About the Author

Jane McCallister

Jane McCallister lives in Honolulu with her family.

In kindergarten and first grade, students and their teachers count the school days every day, one at a time. This repetitive counting introduces a host of mathematical concepts such as numerical sequence, integers and multiplication. On the hundredth day, there is a party. Each child brings one hundred items to share, using these manipulatives to reinforce their newfound counting skills. One hundred Cheerios, one hundred M&M’s, one hundred marshmallows.

I am writing this as we approach Oct. 28, which will mark one hundred days out of traditional school. My children have now been away from in-person, on-campus, face-to-face instruction since Spring Break, which began on March 16th.

Our family, a public school family, opted for in-person instruction. We evaluated the risks in our area and listened as our fabulous principals laid out their plans for as-safe-as-possible blended/hybrid learning. We signed up to take the plunge. We are still waiting for permission to even dip our toes in.

I know families that chose 100% distance learning through an online platform offered by the district. I know (several) families that made the heart-wrenching choice to split up families in order to send younger children to the Mainland where they could go to school in person. I know (a lot of) families that are doing home school for the first time.

After two full quarters and an entire summer, the HIDOE, the BOE, the HSTA and the DOH continue to fail at communicating and collaborating with each other and the families they serve. Because they cannot get their collective act together, a lot of people have simply walked away from Hawaii public schools.

Social distanced chairs arranged in the Kaneohe Elementary School cafeteria during summer school session with COVID-19 pandemic. June 12, 2020
How long will it be before Hawaii’s students can again occupy these chairs safely? Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Don’t get me wrong, I love this family time at home. We are all together! All the time! My husband works from his “office” set up on the washing machine. My kids spend six hours a day rotating from the kitchen table to their beds to the couch to the beanbag chair and to the lanai—earbuds in, Chromebooks perched precariously on arms while reaching for snacks out of view of their teachers. My nephew has joined the rotation, doing his first semester of college online. My mom and dad attempt to dodge the maze of laptops and chargers.

It is strangely dystopian, like a scene from the Pixar classic “Wall-E.” We are sometimes in the same room for hours, but no one looks up from their respective screens. Except this isn’t a rant about video games or social media addiction. This is Hawaii public school, 2020 edition.

I want to loudly acknowledge the fantastic teachers making valiant efforts to teach my children in an incredibly dynamic situation. Virtual learning has vastly improved from the fourth quarter of last year. That is unquestionable. The teachers are engaged and setting actual school work rather than focusing so much on “just keeping in touch.” I congratulate them on their amazing efforts and frankly, success. However, it is a disservice to gifted teachers not to allow them to use their teaching skills to their full potential. I argue that their training, experience and the true joy of teacher-student connections is greatly magnified in physical classrooms rather than in virtual ones.

When I was a student, one of my favorite teachers was Mr. Steffenson, who played the part of mad scientist to perfection. On Halloween, he dressed in a lab coat and goggles, his white fly-away hair combed straight up. With beakers, flasks, vials and a Bunsen burner, he brought alive the magic of chemistry by changing clear fluid to the colors of the rainbow and creating foul-smelling smoke and small but loud explosions. Having all of our senses stimulated, and sharing in a communal excitement, spurred us to practice the more mundane chemical equations and discover for ourselves how it all worked. The best teachers are almost stage performers bringing their subjects to life for reluctant students, not film actors who have the advantages of re-takes and edits.

School is simply not as good coming through a video feed. You know it. I know it. We all know it.

The rising generation has the potential to be inspired like none before to find meaningful solutions to the dynamic problems of their childhood: fighting disease, building responsive governments, finding solutions to environmental and socioeconomic issues, creating fluid educational curricula and inventing adaptive teaching methods. Inversely, they also have the potential to be ignorant and afraid to leave their houses.

Either way, Hawaii’s students are being robbed of precious minutes of irreplaceable face-to-face instruction — one hundred days so far.

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About the Author

Jane McCallister

Jane McCallister lives in Honolulu with her family.

Latest Comments (0)

Jane - this is a great article. Thank you for giving your voice to an underrepresented view. We have heard plenty from teachers, HSTA and the BOE who feel it is unsafe. They can make this argument all year long, even through next year because COVID is not going away anytime soon. We have to learn to live with COVID and so do our children. 

meeganation · 3 years ago

I couldn’t agree more! Give our kids what they deserve, an in-person education. Enough excuses, flip-flopping and indecision. Make it happen!!

mama4 · 3 years ago

With all due sympathy to the several families which sent kids to the Mainland so they could attend open (presumably public) schools: isn’t that illegal? They aren’t residents of those states, much less the specific schools districts. Why would a school district give geographic exemptions to out of state residents?I applaud parents working to find innovative ways of educating their kids, but this sounds felony level illegal given that public schools around  the country spend anywhere from $8,000 to $17,000 per pupil.Wouldn’t claiming a child is a resident be theft by fraud?

Penrod · 3 years ago

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