For many students, virtual learning works
School was always difficult for Cameron Ward. With autism and ADHD, Cameron struggled in a regular class, says his mother, Sarah-Jane Ward. “Then along came the pandemic and everything changed.”
Ward says there was a period of adjustment; they also had to learn how to use a Chromebook. “Usually, change for Cameron can be difficult,” says Ward. “A regular school setting, where you had to change classes with noisy hallways… and casual bullying proved to be challenging for him. Now he’s in control of his own environment and it’s a bit of freedom for him.” Ward adds that like most students today, Cameron is used to finding things online so using the Chromebook to attend classes wasn’t an issue.
“Yes, the social aspect is missing a bit,” she says, “but he has found friends online.” Ward says virtual learning isn’t for everyone, it’s working for Cameron, who’s now in Grade 11. “The control is important for him,” says Ward. “He used to struggle, but now he’s often on the honour roll and he’ll graduate from high school.”
Virtual learning has allowed many Ottawa students to excel for a variety of reasons. For Victoria (last name withheld by request) and sons Cooper and Aston — both of whom have hemophilia — online learning has been a boon to their health. “Aston did attend regular classes when he was younger,” says Victoria. “And there was always constant contact with his teachers and that was great, but there’s always that worry.” Victoria says she had the luxury of being home with her sons and had that choice and the ability to set up a desk for them.
“Cooper, who is now in Grade 1, was very reluctant with virtual learning at first,” says Victoria. “But the teachers were super with how they involved the children and now he’s really engaged.” She was worried about the lack of socializing, especially for Aston, now in Grade 4. “Google Meet has been great for kids to meet up with each other online,” says Victoria. “Aston is playing video games with friends, he’s socializing, and he even has recess online. He’s even joined a LEGO club where the teacher provides a challenge. The kids love it.” Victoria says she is grateful to the teachers that have taken on virtual learning and how they keep it interesting. “For me, it means my sons can get on with their learning and stay safe.”
After that first year of virtual learning in 2020, Lauren Faulkner decided that staying virtual was the best thing for her daughter Alex, who was diagnosed with dyslexia in Grade 4. Faulkner says that Alex attended an alternative school in Grades 7 and 8, which provided a different way of learning. In 2019, when Alex was in Grade 9, it was back into a regular school. “High school was difficult,” says Faulkner, “and Alex had a lot of anxiety trying to cope. So in the spring of 2020 when we shifted to virtual learning, it was a huge relief.” She says that her daughter was more focused, there were fewer distractions, and she was able to get her projects done. “We were blown away by how well Alex — who made the honour roll in Grade 10 — was doing. That really focused her, and she went gangbusters for Grade 11.” Faulkner says Alex now speaks up in class, writes great essays, focuses on her artwork and is even doing better in math.
Faulkner has witnessed firsthand how virtual learning isn’t for every student. “Our son Jack hated being cooped up at home,” she says. “He was missing his sports and the social aspect of school. As soon as he could, he was back at school and is happier.” She did worry about the lack of social connections for Alex. “The social isolation didn’t happen, thankfully,” says Faulkner. “Alex is doing co-op through virtual learning, and she found a placement at a sales centre for a local developer. And she got a job as a part-time cashier, so she’s meeting people. And most importantly, she’s happy.”