After a socially distanced summer, Montgomery County’s roughly 166,000 public school students on Monday were tasked with logging on to classes from home, a historic start to the new academic year.
At 8 a.m., schools would usually be buzzing with activity — parents dropping their kids off, crossing guards directing bottlenecked traffic, students congregating on the front lawn to reunite with friends.
But on Monday, the fence around Gaithersburg Elementary School’s playground was padlocked shut to keep people out. A street sign reminding drivers they were in a school zone flashed, but the neighborhood was still.
Five months ago, in March, state officials required all schools across Maryland to be closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, a new disease that, in the U.S. alone, has now sickened nearly six million people and killed 182,000.
The announcement thrust school districts, including MCPS, the state’s largest, into online learning.
Monday morning, the new school year began, and the district’s plan for virtual instruction through the fall began.
Bethesda Beat asked a handful of students, teachers and administrators to give us a snapshot of the first day.
MCPS Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight: Student safety has been and will continue to be our main priority. … In a perfect situation, our students will feel as connected in this virtual world as possible, because that’s a big part of what they look forward to in their classrooms and in their school buildings, building that community. So, my biggest hope is that they’re able to build those successful, meaningful, connected communities in this virtual environment that they did in the brick-and-mortar setting. My other hope is they’re thriving with their learning … and, most importantly, that we learn from this and we come out of it better than where we were when we started this experience. There’s nowhere for us to go but up from here.
The day got off to a bumpy start. Minutes before classes were scheduled to begin across the county, a wave of parents and students began frantically posting on social media that they couldn’t access MyMCPS Classroom, the platform the school district uses to share school communications, grades, student schedules and links to live Zoom classes.
Within the hour, most families were able to find workaround ways to their children’s classes. The most common was emails from teachers with the class links. Others accessed MyMCPS after several tries.
MCPS officials on Monday morning said the system was slow because of a problem with a digital service provider, which was resolved quickly.
Joshua Rubin, Social studies teacher, A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring: Canvas was running super slow, to the point where I clicked on something, put the window on my second screen, and worked on something else while I waited for it to respond. I hadn’t done any planning, despite having been on my computer for more than an hour already.
David Gross, senior, Winston Churchill High School in Potomac: At 8:40 a.m, I tried to log on to MyMCPS Classroom. The page was not loading. This kinda freaked me out and I got nervous. Luckily, I had visited the Zoom link the day before, and I was able to look up my history and find it.
Alexander Sarino, second grade, Brookhaven Elementary School in Rockville: I got to see some of my friends, which was good. I like that I got to see different people and learn about them. I want to learn Spanish to talk to more of my friends.
Kaitlyn Borer, sixth grade, Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring: My butt hurts. … I barely survived an hour. I can’t wait to sleep.
Micah Singh, fifth grade, Monocacy Elementary School in Dickerson: Math class had less problems (compared to first period, when Zoom was slow and students struggled to log in). Everyone was able to hear and see, and there wasn’t any lagging. My teacher’s dog barked in the background. I think he wants to take math.
At 11:15 a.m. at the elementary school level, and at 11:30 a.m. for middle and high schools, classes break for lunch. The break lasts 90 minutes for elementary students and 75 minutes for middle and high schoolers. Students finish the day with a mix of live classes, breaks and check-in times with teachers.
Michael Sarino, senior, John F. Kennedy High School in Wheaton: I had plenty of time to eat (I don’t have to go to a food site to pick up food from the county) and spent the time just on my phone. In the future, though, I’ll probably use the time to do some homework.
Micah Singh: I miss the school cafeteria and playground. We actually got to socialize there. I have socialized with my sister and parents enough at this point. The food is better here at home, though.
Audrey Borer, fourth grade, Pine Crest Elementary School in Silver Spring: I had a socially distant picnic with a friend in my backyard. It was great. My classes don’t line up with my middle school sister’s, so I played Sorry! and Connect Four with my mom and dad while she was in class. I beat them.
David Gross: After lunch, for third period, I entered my Zoom, and my teacher was playing music for forensic science which I thought was really cool. My siblings for some reason put their Zooms at full volume at that time, which made me have to miss a bit of class to go lower their volume. … I find virtual learning much more tiring than regular in-person learning and I hope it will be better in the future.
Michael Sarino: By my last class, I was very tired of just sitting in front of a computer screen listening to teachers talk all day.
Joshua Rubin: I think this day went about as well as could be expected. Most of my students showed up. I wonder how many were confused about schedules or accessing classes on Zoom, but overall, I think things went fairly well. I’m definitely more confident about tomorrow now that I’ve been through one day.
Violet Fisher, sixth grade, Earle B. Wood Middle School in Rockville: I have enjoyed my day. You can tell the teachers are trying their best to make online learning fun.
Clayson Fisher, second grade, Flower Valley Elementary School in Rockville: My favorite part of the whole day was in class when we read a story about a little dinosaur that learns not to eat her classmates. I think what they meant was to be nice to other people and they will be nice to you.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org