Season 15 | Ep. 4

Learning During a Pandemic

We have all been impacted in one way or another by COVID-19. On Transforming Health: Learning During a Pandemic we’ll take a look at how students, teachers and parents have adapted to learning during this time.

In March of 2020, people across the country learned a pandemic would change their lives in unimaginable ways. We worried about loved ones, jobs, about groceries and health. With school buildings dark, we worried about children and education too. Amid questions, concerns and worries, teachers, parents and students were left to figure out how to carry on. How could learning continue during a pandemic?

Children being socially distant at school.

Children being socially distant at school.


“And then that was it. We never went back. It was a complete shock to me.”


“Mostly, I had a panic attack. That’s pretty much how I handled it.”


“I kinda had a breakdown.’


“You didn’t know what to expect. It was like two weeks no school. I didn’t know what to do.”


“Parents that work all the time and — I don’t know what they did.”


“It’s been school with dad.”


“It is a juggling act.”


“I felt like I was basically on call all the time.”


“I was worried for myself personally for my mental well-being.”


“So, I just found out that I will not be going back to school ever again.”


“I did really miss — I really missed seeing my students.”


“I didn’t get to say good-bye to them.”


“I just — I wish it could be different, I really do.”


Today, healthcare is about empowering people to take control of their health. Whether creating a fitness routine, choosing the right procedures and medications, or adhering to treatment for a chronic condition. Capital BlueCross, dedicated to underwriting “Transforming Health” for the good health of the community.

WellSpan Health. Helping patients reach their health goals through a coordinated system of physicians, hospitals, and convenient healthcare services in communities across Central Pennsylvania. Learn more a wellspan.org. WellSpan Health. For the journey that is life.

Support also comes from viewers like you. Thank you.


Hello and welcome to “Transforming Health Learning During a Pandemic.” I’m Kiera McGuire. Over the next half hour, we’ll hear from teachers, parents and students who will recount what the past year has been like, how they’ve pushed through and come together during these challenging times and how things are slowly beginning to get back to normal or at least, a new normal again. When school buildings closed in March of 2020, teachers were just as shocked as the rest of the world. And they were tasked with finding a new way to teach practically overnight.


At the end of that day, the P.A. came on and it was announced that we would not be returning on Monday. And I was completely shocked! Now, for a time, I think that there was a little bit of a — a honeymoon period and then that faded. You know? And, oh man, I didn’t expect to get emotional, but, sorry, but I did really miss — I really missed seeing my students. I don’t think I’ve actually talked to anybody about this yet. But yeah, the honeymoon period faded. And then it got real. And I realized I’m not — I’m not — I don’t know when I’ll see these kids again.


Justine Garman

Justine Garman

Mid-March, a Friday afternoon, you know, we say good-bye to the kiddos, and we didn’t think anything of it. When we heard, you know, we weren’t going to be returning to school right away, I did reach out to my kids in zoom, just to check in on them. And then it progressed. Like, that’s how I would have to teach them for the rest of the year. So, it was definitely, I would say — it was challenging. Because these are 5-year-olds.


We were told that we were going to shut the school down for two weeks. And then that was it. We never went back. It was a complete shock to me. At that point, I knew I was retiring. And I wanted to finish strong. But it was difficult because we didn’t really finish. I feel like I’ve left loose ends, if you know what I mean. — That I just wasn’t able to tie it off the way I wanted to.


You know, they’d said, “take your computers home. Take everything home with you.” Now when you’re talking to a physical science teacher and you say, “take everything home with you,” all of a sudden, your stomach falls right down to your kneecaps, and you’re like, “what do you really mean by ‘everything’?” They meant everything. Professionally, my skills in technology were not where they should’ve been because I wasn’t ready to do online teaching at that point. Mostly, I had a panic attack. That’s pretty much how I handled it. [ Chuckle ] I’d like to say, “well, yeah. I figured it right out.” No, I didn’t. I was petrified.


For the first, I’d say at least 2 to 3 weeks, I felt like I was basically on call all the time. Because I was trying to check my e-mail even in the evenings. Because a lot of times, that’s when the kids could do their work. ‘Cause that’s when their parents could help them, that’s when they could get online.


