In my last blog, I wrote about a student who is thriving with online work. In this blog, I’ll write about a student who has struggled: Adam.*
Adam has had his ups and down as a student. in 9th grade, he arrived in the United States from Yemen. 9th and 10th grade were successful years for him , but 11th grade was a disaster: he cut classes and failed exams, leading to a serious conference with his father at the beginning of this year.
The conference worked. Adam shifted in 12th grade: he attended his classes, participated, asked questions. He even walked with purpose. Every day, he’d pass my office and say, “Hi miss!” as if to say, “See? I can do this, and I know you’re proud of me.”
Yet somehow, when we shifted to remote learning, we lost Adam. We gave him a Chromebook, but he wasn’t completing work. A staff member learned that Adam’s internet was spotty, so we helped him order a free, internet-enabled iPad through the New York City Department of Education, which was delivered in a couple of weeks.
Still, even with the iPad, he wasn’t completing work or returning phone calls. And we were unable to reach his father, who previously had been such a partner.
In my school, we have a team to support students struggling with online learning. Through that team, I was assigned to help Adam.
I called all the numbers listed for Adam’s family in our database: each call was a series of rings with no answer, or a number not in service.
On the fourth number, I suddenly heard, “Hello?” from a confident young voice, a combination Arabic and New York accent. “I’m his older brother. I’m working in the deli but I can talk.” The brother explained that his father had travelled to Yemen, but was now stuck, concerned about traveling home due to the virus.
Adam’s struggles all made sense now: his dad, his greatest support, was away.
Still, his brother was clearly trying to help Adam: “How about this, when I get home tonight, I’ll call you and we’ll talk to him together,” he told me.
The brother was true to his word. At 4:30 I got the call, and his brother passed his cell phone to Adam. I asked Adam to jump onto a video call with me, and he agreed.
I waited. After 5 minutes, I found myself getting impatient. I texted his brother, who assured me Adam was getting on the call.
After 15 minutes, I heard the “ping” of Adam joining, and I suddenly saw the friendly face and thick curls. “Hi miss!” he said. I noticed he looked tired.
We logged onto all of his classes together, answering a few questions in each class, helping him understand the platform. Adam assured me he’d get to work. A few minutes after the call, he texted, “Thanks so much for care, Miss.”
In the next two weeks, I saw Adam’s grades pop up from failing to passing.
When I reflected on Adam, there were so many things that made remote learning tough on him:
His father, his main support, wasn’t around. Adam missed him deeply.
Adam is also not the strongest reader. In school, his in-person friendliness and excellent speaking skills covered some of his literacy needs.
Also, simply being in school creates routine, structure, and a separation from home that is helpful for many kids. I had been impatient with Adam for taking so long to get on the video call, but my boyfriend Sathya pointed out, “Maybe he was trying to clean his room, or getting dressed. He might have been embarrassed. You’re the principal, it was probably weird for him.” Back in school, walking past my office to say “Hi,” Adam had felt a sense of pride, whereas it might have felt odd to open up his home, and himself, on video.
Adam is now on-track to graduate, but it hasn’t been easy. A kid like Adam misses being with people. He was fed by attention from his teachers, hanging out with his friends. A kid like Adam is lonely these days.
*The names of students have been changed.