Twenty-nine students started attending an ‘internet café’ at Mary Walter Elementary School on Sept. 14. A bus picks up the children and they participate in remote learning from individual computer stations at long tables in the school cafeteria – 6 feet apart. They receive free breakfast and lunch.

Mary Walter principal Alex O’Dell said that children go outside for recess, “to get their wiggles out.”

O’Dell said that the first day was a little rough because many of the children had never logged in to Google Classroom before, since they don’t have internet connectivity at home. He said that some teachers, the school’s instructional technology resource teacher and others pitch in to help kids with technology-related issues. O’Dell said he doesn’t have the staff to help all the kids with their schoolwork, “but we try where we can.”

O’Dell said, “At first, we were saying that parents had to come, too. We were planning to have two areas, one for parents to telework and one for students. We had no takers.”

But he said, “When we contacted folks and asked if they would they allow their children to participate if we provided transportation, we had 25 who wanted to come. … Since then it’s been growing.”

He said that he has 40 slots available, so he contacted those with the most need first. He said in addition to the elementary students, he has a couple of middle-schoolers and one high-school student who are taking advantage of the program.

He credited the school division’s transportation department for making it work. The request went in before the Labor Day holiday and “they thought we wanted to start on Sept. 8. They would have worked all weekend to make it happen, but I told them we wanted to start on the 14th.”

O’Dell said on Monday that one mother emailed to ask for help. “She was a single mother and had to work. I said, ‘I can provide this and this and this.’ She started to cry.”

Another family, he recalled, was worried because, “They had just moved from a place where they had connectivity and their new home has none. We were able to help.”

Eight other Fauquier County schools are also offering ‘internet cafes.’ Principals are reaching out to parents who have indicated that their connectivity is sub-par. Each school is handling the project a little differently, depending on the space and staff they have available.

O’Dell admits that remote learning is difficult. “I’ve been watching kids trying to interact with their teachers through the computer. It’s not optimal.”

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