Editor’s note: This is the latest in an occasional Civil Beat series called “The New Classroom” about what distance learning is like for Hawaii families during the pandemic. Want to share your story? Email slee@civilbeat.org.

Before the Rosses relocated to Honolulu from Japan in early August, school for their two young children followed a regular routine. They were at school Monday to Friday, with the kids on the bus by 8:15 a.m. and back on base at 3 p.m.

The school — located just outside Tokyo, which runs on an April to March school calendar — took “great precautions” to bring children onto campus during the pandemic, such as mask wearing, frequent hand washing, daily temperature checks and sanitation of high-touch surfaces, said Misha Ross.

“Depending on weather and the temperament of the kids, we would either go to the park to play or come home and watch a show and play at home,” she said of an end-of-day activity.

Overseas, daily life felt more normal.

Now, structure has given way to fidgety sessions in front of the computer, distractions posed by noisy leaf blowers and parental acquiescence to spontaneous play time, as Amelia Ross, 5, and her brother Graham, 3, adapt to virtual learning on a new island, in a new country.

“The space we are living in is small and it is hard to find any quiet, private space to do work,” said Misha, 37, whose husband is in the Navy. “There’s also not much for the kids to do, so they get bored and disruptive easily.”

Amelia Ross, New Classroom, distance learning, education, school
Amelia Ross, 5, is in kindergarten at Kainalu Elementary in Kailua. She is currently doing online schooling from home. Courtesy: Misha Ross

It’s hard enough for military families in Hawaii to adjust to a new school environment. But in a pandemic it’s that much more challenging, as the Rosses’ experience reflects.

Due to Oahu’s strict quarantine rules for out-of-state travelers at the time, Misha Ross was delayed in enrolling her daughter in an actual school. By the time she got her signed up at Kainalu Elementary in Kailua, she had missed virtual orientation on Aug. 31.

That already caused some lack of continuity.

She then quickly found that learning from home presented a never-ending array of distractions for her daughter, from the stuffed animals she begs to prop up on the desk beside her as she “attends” class, to the endlessly entertaining spinning, rolling chair on which she sits.

On a recent Monday, the first lesson of the day started at 9 a.m. with a writing prompt, where kids are asked to complete the phrase “We can.”

Amelia found it hard to concentrate. She started to cry when her mom took away her stuffed animals so she could focus on the screen.

Once math class started at 10 a.m., Amelia was more engaged since she likes numbers and counting. But halfway through class, both kids got distracted by a gardener operating a noisy leaf blower outside the two-bedroom cottage.

Following lunch, Ross took her children to the beach on the Marine Corps base since everyone, she said, was feeling “cooped up” inside the house. When they returned around 3, she tried to get her kids to engage in more online learning but gave up when the kids asked to ride their bikes around the neighborhood, drawn by the sound of other kids playing outside.

“It is hard to say no when we’ve spent so much time inside due to COVID over the last months and our quarantine, so we allow it,” she said.

Ross said her daughter’s teachers are doing the best they can in this situation. Life presents a series of other distractions for her and her husband: they’re in the middle of trying to purchase a home and she has just started a new part-time job.

There is a lot going on in this time of transition and Ross says there has been a lot more television-watching for the kids and play time than normal.

She’s looked into other schooling options, but those seem too taxing right now.

“I have often considered pulling my daughter from school and attempting to do a home-school curriculum just so we can have more control over her schedule (and less screen time),” she said. “But I haven’t had the bandwidth myself to figure out how that might work or what that would look like.”

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