning hubs. You can catch the link in our episode notes. Additional reporting this episode from Robbie Feinberg at Maine Public Radio. Thanks for joining us for CONSIDER THIS. I'm Audie Cornish.

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