'I’ve cried almost every day': Inside Round Rock ISD's return to in-person learning

Over 11,000 students returned to RRISD campuses this week as in-person learning resumed Sept. 15. (Community Impact staff)
Over 11,000 students returned to RRISD campuses this week as in-person learning resumed Sept. 15. (Community Impact staff)

Over 11,000 students returned to RRISD campuses this week as in-person learning resumed Sept. 15. (Community Impact staff)

Sixteen-year-old Madison Talkington said she loves school—or at least, she used to. A junior at Cedar Ridge High School in Round Rock ISD, Talkington is a varsity-level water polo player with a 4.0 grade point average. But this semester, she said, she is barely treading water.

“So far, we’ve had about a month of online school, and I’ve cried almost every day,” Talkington said. “The only thing I’ve learned is that I don’t have very good Wi-Fi.”

Talkington addressed the RRISD board of trustees via video conferencing during a Sept. 17 meeting. She, alongside a handful of parents and a RRISD teacher, expressed frustrations with the start to the fall semester.

Over 11,000 students returned to RRISD campuses this week as in-person learning resumed Sept. 15. Those students represent approximately 30% of the district’s student population, said Daniel Presley, senior chief of schools and innovation.

Presley further acknowledged that there have been “some challenges” but said the transition has been “mostly successful” overall.


Trustee Cory Vessa said she has heard positive feedback from parents of elementary-aged students. Many said they were initially concerned about social distancing and mask wearing for younger children. But their experiences over the first three days—in large part thanks to staff—have been reassuring, she said.

“The teachers are doing amazing,” Vessa said. “They are absolutely making lemonade out of a very lemony situation.”

One pain point is middle and high school in-person instruction. Peter Bradford, a parent of three RRISD students, said while his elementary-age children have mostly enjoyed their lessons—with time to be outside and interact safely with peers and teachers—his middle school-age son described on-campus learning as being similar to in-school suspension.

As it stands, middle and high school students who opt for in person learning complete their lessons in much the same way as their peers who are learning remotely, according to information provided by the district. Classroom educators are teaching virtual lessons rather than providing real-time instruction and feedback to in-person pupils. Simultaneously, students, such as Bradford’s son, are working independently on their devices.

“Basically, they’re all in a one-way lecture in person,” Bradford said. “There’s got to be a better way.”

For Talkington, the experience of working independently on campus is “more stressful” than completing lessons at home. Therefore, she has opted to remain a virtual learner at this time.

“I’m a 16-year-old woman,” Talkington said. “I don’t need to be babysat while staring at a computer screen. I’m willing to go back to school, and I should have the opportunity for it to be real school where I’m able to learn and be taught—not day care.”

Superintendent Steve Flores stressed the importance of reopening campuses cautiously. He asked for "patience and grace" as the district attempts to safely navigate successful learning options amid the pandemic.

“We heard from speakers tonight who talked about the middle and high school experience,” Flores said. “We understand their frustration. I feel their frustration. But at the same time, what we will continue to do is focus on the best decisions that experts, science and data suggest."

He added: "We don't want to get this wrong. We're not going to compromise on the safety of students or staff.”
By Taylor Jackson Buchanan
Taylor Buchanan joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2018 after completing a master of journalism degree from the University of Texas. She worked as the senior reporter for Community Impact's Southwest Austin edition and is now the editor for the company's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition.


MOST RECENT

Photo of boarded-up Sixth Street bars
With COVID-19 projections 'bleak' through Thanksgiving, Travis County keeps bars closed

Statistical models from the University of Texas show a 92% chance the pandemic is worsening, but the increase in cases and hospitalizations have leveled off in the last few days.

Here is what you need to know about coronavirus in Williamson County. (Community Impact staff)
Williamson County adds 61 new cases of COVID-19, 1 death to daily count

Here are the coronavirus data updates to know today in Williamson County.

Even though Williamson County was lowered to a coronavirus spread risk of “minimal” on Oct. 26, masks are still required. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Masks are still required in Williamson County

Even though Williamson County was lowered to a coronavirus spread risk level of “minimal” on Oct. 26, masks are still required.

Customers can order Goodstock Angus and Goodstock Black Label beef, including ribeye steaks, strip steaks, filets and ground chuck. (Courtesy Nolan Ryan brands)
Nolan Ryan expands Round Rock-based butcher business and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Austin area.

As of close of polls Oct. 26, 39,472 votes had been collected at seven voting locations in Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Nearly 40K votes cast in Round Rock, Pflugerville, Hutto in Week 2 of early voting

As of close of polls Oct. 26, 39,472 votes had been collected at seven voting locations in Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto.

The Williamson County Commissioners Court unanimously approved an agreement with the State of Texas and the Sheriff’s Office to continue the lease of excess equipment after initially denying the agreement in July. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Williamson County Commissioners overturn decision on ending contract for law enforcement equipment

The Williamson County Commissioners Court unanimously approved an agreement with the State of Texas and the Sheriff’s Office to continue the lease of excess equipment after initially denying the agreement in July.

An "I Voted" sticker is left outside the Northwest Recreation Center in Austin, one of 37 early voting polling places open in Travis County. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
More than half of all Travis County voters have cast their ballots, exceeding early voting turnout percentage in 2016

More than 448,000 votes have been cast in Travis County. Early voting closes on Oct. 30.

Here is what you need to know today about the coronavirus in Williamson County. (Community Impact staff)
Williamson County coronavirus spread risk drops to ‘minimal’

Here is what you need to know today about the coronavirus in Williamson County.

More than half of Williamson County eligible voters have already cast their ballot ahead of the November election. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
More than half of Williamson County eligible voters have cast their ballot ahead of the November election

The county surpassed the total number of early voters in 2016 on Oct. 22.

The city of Round Rock will provide free rides on all city bus routes Nov. 3 in partnership with the Capital Metropolitan Transit Authority's "Ride to Vote" initiative. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Round Rock to provide free bus rides to Election Day polling sites

The city of Round Rock will provide free rides on all city bus routes Nov. 3 in partnership with the Capital Metropolitan Transit Authority's "Ride to Vote" initiative.

The planned improvements come as part of the city's 2020 pavement maintenance program, with funding provided by the fiscal year 2019-20 streets and drainage budget. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
UPDATE: Pflugerville delays Heatherwilde rehabilitation project start to Nov. 4

The planned improvements come as part of the city's 2020 pavement maintenance program, with funding provided by the fiscal year 2019-20 streets and drainage budget.

Customers can order Goodstock Angus and Goodstock Black Label beef, including ribeye steaks, strip steaks, filets and ground chuck. (Courtesy Nolan Ryan brands)
Goodstock by Nolan Ryan expands to national delivery services and 2 other business updates

Customers can order Goodstock Angus and Goodstock Black Label beef, including ribeye steaks, strip steaks, filets and ground chuck.