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HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — While the pandemic has revealed virtual learning is not the best method for many students, some are thriving with the change in format.

Alex Casas is an 8th grader at Coakley Middle School in Harlingen, Texas. While so many others have been struggling with their schoolwork, he’s maintaining straight As. He says virtual learning comes easy.

“I think it’s fairly easy as long as you do what you’re told. I’m pretty good at computer stuff. Google Classroom is really not that hard,” Casas said.

Why are some students succeeding more than others?

While Alex says he’s succeeding because he does better on his own, the reasons for his and others’ virtual success don’t stop there. Dr. Teresa Chapa-Cantu, a licensed psychologist, says other factors can affect students’ success.

8th grader Alex Casas attends classes at Coakley Elementary in Harlingen, Texas, from home (KVEO Photo)
Alex Casas works on his schoolwork at home (KVEO Photo)

“For some children, they’re able to learn better at home — maybe they have fewer distractions,” Chapa-Cantu said, adding sometimes “the parent is more engaged and has more time to help with the schoolwork.”

Chapa-Cantu adds that students may also feel like home is a safe space, and it minimizes feelings of anxiety some get when surrounded by others.

Bullying also plays a factor. The Texas Anti-Bullying Coalition cites a 2018 study from the National Center for Educational Statistics that notes one out of every five students face bullying. A 2015 study from the Centers for Disease Control showed 45% of middle schoolers surveyed were bullied on school property, while 24% face cyberbullying. TABC provides resources on its website for those being bullied.

No matter the reasons for some students experiencing more success at home than in the classroom, Chapa-Cantu believes the pandemic is an eye-opening experience, potentially leading to a permanent educational change.

“I can see teachers implementing a lot of different techniques that they weren’t using before in order to help the students that do learn differently,” Chapa-Cantu said.

Changing education moving forward

School districts across the Rio Grande Valley will be expected to examine what changes, if any, they will implement going forward.

8th grader Alex Casas attends classes at Coakley Elementary in Harlingen, Texas, from home (KVEO Photo)
8th grader Alex Casas attends classes at Coakley Elementary in Harlingen, Texas, from home (KVEO Photo)

Harlingen CISD’s Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Alicia Noyola, said it’s all about making adjustments for each student.

“There were a lot of lessons learned in this entire process. We want to offer in-person, we want to offer virtual because we understand not everyone is the same,” Noyola said.

Noyola added that measuring virtual learning success and failures will take time. Despite some students thriving, others face challenges including lack of reliable internet, difficult home lives or technology issues.

Noyola said school work, benchmark results and STAAR assessment tests “currently inform and will continue to provide information on the overall success of all students, whether learning in-person or through virtual instruction.”

While the new learning style is working for Casas, he said he still would love to get back to the classroom someday.

“I miss my friends. I miss football. I miss hanging out,” Casas said. “It’s my last year at Coakley so it kind of sucks.”

Partnering with the national non-profit Solutions Journalism Network, Nexstar stations nationwide are telling unique stories about how the pandemic has exposed inequities for students and the solutions some groups have found to bridge that gap.