And so, I was like, “okay. We don’t really know how this is going to work. So how can I reinvent what I do to work for kids, to help them keep playing, to give them a place to come and talk with you and just have a little bit of normalcy in life?”


Patti Graham

Patti Graham

Hi, I’m Patti Graham, and I teach kindergarten at Foose School in the Harrisburg school district. Being around the children, enjoying them and watching them grow their brains, and blossom, that’s exciting to me. Probably many tears were shed on my own time — private time — because I didn’t get to say good-bye to them. I did worry, because I know — stories that come about even when they are coming into my classroom every day — I just know that a lot of times they’re here with me to get a hug. We’re a title I school so all of our students get free lunch 100%. We started immediately distributing food. And I volunteered. But I would ask them to come up. And sometimes I would give them things, whether it was, some paper, or a journal, or a notebook, or crayons and things. I was making 18 or more phone calls a day to connect with them, continually reaching out, getting on zoom to visit with them. We even had a virtual kindergarten graduation. We started the school year like teaching at home. And then they allowed us after a couple weeks, you know, “here’s how it’s going to work when you come to the building.” I set up my classroom. I needed to have that to feel like I was teaching again and not sitting at home in a makeshift classroom. In September, they weren’t used to this. Sitting and watching and talking to someone and, “someone’s talking to me,” on, you know, on a computer screen. But the presentation has to be active and moving and spinning and very engaging and wow. Just turning them on to songs and dances and puppetry or whatever works. And I knew we had to do that. And I knew it took a lot of energy. This is 32 years for me in this district. So that’s hard for me to go from that to that. Probably my biggest stress relief is finding out what the children like and just enjoying them, whether it is putting on peace glasses, or they might be into unicorns. So, if I didn’t do this fun stuff, I think I would be a lot more stressed. We have them, you know, wrapped in our arms, our virtual hugs, and we’re moving forward.

Today I’m going to take you through “a day in the life” during this virtual time of teaching in this pandemic. I’m at the parking lot and the place I have driven to for the past 32 years. And it looks a little different now. And I’m going to slip my mask on and go into the building with all of my excitement for the day and for my students. So here I am in my classroom about to start the day. It is empty at this time, if you can see, which makes for an empty heart. But my heart will be full very shortly. Here’s my children on the door, all of their names. And this is my group. And we are greeting each other in our morning meeting with our binoculars. Show me your binoculars. Everyone. Good job, friends. During this pandemic, we need the help of our principal.

“Hello, I’m Mr. Hicks.”

And as well as the office staff.

“Hey.”

Hi. I’m going out here. In order for our students to get onto their zoom classes and fix all of their technology we have our tech person. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to teach virtually during this pandemic. Hi, it’s the end of the day and I just had to take a breather and have a seat. The end of a virtual teaching day and all of the things that go with it to a cup of tea and a little bit of relaxation. I feel like I’m drained. And I think it is because all I am is looking at this. The computer screen wears you out. If the children were just here, I wouldn’t be as worn out as just looking at a screen. I would much rather have the children in the classroom. I thought they would come back a lot sooner. I hope that happens this year. I, you know, I hope it happens. Good morning. This is the spare bedroom where I had taught for the past three out of four months since about November. So now I get to go into the building and teach from there. So that excites me because, teaching from home, telework as they call it, is not the best. I am back in my classroom and preparing for students to be welcomed back, hopefully in April. We have the shields up. I don’t know if you can see them. My hand is on them. The shields are on the desks and the desks are six or more feet apart. And lastly today, after a long afternoon of meetings with the superintendent of the district and our building administration, I am anticipating the return of students, after one year of virtually teaching during this pandemic. I am looking forward to students walking through these doors and into my classroom after a whole year. And hopefully in the next month that will happen here in Harrisburg. And I’m excited to see the change and to have the children here in front of me. After 32 years of teaching in this district it’s time — it’s time to bring them back.


When children were sent home from school in March, many parents needed to figure out how they would handle a few weeks. For some, that was hard enough. No one could have imagined how long that situation would last.


