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Transitioning To Online Learning Is Tough For Students With Disabilities


Students going back to school are adapting to change and uncertainty. For students with disabilities, adjusting to constant change can be more complicated. Reporter Tressa Versteeg spoke with two students in Maine about how they're navigating school in the time of COVID-19.

TRESSA VERSTEEG, BYLINE: In the spring, when the pandemic forced schools to use online learning, the transition was tough for students.

KWAYAH MARIE LICHTERFELD: My name is Kwayah Marie Lichterfeld (ph). I live in Waterville, Maine.

VERSTEEG: Kwayah is a 12th grader who attends a public charter school with a hands-on focus and tight-knit community. She especially loved being onstage at her school's open mic nights. Kwayah also has Down syndrome. And it was hard to concentrate while learning at home.

LICHTERFELD: It was really hard to focus on the work you had to do because your parents were just, like, talking and talking and talking downstairs. And you can't do your work down there.

VERSTEEG: She learned to be flexible and find a quiet space to work. And one of Kwayah's teachers emailed her every day, which was a huge help. The same was true for a middle schooler in Portland, Maine.

ASHER GRAY: My name is Asher Beckett Gray (ph) or Asher Gray. I'm going to be in seventh grade. I play video games. I do my tablet. And I make clay things - sculpt clay.

VERSTEEG: Asher has autism and ADHD. The unpredictability and lack of structure at the start of the pandemic were a challenge. So his mom worked with the school to make sure he got the support that he'd had at school in person.

GRAY: I actually work with Ms. Ferrell (ph) on Zoom. She, honestly, basically, helps me almost every day.

VERSTEEG: But Asher said some of the changes weren't so bad, like not having to choose a new outfit each day and adjusting school hours to be more manageable.

GRAY: I got to admit, home learning was pretty cool. I actually had, honestly, the end of the day around 12.

VERSTEEG: Both Kwayah and Asher's schools have adopted hybrid models of online and in-person learning. At first, Asher wanted to be completely remote. But then he realized some things were better at school, like eating pizza in the cafeteria in gym class. Though, he's not sure about playing tag.

GRAY: No, no. There's contact. And I'm pretty sure that you're not supposed to do that during quarantine with people that don't even live with you. So probably highly unlikely.

VERSTEEG: Kwayah's been back for a couple weeks. And she's thrilled. Her teachers are like family. But some things, like wearing a mask and social distancing, are certainly different.

LICHTERFELD: We can't give them hugs or high-fives quite yet, not until this thing has gone away.

VERSTEEG: She also said these changes are worth it to be in-person again. Asher agrees. He started school September 14. And the changes are important to getting back his primary concern, Halloween.

GRAY: The only thing I'm worried about is, like, Halloween. I mean, maybe if we wear masks, maybe if we did better social distancing we could do Halloween.

VERSTEEG: Whether or not Halloween or hugging can happen this year, Kwayah and Asher think returning to school in-person, at least part of the time, is a step in the right direction. And when more changes come, they'll adapt again.

For NPR News, this is Tressa Versteeg.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIHONI'S "RUBY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tressa Versteeg
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