Essential reporting in volatile times.

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.

Learn more about HD Media

Hello there, from (let me check this map thing), whoa, red Kanawha County. I guess red is as bad as it can get, as it relates to COVID-19 and whether schools can resume in-person classes or participate in sports. I didn’t catch all of the governor’s Wednesday briefing, so there might be some new colors I don’t know about.

Anyway, here in orange-now-red Kanawha County, we’ve been doing school from a distance for a while (there is at least one notable exception, but I don’t feel like I know enough about that to comment, other than to say a liability waiver isn’t encouraging).

When schools dismissed early last spring as the virus hit, education became almost a triage situation. There was no uniform way of doing it. Some teachers sent home packets or emailed assignments. Some made use of technology to teach online. It was a mixed bag, and the responsibility landed mostly on the parents and guardians.

I remarked at the time how inadequate a replacement I felt as my son’s teacher and how it deepened my appreciation for educators. I also couldn’t have imagined then that this situation would still be with us in the fall.

Things are more organized now, for those of us who have kids learning from a living room. I can actually see my son and his classmates interacting with their teacher, and I’m even more blown away.

I know this arrangement isn’t ideal. It has to be a terrible strain on the teachers, working to reach a classroom full of kids who aren’t in a classroom.

It’s difficult for the kids, too, learning in a way that is almost like being there, but short of that in so many crucial ways. Many of them have parents who can sit beside them and help out, or prod them to pay attention, but not all of them do. Still, teachers manage to reach them and control the classroom. The attention and respect I’ve seen these kids give their instructors is astonishing.

Most importantly, I suppose, they are, indeed, learning.

I realize this doesn’t describe every virtual classroom or the experience of every teacher or student. I’ll also acknowledge that a good part of the morning is spent asking who can hear and see whom, and utilizing that magical, universal problem-solver when it comes to technology: “Can you log out and then log back in?” which is really just a variation of the classic “Have you tried turning it off and back on?”

I also know that, in many areas, this type of learning isn’t even an option, because broadband infrastructure isn’t reliable or the technology required isn’t affordable. That’s a serious problem in all parts of West Virginia. I realize my family is fortunate to be able to protect our child against a severe health risk while still engaging in a form of education.

In any case, I’ve always heard about the dedication of West Virginia educators, but it’s been pretty cool to actually see it. It’s not the perfect arrangement, but it’s not so bad. It’s kind of nice to sit by my son as he colors blocks on a sheet of paper in an addition exercise, while I track colors on a map on the television, trying to make sense of what “gold” means to schools. I think he’s getting the better instruction at the moment.

Ben Fields is the Gazette-Mail opinion editor. Reach him at or follow @BenFieldsWV on Twitter.