Pandemic virtual learning brings unique challenges for students with special needs

Special Reports

CABOT, Ark.- Pandemic virtual learning has been hard on single parents, parents who work outside the home, and families without WiFi and computers.

But what about those students who can’t even use a computer without help, like children with certain special needs?

Jasmine Hobbs’ favorite Christmas song is “Frosty the Snowman.”

The 17-year-old isn’t shy about letting her mom know exactly how she feels.

The Cabot High School student faces unique medical challenges, keeping her from school this year.

Her mom, Michelle Hobbs, said it was a tough decision to make.

“Keeping her home this year was absolutely the safest thing for her health, but absolutely the weakest opportunity for success and mastering her goals,” Hobbs said.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the pair have had to adjust – big time.

“Getting everything in and doing my own professional needs, as well,” Hobbs said. “All of that is probably the hardest, finding that balance.”

If you ask Jasmine, she’d rather be at school, especially because on the other side of her computer screen is her best friend, Zoe.

Along with the teacher she’s never seen in person this year.

Shelley Moore has been teaching for 25 years.

“But this is the hardest year that I have ever experienced,” Moore said.

She teaches what’s called “Community Based Instruction,” which is hard to do when you have to stay apart.

“In the classroom, I love on the kids and that hasn’t been something we’ve been able to do this year so that’s the biggest struggle, is the social aspect and just feeling like I could really get to know them,” Moore said.

Where there used to be couches, now shields around their desks.

And six feet of distance?  Easier said than done.

“They love each other, they miss each other a lot,” Moore said.

“I also have some new students and that was a big challenge for me,” Moore said. “I have some students that are non-verbal that I’d never had before. I was like, ‘How am I gonna have a relationship with these kids that I’m not even gonna see?'”

Overall, everyone’s doing alright, but like all parents juggling the demands of virtual learning, it’s taking its toll.

“To protect her, I am isolating quite a bit, as well,” Hobbs said. “I am definitely on the outside…of everything.”

For Jasmine’s family, there’s work, school, therapy three days a week, a vision specialist, and numerous medical needs.  

“I think everybody is tired,” Hobbs said. “There’s just a lot of extra on everybody right now.”

“I just hope that everybody understands that we are working hard,” Moore said. “We can do almost anything after this.”

Despite the challenges, there have been some successes.

Moore said she’s been able to make real connections with her students online, which she wasn’t expecting.

Most importantly, Jasmine has stayed healthy, making the hardships that come with virtual learning worth it.

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