BARNEGAT, NJ – It lasted just two days. When Brackman sixth-graders Emma Fedorczyk learned the school would move to virtual learning, it sounded like a break. The glee was short-term. Emma realized what she was missing out on by not attending regular classes. Ultimately, Emma sensed the world could stand some kindness.
Many recall sixth grade as one of the toughest transitional years. The start of middle school means moving from the oldest in elementary classes – to becoming newcomers. Meanwhile, sixth graders have matured enough to take heed of changes that impact their lives. And, yes, that includes the anxieties associated with a pandemic.
Emma’s fears and concerns about the threats of COVID-19 mirror those of adults much older than her. She’s not exactly sheltered from the outside world.
“I’ve listened to the news,” shared Emma. “My teachers also post things on our classroom blogs to keep us up to date on what’s going on as far as fighting the virus and keeping safe.”
As a sixth-grader, Emma has some old soul insight into the things that matter to her. She finds the whole situation stressful, although Emma believes things are getting better. That said, Emma acknowledges that to stop the spread, everyone needs to keep their distance.
Virtual learning has opened up a brand new experience for the Fedorczyk family. Emma’s father, George, and mother, Renee, divide up teaching time between Emma and her younger sister, Madelyn, a five-year-old.
“Everything is a lot more disorganized than it is at school,” Emma conceded. “I don’t have a locker like I did at school.”
When classes were in session, Emma’s day began at 6 am as she scurried to make her morning bus. The ride to school is yet another thing Emma misses. During that short time, she visited with her friends and had some fun.
Since the advent of distance learning, Emma wakes up at 9 am and starts her day. She looks forward to the times when Google meets are on the schedule. During those sessions, Emma makes sure she’s changed from her pajamas.
“Our teachers are becoming more open and starting online group chats,” said Emma. “In one way or another, we get to see our friends and ask questions.”
For the most part, Emma says her schoolwork has focused on review. However, as she begins to learn new things, Emma turns to her dad for help with her problems.
“I like the way that my dad helps me understand math,” Emma confessed. “It’s easier than the way we learn in school.”
Emma’s teachers have set up everything to make things as consistent as possible. After Emma logs into the computer, she starts with her first period class and goes all the way to the tenth period. Although her favorite class is Spanish, Emma most recently enjoyed an assignment from her STEM class.
For those unfamiliar with the acronym, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Emma’s teacher gave the class a kindness challenge. It was one Emma readily accepted.
Armed with colorful chalk, Emma took to the sidewalks near her house. She figured she’d create some motivational messages for people who were out walking or riding their bikes.
“I started off with some of my favorite quotes,” shared Emma. “I then made up some jokes of my own and wrote them to make people laugh.”
Emma’s sidewalk chalk gallery was well-received. Both adults and children who saw them smiled and commented on them. Emma’s act of kindness hit its mark.
According to Emma, distance learning goes beyond books and study materials. Her gym teacher requires her to keep a fitness log of her weekly activity. As soon as she has spare time, Emma heads to her yard to practice soccer.
Whenever she can, Emma uses technology to catch up with her friends. While Facetime doesn’t replace sitting with them at lunch, it allows them to communicate. Yet, the precocious sixth grader has found the good in the upset to her regular routine.
“All this togetherness with our family is a little bit crazy,” Emma admitted. “However, I feel like it’s bringing us even closer together. I think that’s the best part of it.”