Families take distance learning around the world
At 1 a.m., Nandu Rakesh Nair might have the latest bedtime of any St. Louis kid, but that's when he signs off from his fifth grade classroom for the day.
Nandu, 10, attends Craig Elementary near Westport Plaza from India, which is 10½ hours ahead. He and his family traveled to India in March for a two-week visit, but pandemic-related travel restrictions have kept them from returning to the U.S.
While his cousins attend virtual schools in India, Nandu wanted to stay enrolled at Craig with his friends.
"Even if you're on the other side of the world, there has to be a way to learn," he said.
For all its downsides, virtual schooling has given families flexibility to log in from anywhere. Disney World and other resorts worldwide now offer virtual learning packages, through which kids can be guided through their classes in the morning and enjoy their vacations in the afternoon. Some families have embarked on cross-country trips while the kids stay in school. In a twist, virtual learning also has given a boost to the "skoolie" movement of converting old school buses to mobile homes.
This fall, Kate Harrison's children attend class at their New Jersey school while staying at her parents' home in St. Charles. Harrison and her husband were working full time in New York City before the pandemic hit. When their school and work went virtual, they figured they would need to hire a tutor for the two oldest children in elementary school and a nanny for the toddler. Moving in with her parents while working and schooling remotely made more sense, Harrison said.
The family plans to stay through the end of the year.
"It's been really wonderful," Harrison said. "I hope they remember this as a warm, wonderful time with their grandparents and not a time when the world was falling apart."
The coronavirus outbreak has been massive in India, with a total of 7 million people who have tested positive for the virus. That's second only to the nearly 8 million confirmed cases in the U.S.
Nandu's parents came to the U.S. on work visas when he was in kindergarten to work for the technology company UST Global. Only his little brother is a U.S. citizen, and the family has been waiting for the American consulate in India to reopen to help arrange their return trip.
"My Christmas miracle would be going back to St. Louis," Nandu said.
Nandu's school in the Parkway district has a large percentage of international students whose parents work at Boeing and other companies and tend to stay in nearby apartments.
Electricity blackouts and spotty internet connections don't deter Nandu in India. His teacher, Erica Rochester, has to accept him back into the virtual classroom five or six times a day, she said.
"The internet keeps going in and out, or we can't hear him," she said. "The biggest thing is every time he gets kicked out, he comes right back. It does not discourage him. He's always so positive."
When Craig students have the option to return to classrooms this week, Nandu will be assigned a new teacher for virtual students.
"That's the part that stinks because now we've done all of this work to build relationships with our students," Rochester said. "It's a bit of a challenge, but some people are really needing to get back face to face."
Nandu said he enjoys some perks that his classmates in Maryland Heights miss. He can sleep in until 10 a.m. and play with toys all day before starting school at 7 p.m.
"I miss outdoor recess," he said. "I never did much because I'm not that much of an outdoorsy person, but I scout the playground to see if there's anyone by themselves and I try to fix their problems."
The pandemic is a problem Nandu knows he can't fix, but he closely follows the progress of COVID-19 vaccines.
"The minute I hear three words 'COVID is over,' I will run out and celebrate harder than I ever have," he said.