It’s been school with dad. My daughter can’t hang out with her friends like she used to. So, what I worry about is all the feelings that come with that. And I want to remain positive not only for myself, but for her. And whenever I enjoy the moments with her it takes us both away from everything that’s going on.


The Friday we were told that, you know, school was basically going to close for the next two weeks, I was like, okay two weeks feels long, but I’ll be all right. And then everyday it was like, oh, we’re going to add more time. We’re going to add more time. I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared for my psychical wellbeing, but I can tell you that after that two weeks I was worried for myself personally, for my mental wellbeing. And that’s being transparent honest. Because to go from working fulltime and teaching and having your kids in daycare or school, to working fulltime and teaching from home with your kids home not knowing how long that’s going to be your normal is really scary.


So, I am a single mom. My daughter is eight years old. So, she’s with me throughout the day and we’re having to juggle schoolwork and mommy being on zoom and running yoga classes, and then answering emails and clients contacting me, and so on and so forth. It is a juggling act.

She’s not getting her schoolwork done every day as scheduled. Oh well. You know, this is our — this is our life now. Life is messy right now and it’s okay.


The day that we found out that it was just going to two weeks was March 13th. But obviously that went on a lot longer. I felt like I was in a boxing match, like you just kept getting punched in the face and you knew it was a losing battle. And then they did say they were going to start virtual school and that was a little more hopeful than having nothing at all. But also, a challenge because my husband and I, we both still had to go to work so — when my kids were starting that virtual school in the spring, I kind of had a breakdown about that at work. Eventually you just get over it and you just move on and find ways to be the best you can and do the best that you can. My mom is like, I don’t know what I’d do without her. You know, she — she helped me a lot. Sorry. And parents that work all the time and I don’t know what they did. Somebody that didn’t have — like I had my mom to help. I don’t know how other people did it because everything did fall on us then. Luckily with Bianca and her age, she did well no matter what was thrown at her. The school did the absolute best that they could, but I feel like the kids definitely missed out. There was a huge gap, especially for my fourth grader. They just tried their best basically to get the kids some kind of education. They did what they could, but it was not the same. So aubrelle was in kindergarten when this started last year. She couldn’t have her kindergarten graduation last year because they used to have it in the auditorium, and it was all set up and all cute. They would get their hat and their diploma. It was bad for me too because it was my last baby graduating kindergarten. So, I’m like, we’re just going to do it on our back porch, like have our little family there. So, we had a little kindergarten graduation for her.


What do you want to be when you grow up?

“A teacher.”

A teacher? Okay.


When I look at my picture from 2020, it’s all hiking and going outside. I’m glad they have each other. It’s good family times and good memories. I was just dreading them having to wear a mask. Like, I almost broke down when I saw the kids waiting on the first day of school. They all had their masks and shields. I think it bothers me more than them honestly. Kids are resilient and obviously I’ve got to seen them in masks. I’m used to it by now. So, February 1st, they all went back at the same time, four days a week. To see a trial run for the month of February. To basically see how it would go, I think. And it’s gone well. March 1st they are going back to five days a week. So today is the first Wednesday that she has been in school all year. She is more happy and upbeat, and just wants to be involved in everything. The school and the teachers, like I give it to them because the amount of things they had to deal with this year. Teacher and principals, especially, they’ve had to change everything, and it seemed like some of it just happened so quick, like no preparations. You just have to do this, you know. I can never do what they do. It’s amazing.


When school buildings closed, students had their own set of concerns. Would seniors have a graduation? When would they see friends, and teachers in person? They’ve had to adapt to uncertainty, and a constantly changing learning environment.


It’s a choice at my school whether you want to go to school a couple days, or fully. We call it core, that’s our program for online learning. I’ve been in core my entire year in seventh grade, and I had really great teachers this year. So, I really kind of regret not being able to see them in person. I regret not being able to see my friends, but online learning is definitely a learning experience.


I think it’s been kind of unexpected, and crazy. Because in March, I thought that this was like, gonna be really quick, and we’d just have like two off from school. But then it turned into quarantine, and we’ve just been doing online school for a while now. I don’t know, it’s hard.


