By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Regina Education Center in Iowa City offered families a variety of options for the 2020-21 school year in its Return to Learn plan, created to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This includes in-person education, online learning and a hybrid model of part-time in-person learning and part-time online.
One week before school began, Dan Rustan sustained a traumatic injury to his leg during cleanup from the derecho, his wife, Janan, said. The couple decided the online option would be best for their two sons during that difficult time to avoid the risk of COVID-19. Luke is a seventh-grader and Grant a junior.
“It was mainly our decision, though our boys were involved in the discussion. Grant had taken online courses in the past and did well so he totally understood. Luke was starting junior high and was looking forward to attending school. He was so bummed — until the first day of online school and he actually thought it was great for multiple reasons.” She said he enjoyed sleeping in later and had more time for lunch. He felt like he was part of the class and could “see” all his friends and interact with them online.
For Janan, the positive aspects of online learning include less stress trying to get to school for in-person instruction, fewer distractions, such as other students talking, and decreased commute time. Learning from home provides her sons with more time to complete assignments and to have break time. “All of their materials are in the same place so they are more organized. They have had to be more responsible, self-directed, focused … and motivated to stay attentive.”
Drawbacks include “decrease in physical social interaction with their peers.” They do socialize with their friends outside of school. Grant has had his AAU basketball teams, going to the gym and currently is on Regina’s varsity basketball team. Luke has been involved with football camps, an AAU basketball team, and Regina’s 7th grade football team and now is participating in Regina’s 7th grade basketball team. We are very grateful that Regina allows online students to participate in extracurricular activities.
Each quarter families have the option to change models, but “you need to have a valid excuse and it’s limited to a one-time change per semester.”
Grant said he enjoys online school. “It saves me so much time. I feel like I am so much more organized as everything is right by me and I don’t forget books or papers in my locker. I can get started on an assignment right after the teacher instructs vs having to wait if classmates ask questions. I feel that the teachers include me and are available if I have any questions myself.” He said he realizes his involvement in extracurricular activities is increases his chances of getting COVID-19.
Luke said, “I have enjoyed online school a lot, especially sleeping in for 30 minutes more in the morning. But I’ve started basketball practice and it’s at 6:30 a.m., so no more sleeping in. I have always felt included during class and we have had a lot of discussions and group projects that I participate in. The teachers always answer my questions. I do like online classes, but I really miss seeing all my friends. I am starting hybrid this next semester so I will have the best of both worlds.”
“The students are expected to be on time, wear their uniform, sit at their desks, have their camera on and participate,” Janan said. “The teachers are available and make them feel welcome and part of the entire class. The students are still able to utilize textbooks and the supplies needed.”
“With the changing landscape of American education and work environments, especially during this pandemic, we are so fortunate for the boys to experience this type of learning. It has been such a positive experience and they have had to be responsible, self-directed, focused, motivated and comfortable with their technology skills, which will be beneficial to them in life.”
The Rustans are grateful for Regina’s preparedness and for offering online schooling during this pandemic, Janan said. “The administration, teachers, IT director, ‘Return to Learn’ committee, and all the staff have rocked it out of the park.”