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Day 1 of distance learning goes 'better than expected', FCPS parents, teachers say

After multiple tech issues in the spring, FCPS worked to make the fall start smoother. Parents and teachers said the district succeeded.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Some parents and teachers with Fairfax County Public Schools breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the day Tuesday, after they said the start of the virtual fall semester went "better than expected."

“I think it went smooth," parent Rocio Portillo said. "There were a couple glitches here and there where kids, they didn’t have their microphones or icons at the bottom…but other than that, it was not like last year, in the springtime. I think it was better this year.”

FCPS reported multiple issues with its virtual learning service, Blackboard, at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, including problems logging on and accessing different modules.

Portillo has a daughter in 11th grade and a son in fourth grade. She had hoped to send her kids to school -- electing the hybrid option, before the school system decided to move to 100% distance learning.

“They don’t like it at all," she said. "Especially for my daughter, because she’s a junior, she absolutely hates it…but eventually we’ll get through it.”

RELATED: Fairfax County will begin 2020-2021 school year with 100% virtual learning

Credit: Rocio Portillo
Rocio Portillo's son starts fourth grade virtually fall 2020.

Sara McClung's daughter started second grade with Greenbriar East Elementary School Tuesday. McClung serves as president of the PTA.

“It went smoothly! It felt long to my daughter, but I think that’s to be expected," McClung said. "I was super impressed with her teacher…We had no network issues… My daughter was not bored at all. She was constantly doing something…so I was really, really impressed with how well it went.”

McClung said it will take a couple of weeks for her daughter to adjust to having a schedule again, but she was excited to meet her teacher and see her friends.

They even planned a lunch outing with some close friends they've been socially distancing with throughout the pandemic.

“It did not feel like a normal first day for sure, but we still did the first day picture and talked about goals for the year," McClung said. "I feel like there is a way to find some normalcy in this totally weird situation."

RELATED: Scientist warns this is only the beginning of pandemic, students should not go back to school

Credit: Sara McClung
Sara McClung's daughter and friend start second grade with FCPS at home via distance learning.

Fifth-grade teacher Robyn Mejia -- and parent of two Frederick County students -- also tried to establish a sense of normalcy for her class of 23 on the first day. 

"It was a very long day, but it went very well," Mejia said. "Kids were really excited. Couple hiccups with Google, but other than that, majority of kids were there. It was great.”

Mejia said she and her colleagues have been training and preparing for weeks.

“We’ve had training for a math program, for two different reading programs," Mejia said. "Then we’ve also had a lot of social emotional training, how to help kids. How to help us as teachers deal with that balance, technology stuff to make us more prepared for some of the issues, which is nice.”

Mejia said she plans to check in with her students regularly to find out what they find to be the biggest challenges with virtual learning.

"[I'll be looking at] fatigue for the kids, looking at how we need to adjust the schedule, if we need to talk to administration or to the school board or higher ups in the county, letting him know there’s real screen fatigue with the kids," she said. "I’m looking at ways to help support parents…are you okay, what’s easy, what can we do to help?”

At the end of day one, though, she's feeling optimistic about the first few months back and excited to be teaching again.

"I’m kind of excited to see where we take this as we work out the scheduling bumps," Mejia said.

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