Local families adjust to remote learning

COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) Learning from home is challenging, but one local family seems to have it all figured out. Our Christina Guessferd spoke with the Messineo family of Colchester about their experience during the stay-at-home order.

The Messineos say the nearly monthlong trial has been a true test of their compatibility.

"We're settling into a groove, finally. At first, it seemed great to be able to just let things kind of fly, and then after a few weeks we realized, wait this is not going to work with seven of us," said Jill Messineo.

She says the first challenge was finding seven separate, private workspaces for her children -- Elizabeth, Bella, Alex, Jacob and Owen. They even cleared out a closet for one.

From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. the house is quiet, except for sound from classes over Zoom.

"So they're not just getting packets, they're not just getting assignments, they're actually meeting with their teachers and their classmates," Messineo said.

Though the students see their friends and teachers over video chat, they say they miss the structure of school.

"I kind of miss seeing people face to face and having more time hanging out with my friends," said Bella, a sixth-grader at St. Francis Xavier.

"I also miss knowing when it's time to work and stuff because that's one thing I've struggled with when we've been home," said Owen, an eighth-grader at the private Catholic school.

On the other hand, they're cherishing the extra and unexpected family time.

"I told them they may not appreciate it until they're parents, but this is bonus time for us," Messineo said.

"Jacob's not usually home from college now, and since he's getting older, the time to come home has been getting less," said Elizabeth, an 11th-grader at Rice Memorial High School.

"In college, I was more used to doing my work late afternoon or at night, but with my family, that's the time when we're all together, so I've definitely had to change that up," said Jacob, a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame.

While Jacob is adjusting to the transition back home, Alex is mourning the loss of his high school senior year at Rice.

"It was an unwritten ending that we didn't think it would happen that way," he said. "There's a lot of uncertainty, but the only thing that I can really do is keep hope, and hoping that people like us do our jobs and are able to fight this and get the people, the state and the country back to where it needs to be in order for things to return to normal. And as much as it sucks to make that sacrifice, it's one that needs to be made."

Vermont's 11 Catholic schools are closed until further notice, but leaders say they're holding out hope in-person classes will resume before the end of the year.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington made the announcement to move online March 17 and by the next day, Rice had made the transition.

Rice principal Lisa Lorenz says years ago, Bishop Christopher Coyne tasked her with developing an online high school called St. Therese Digital Academy. So, she opened up the digital doors to students and teachers for the first time on March 18.

It's a platform where students can access resources, schedules and assignments and where teachers can hold them accountable for their work.

Lorenz says teachers are doing their best to emulate a classroom experience with virtual labs and time for students to chat among themselves.

In a recent survey, Lorenz says parents provided feedback, the transition felt seamless.

"Obviously, it was so new to our students, it was new to our faculty, not everyone was familiar with online learning, but the families and the students have responded very positively and they've been feeling the real presence of Rice continuing and creating that school spirit that we have. But also, there's not just maintenance but actual progression in their learning," said Lorenz.

Lorenz says she and her staff are still hopeful the school can put on senior prom and graduation.