Winter weather adds virtual instruction days to schools

Joe Hadsall, The Joplin Globe, Mo.
·3 min read

Feb. 17—At first glance, students spending school days at home taking part in online classrooms seems like no big deal — students did this at the beginning of the pandemic last year.

But with dangerously low temperatures in the mix, parents are now fighting a new form of virtual learning fatigue.

"It's difficult for kids to be inside all the time. You can't go out and walk the dog when it's 10 below," said Kimberly Kester, of Joplin. "When they need a break from algebra, they have to find some other way."

In many areas across the region, winter weather has kept schools out of session since Feb. 8. The Joplin School District called off classes for today, marking the seventh straight day it has missed classes — Presidents Day counted as a holiday. District officials switched to virtual learning on Friday.

Because of harsh wind chills, students didn't get many chances for snow-day fun. While outdoor activity offered a great break from Zoom classes, online presentations and homework, that hasn't been an option over the past week.

Parents with home-based employment consider it a blessing during times like these.

Christie Dawn George, of Carthage, made a major career change in September — the former 911 dispatcher for Jasper County now works remotely as a scheduler for Mercy Hospital. The change in jobs lets her be home for her four children, including her 1-year-old.

She said she can handle the parental end of virtual instruction much better now.

"I'm lucky that my office is far enough away from the living room that I can still hear what's going on, but it doesn't bleed over into my job," George said. "The fear of the kids not being able to go to school, and having a 1-year-old, it made sense to find something where I can work from home."

A home-based job doesn't solve every problem, however.

Kester is familiar with both ends of virtual learning. The mother of two Joplin High School freshman is also an instructor for the Mizzou Academy, the state's K-12 online program offered through the University of Missouri. Kester works from home, developing curriculum and teaching online classes.

Keeping her two ninth-grade students involved and on top of virtual lessons has been a challenge, however. While she is grateful to work from home, her background as an educator gets her more involved in her kids' education challenges.

"I either have to take a day off of my work to wrangle and manage them, or I have to let the screens rule them and let them go on their own," Kester said. "I don't have a good alternative."

Unlike the start of the pandemic, there is an end in sight to this weather-related surge of virtual learning. Many schools across the region have been focused on in-person learning but will resume classes once the weather improves.