Elementary Zoom Column

I vividly remember my first day of sixth grade.

I remember wearing my favorite bright-fuschia, floral shirt and my charismatic teacher with his Superman tie making us all laugh so hard my nerves washed away.

My little brother, who is nine years younger than me, started his own first day of sixth grade on Tuesday.

Our experiences differed in almost every way possible, except his day was definitely very memorable, too.

This week, public schools around the country are opening their virtual doors and continuing to educate their students online for the entire year, an unprecedented and monumental change affecting communities everywhere.

Young and impressionable, elementary and middle school age children may have it the toughest out of every age group.

Late childhood and adolescence are the most significant time periods where children first learn how to socialize with their peers based on common interests and personalities.

Making friends gets more complex than just befriending whoever’s sitting next to you in class and who has a Power Ranger toy you want to play with.

At this age, kids learn how to break away from their families, build trust with others and learn lessons about friendship that they carry with them into adulthood.

However, virtual learning makes it extremely difficult for anyone to bond with their classmates while sitting in separate houses, let alone learn at all.

Parents and family members who already have so much on their plate during a pandemic struggle to understand how online learning works and usually don’t understand how to explain the teacher’s material to their kids at home.

In my own household last spring, I ended up teaching my brother most of the material he was learning by answering his questions, watching videos his teacher sent with him and checking his homework, on top of my own work as a college student. To say it was easy would be laughable.

Even though young people are very familiar with virtual interactions and the technology their schools are using, it is not an adequate replacement for meeting in-person.

Human beings need face-to-face connection, personal interaction, physical touch and natural conversations to bond with one another. Online classes take away all of that, and the ones who suffer most are the kids who haven’t even learned how to interact with others yet.

I worry about my brother while I’m at college, about how the pandemic and social distancing will affect his school life now and who he will later become.

I think the least we can do as college students is to think more about the younger siblings we have left behind.

I cannot imagine what it is like to be a sixth grade student during the coronavirus pandemic, because it was hard enough when I went in-person.

Nevertheless, I can try to understand.

FaceTiming my brother to ask how his day went, encouraging him to play basketball outside and giving him advice for how to deal with our parents for such a long time are all efforts to make sure that he does not get left behind.

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