There’s a  very noticeable new addition to the Waialae-Kaimuki YMCA. A very large tent, with the sides made of that sunlight-filtering screen material.

Inside it, masked children from kindergarten through 6th grade sit at carefully-distanced tables. The elementary school ones have a laptop computer open and are mostly sitting quietly and watching the computer screens.

It’s school away from school. The new system imposed on most students right now because of Covid-19 — remote learning.

The offer to parents who work or just want a break away from their kids during part of the day went up on the Honolulu YMCA website when the fall school year was starting:


In support of working parents/guardians, the YMCA Learning Centers are open to provide a safe place for their children in grades K through 6th in distance learning school programs and the Leeward Y Preschool is open for children ages 2 – 5.

It’s not like being in real school. YMCA staffers supervise the youngsters. Parents who can afford more than this basic program can also enroll their kids in the after-school program. I’ve watched those playing supervised games on a synthetic grass playground near the tent “learning center.” It’s almost impossible to keep them at least 6 feet apart at all times. Kids are kids.

But what most interested me was the question being asked by most all parents and many educators, too, as this remote education stays with us: Does remote learning short change young children who normally develop a strong bond with their teachers and learn about group dynamics, personal stresses, and, yes, sometimes about playground encounters that turn physical?

I’ve looked up opinions of the education experts and the parents who’ve placed their kids in these remote learning centers that fall short of the regular classroom experience.

The consensus seems to be: it’s not good but the alternative mid-pandemic could be much worse.

Author Emily Gould, writing about her son’s first remote school experience: “He was used to being able to talk to his classmates directly, to hug them and hold hands with them and fight with them. I don’t think it’s going to cause him lasting damage—I know how adaptable kids are. I just hate to bear witness to his frustration and upset.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for children ages 2 to 5 a digital media exposure of only one hour per day. More can have an impact on brain development and motor skills.

UCLA health policy professor Alice Kuo says virtual schooling creates toxic stress for youngsters and “the risk this generation of children will suffer from heart disease and diabetes. It could cripple their mental health. It’s time to safely and cautiously get students back into school. Their future health is at stake.”

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University finds that students enrolled in remote or virtual schooling fell so far behind their peers in bricks and mortar classrooms that the children might have been better off if they had never bothered to log on at all. 

But the alternative? Internal CDC documents warn that full reopening of schools is “the highest risk” for coronavirus spread.

Pick your poison!


Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Biafran War in Nigeria (1968) Vietnam War (1969-73), Iraq in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. 2 Emmys for documentaries. Married to journalist Denby Fawcett; one daughter. Brett Jones, foreign service officer, State Department.

2 replies on ““School” In The Parking Lot Tent”

  1. Do we care about children? Are they just a nuisance to some parents? Children take cues from adults as to how to react, behave. As my daughter told her daughter last March when they switched to virtual learning and granddaughter objected, “ we can’t visit you in The hospital”. Of course, it’s a better virtual learning course than Hawaii’s. The point is that a child is precious. It shouldn’t be about someone’s set goals for the age level. It’s about their safety! It’s to early to return.

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