With Covid-19 still affecting the way people live, students are back to school but learning remotely.

“Remote learning has been hard, but better than I anticipated,” said Kate Rocco, student council president of East Mountain High School. “I think that the biggest struggles as a student are finding motivation and staying organized.”

Rocco also said that she is having a hard time adjusting to the way school is now structured, because there are no bells to remind students when to get to class or teachers to push students to do their schoolwork.

Some educators said their students are very “engaged” and ready to learn, despite technological struggles.

“Our remote learning plan is going well, and I’d say it’s going better than expected,” said Trey Smith, principal of East Mountain. “We have made contact with all students, and all students are engaged. A few students have required extra check-ins to help with connectivity issues and to reinforce class expectations. But we’re very pleased with how it’s going.”

Cindy Sims, superintendent of Estancia Municipal Schools, shared similar thoughts about the district.

“Kids are engaged and enthusiastic,” Sims said. “We only have 2-3 students per class not logging in, which leads to what’s not going well. The broadband service in our rural community is spotty. We are issuing hotspots to families and childcare providers in need. As these have been requested and picked up, we have seen participation go up.”

Teresa Salazar, superintendent of Moriarty-Edgewood School District, said students of all ages are now participating and completing assignments.

“Engagement through the virtual sessions is going well and it such an improvement from the spring,” she said. “The first day of logging on was a challenge for some families, but I think we have got that all worked out.”

Dawn Apodaca, superintendent of Mountainair Public Schools, also said technology was a hurdle the district has had to face.

She said the first day of school was pushed back because 25% of students hadn’t registered or picked up their technology from the schools. Then, she said, the night before the second first day of school, Zoom did a nationwide update and the students had to bring their laptops back in to have them updated.

“As of right now, second week of school,” she said, “kids are doing amazing and my staff have made amazing leaps and bounds to make this happen for kids. It truly does take an army of professionals to make a plan that’s going to be successful.”

Stephanie Schuette, a teacher at East Mountain High School and teacher representative for the school’s governing council, said she has to try different techniques to keep her students engaged via remote learning because the techniques used for in person learning can’t be used online.

“Normally I would pull out a candy bucket,” she said. “Normally in my classroom I have a lot of flexible seating, I have a lot of bouncy balls, couches, and bean bags and yoga mats and all that in this very engaging classroom. But how do I do that on Zoom? I think you have to always just be on. I just try to have this cadence, kind of this funny rhythm, make jokes.”

She also said that instead of using candy as an incentive, she offers extra credit instead, and that seemed to work well for the students.

Parents said they’re also feeling the strains put on them by technology.

Lesley Saline, a parent to a sixth grader at Moriarty Middle School and an 11th grader at Moriarty High School, said that she gets frustrated when trying to help her sons submit their schoolwork because the assignments don’t go through. She said she’s worried her sixth grader will have a low grade because of it.

Victoria Valdez, a parent to an eighth grader at Edgewood Middle School, said that she’s frustrated with technology as well.

“At the moment we’re just waiting to get the internet connection here,” she said. “[My son] has to go into Albuquerque to my mom’s and stay there during the week to do his schoolwork. It’s kind of frustrating because sometimes it kicks him [offline].”

But despite the problems with technology, Valdez said, “the teachers have been really good at getting back to me when I let them know my son’s not understanding.”

Saline said she wishes teachers would do more to help her sons.

“I think the teachers, especially if [students] are missing assignments, should let the kids have a little bit of an expansion to turn in their homework assignments,” she said. “Some of us parents don’t get home until late at night and by the time we cook dinner and stuff, we don’t want to stay up until midnight with our kids trying to turn in homework for the next day. I think if the teachers could reach out to the parents more often, that would be a big help.”

Schuette said that she and her colleagues are trying to step up as much as they can for their students to make remote learning as “engaging as possible, and as fun as possible, and as diverse and eclectic an experience as possible. With that said, I think it takes a lot of work and time to pull that off well.”

She also said teachers are doing their absolute best to manage their time as best as they can. She said teachers have all these innovative ideas, but if nobody has time to act on it, it doesn’t go anywhere.

Another aspect that worries both educators and parents is the student’s mental health from being home so much.

“Both of my kids are getting really depressed because they’re at home,” Saline said. “They can’t go to school with their friends. It’s been a roller coaster. This is insane. My kids want interaction, they want to do things, they want to get out of the house. They’d rather be in school than doing this online. This online thing is really difficult.”

Schuette said East Mountain’s staff works to reach out to students every day to check up on them, but added that she thinks bringing kids back to school might not help with their mental health that much, regardless.

“Homecoming isn’t happening, even if we were hybrid,” she said. “We can’t have a dance; we can’t have assemblies. We can’t hang out on the quad for lunch, we can’t share communal supplies.”

Schuette said school will look vastly different under a hybrid model, and students still won’t be able to get the experience with their friends and peers that they need. Kids want to play and touch, but they can’t, and bringing them back to school won’t change that, she said.

Apodaca said her team in Mountainair is ready to take on the challenge of helping kids who need it.

“I can tell you that I have an amazing mental health team in Mountainair,” she said. “We are ready as our kids start coming back, we will be providing a lot of social emotional support before we get to learning. We have to repair them before learning can take place.”

Sims said that Estancia has two mental health professionals with trained teachers to help identify students needing help. She also said teachers received child abuse and neglect training to make them aware of signs they need to report.

Apodaca said that she is worried for students not being at school every day, who might suffer from abuse or neglect, and said that’s the hardest part of her day.

“I don’t even know how to protect my kids in this environment,” she said. “We have kids that we know are in horrendous environments. Calling the family, giving them the learning options, hearing those families say they want to do virtual learning. That means they’re just going to hide, nobody is going to check on the kids, no one’s talking to the child every day—scares the heck out of me, and I don’t know how to keep them safe in this world, in this environment.”

Schuette said sometimes teachers feel shame from society to do more than they can, but said teachers wear the extra hats if it benefits their students.

“On one hand teachers are full of good ideas and always have the best intentions, that’s why they do this very low paying profession that’s very difficult,” she said. “But I think you need to have a very realistic outlook on what you can do as an educator and what you should do.”

Rocco said it’s harder to bond with her teachers over the internet, but she is hopeful once school is back to in person, the bonds will grow.

“It is obvious that all the teachers care so much and are doing everything in their power to make this a positive and educational experience for us all,” she said.

Apodaca said her staff is ready for kids to come back to school. “I want every kid back in school so I can see them and love them,” she said.