My name is Olivia, I am eighteen, and I’m a senior. I’ve never gone through anything like this so it’s definitely like the scariest thing I’ve ever gone through. There’s not a lot that I know about the school year, right now. I miss seeing my teachers, and I miss interacting when I learn, because that’s how I learn. The online schooling isn’t necessarily, you know my favorite thing to do. It’s not, it’s just not the same thing. And I think that, that’s worrisome for me but if it’ll help people stay alive. Then I of course want this to be the way it is.


Hi, my name is Bianca, and I’m in seventh grade. We got a phone call from the school, and right after I got off of school. And we heard that we were gonna be off for two weeks, because of the virus. Cause they wanted to clear it up and stuff. So, I was really excited about it, and um I was like screaming in the car because I was so happy. And as it got bigger, I kind of got mad because everything was getting cancelled. And I realized that it was a big deal. My birthday is March 22nd, and it was right when covid started, and I was having this big birthday party with all my friends. And then my mom told me that we had to cancel it, which really made me unhappy. And then as it got bigger my sisters birthday party got cancelled. I think we were off for like about three to four weeks, like off completely. I got really bored, and then they decided that they were going to start virtual. Like on our computers and stuff. Which I got happy about that, but I knew it was going to be different. I don’t know, it’s just really strange kind of, for me to get used to. I have a ten-year-old sister, and a seven-year-old. And I definitely had to help them. Especially with my youngest sister, because she was new to the technology. Because she was only in kindergarten. I didn’t really have to get to have like a graduation, or anything. Like at the end of the year. Which was different. I really liked my teachers that year, and I always do. And it was hard to like not see them again, kind of. We actually had like zooms and google meets which we got to interact more with that, and as time went by, we got to change to hybrid. It was like half of the students which was really strange. We had to obviously wear masks and stuff. It was much different, and it was hard. It was like kind of a new reality, and I don’t know when we’re going to get out of that. But I’m used to it no, which is good. Good morning, it’s about six o’clock right now. And I just woke up, so today I’m really excited because it is the first week that I’m going to school. Like all week. So, this is my first Wednesday that I’m going to school, because usually it is virtual, on Wednesday and then we go to school on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. But this week we go all normal because it’s changed, I’m really excited. So now I’m all ready for school. So, let’s go downstairs and get everything we need. And then we can walk out the door.

Bianca (right) and friends

Bianca (right) and friends

Alright so now I’m just leaving my house. I have everything I need, and usually I walk to school because I live really close to the school. So yeah, I will show you guys what it looks like getting to school. Now were at school, I’m really excited because we have a new schedule. So, I’ll meet you guys inside. Alright so now I just got out of school, and I’m walking home. Because I live really close to the school, but yeah it was a really great day today. And I am super excited for tomorrow. I really enjoy going to school, I like socializing, and I just like learning more. So, it’s better for me obviously because then I can interact and stuff. But yeah, I really, I’m excited every day because I get to go to school, and I get to talk to people. And I really, it’s just back to normal, kind of.


We’d like to wish teachers, parents, and students continued strength and success as they navigate these times. I’d like to thank our guests for being so open and honest. And for documenting their lives in this way. Please join us next time as we continue to share stories and transform health. I’m keira McGuire, thanks for watching.


Today healthcare is about empowering people to take control of their health. Whether creating a fitness routine. Choosing the right procedures in medications or adhering to treatment for a chronic condition. Capital BlueCross, dedicated to underwriting Transforming Health for the good health of the community.

WellSpan Health, helping patients reach their health goals through a coordinated system of physicians’ hospitals and convenient healthcare services. In communities across central Pennsylvania. Learn more at wellspan.org. WellSpan Health, for the journey that is life.

Support also comes from viewers like you, thank you.

Watch more Transforming Health Episodes


Keira McGuire
Keira McGuire/WITF

Keira McGuire is a health reporter and multimedia producer for WITF. She hosts and produces Transforming Health television programs as well as other shows and documentaries for WITF’s Original Productions. McGuire produced the Emmy Award winning series HealthSmart for the last ten years. Keira previously worked at WBFF in Baltimore and WMDT in Salisbury as a reporter and anchor. She’s a graduate of Towson University.

Read more by Keira McGuire