Digital Learning in NYC: What At-Home School Looks Like in Isolation

These days, it feels as though the coronavirus spread has put all of New York City on pause. The usual activities of daily life have ground to a halt; workplaces have closed, restaurants shuttered, and the streets left uncharacteristically quiet as the city’s residents isolate themselves from their neighbors. But as New Yorkers retreat into their homes, many find themselves facing a challenge they may never have expected to handle: proctoring their child’s education.

As of mid-March, the vast majority of New York’s 1,800 schools have shuttered their doors. While some optimistic administrators hope to reopen by the end of April, most academic institutions plan to stay closed through the end of the academic year. The closures have disrupted the routines of over a million students. Now, just as some workers have been instructed to work from their home offices, students have been sent to virtual classrooms. The change has prompted parents, teachers, and administrators alike to find creative ways to ensure educational continuity for the city’s students despite the lack of a physical school.

“It won’t be easy,” teachers union boss Michael Mulgrew told the New York Post. “It won’t be perfect. But we need to get this done.”

After news of the upcoming closures broke on March 15th, the Department Education set about re-training the city’s 80,000 teachers for remote teaching. For a few days after students left their schools, teachers reported to class to learn how to execute their usual lesson plans remotely. Educators were instructed on how to use digital teaching tools like Google Classroom, Canvas, and videoconferencing platforms.

Some teachers have been able to adapt to the digital challenge with relative ease. However, many instructors have struggled to adjust. In a recent article for Chalkbeat, one New York mother of twins shared that while both of her children attended the same school, her experience with remote learning has differed enormously between their respective teachers.

“My daughter’s teacher has got it together,” she explained. “My son’s teacher is not there yet — everyone is learning from each other.”

That challenge that teachers face is considerable — especially considering that many of them are attempting to juggle their roles as educators with their responsibilities as parents. One reporter for the New York Post recently interviewed one such teacher, who explained that she was “juggling her own kids’ remote schooling while trying desperately to cyber-herd her own students.” The problem is made worse, the teacher shared, because her students often need to do their work somewhere other than their homes while their parents work remotely.

The coronavirus has also turned a spotlight onto one of the most significant problems facing New York schools today: resource scarcity. Over 300,000 city students — a third of the total population — do not have the digital tools they would need to learn remotely. The NYC school department is rushing to rectify the lack, partnering with tech companies to buy devices in bulk and provide Internet access to students who lack connectivity.

New York’s shift into remote learning has faced its share of growing pains over the past several weeks, and will likely face more in the weeks to come. But amidst the struggles, the persistence, determination, and creativity of the city’s teachers, parents, and students have come to the forefront. The coronavirus may have halted usual routines, but it will not block the city’s passion for education.

To borrow a quote from a Bronx middle school teacher: “It can only get better from here.”

This article was originally published on



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