fb-pixel

‘If this was real school, I’d be paying attention, but here I’m so distracted’: Scenes from around the city as an uncertain year begins

Tales from an unprecedented first day back

Angelina Camacho set up a makeshift classroom for her son, Christopher Taylor, 12.
Angelina Camacho set up a makeshift classroom for her son, Christopher Taylor, 12.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

No school year in history, arguably, has brought such uncertainty and stress for so many — or come with higher stakes.

Monday, the first day back across Boston Public Schools, students of all ages and backgrounds logged in for a remote start to the school year. To offer a glimpse of the stakes (and, we imagine, plenty of stress), the Globe’s Great Divide education team followed a range of students, educators, and support staff through their first day back. They included:

  • Earnest Bass, a custodian at McCormack Middle School in Dorchester;
  • Derrick Ciesla, the principal of Russell Elementary School in Dorchester;
  • Lee Heaton, a bus driver for Boston Public Schools;
  • Linda Garmon, a media arts instructor at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, who will be teaching remotely;
  • Ariana Crowson, 4, who will be starting pre-K at Harvard-Kent Elementary School in Charlestown;
  • Tyreke and Tyrelle Satchebell, 11-year-old twins, who are in sixth grade at Martin Luther King Jr. School and will be attending school from the Roxbury YMCA;
  • Christopher Taylor, 12, a seventh grader at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science who will take classes remotely
Christopher Taylor
6:15 a.m.

The mother’s voice rang out at the Roxbury home at 6:15 a.m. “It’s time to get up!”

“OK, mom,” said 12-year-old Christopher Taylor, excited to start seventh grade. New year. New school. Totally new circumstances.

Advertisement



For a little while, it felt like an ordinary first day back. Mother and son met in the kitchen. Taylor put the pumpkin spice coffee in the Keurig machine while Angelina Camacho started toasting the Eggo waffles.

Then, Taylor got dressed, choosing a gray hoodie over a black shirt that read: “Commit, don’t quit.”

In Roxbury, a makeshift classroom was set up outdoors by Angelina Camacho for her son Christopher Taylor, 12, at their home.
In Roxbury, a makeshift classroom was set up outdoors by Angelina Camacho for her son Christopher Taylor, 12, at their home.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Like many eager-beaver students, he showed up early for school. At 7:45 a.m., Taylor logged into his homeroom class on Zoom — even though it didn’t start for 20 minutes. This was a new school, after all. He’d won a spot at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, one of the city’s three exam schools, after months of studying and an admissions saga full of twist and turns.

His schedule for the day was packed even though it would all be done from the comfort of his living room and a makeshift desk his mom set up just outside the door. Homeroom, followed by 40 minutes of math, and a 30-minute movement break. Then there would be gym class, lunch, geography, English language arts, a 15-minute movement break, and science.

Advertisement



His homeroom teacher, Chris Tompkins, who is also Taylor’s math teacher, appeared on the screen. Alone together for a few minutes before the arrival of other students, they joked that Taylor might have gotten lost if he were in the building of the O’Bryant School.

“Mom said if it wasn’t coronavirus, she probably would’ve brought McDonald’s for the class,” Taylor quipped.

Angelina Camacho, his mom, took the opportunity to kiss her son, leaving red lipstick on his temple. She rubbed it off before his classmates could see.

Christopher gave a hug and got a kiss from his mother before school started.
Christopher gave a hug and got a kiss from his mother before school started.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“Single mama — team of one,” she told the teacher. “Lemme tell you — if this kid’s not on time, you call me that day.”

Taylor settled in at the dining table where his mother had set up a snack area of chips and bananas next to a series of inspirational notes. One read: “Be YOU Kid: On time, connected (screen on), focused, kind/ courteous, curious (3 intentional questions), love learning!!!”

Despite the eerie circumstances, he would try.

Derrick Ciesla
6:45-7:20 a.m.

When principal Derrick Ciesla arrived at the Russell Elementary in Dorchester this morning at 6:30, he felt a rush of sadness.

The wooden floors were waxed to a brilliant shine, but no students or families would be there to admire them.

“Kids usually come running up,” said Ciesla, standing in his shirt sleeves and tie at the front entrance to the building. “Parents are usually here with signs, taking pictures. It’s something that needs to be memorialized for their scrapbooks.”

Today, families and children were at home.

Advertisement



“When you reflect on why we’re in education, we’re in it to serve children and families. Now we’re serving them in a different way,” said Ciesla. “But everyone misses that authentic interaction.”

Ciesla walked through the silent building and stopped in the few classrooms where teachers were setting up for the day. Teachers in Boston have the option to teach remotely from home, but some came to the building for a sense of normalcy.

He and his team had developed an “action plan” to eliminate some of the trouble spots they experienced during emergency remote learning last spring. In addition to teaching, they had to troubleshoot technology glitches, deliver computers, and help with more profound problems like families losing their incomes or getting sick.

They chose uniform software for each grade level so parents and students wouldn’t have to manage different logins and learn different systems. They sent postcards and videos explaining how to use it all. They called parents and walked them through their new process. Some teachers even held practice Zoom calls.

“It’s like when you set up dominos to fall in a certain way,” said Ciesla. “We’ve done all the prep work, now we need to see how it works.”

He walked into a cavernous room with small chairs and low book shelves. “How are you feeling?” Ciesla asked a teacher sitting at a semicircular table staring into a laptop screen.

“Good. We’ll see how it goes. I just hope they can all log on,” said Margaret O’Riordan, a pre-kindergarten teacher. One mother was having trouble logging into her child’s Chromebook.

Advertisement



“I’ll reach out to them,” said Ciesla.

After checking in with three more teachers, Ciesla went back to his office and called the family that was having laptop troubles.

“We’ll get you in there today,” Ciesla assured them. “We’ll try our best. You guys have a good first day.”

Principal Derrick Ciesla paused to talk with pre-kindergarten teacher Margaret O'Riordan before the start of her first Zoom class.
Principal Derrick Ciesla paused to talk with pre-kindergarten teacher Margaret O'Riordan before the start of her first Zoom class.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Derrick Ciesla
8:25-9 a.m.

It was almost 8:30. The first classes at the Russell Elementary would start online in just a few minutes, but the front door buzzer was ringing in the school’s main office.

School secretary Kerry Barnes looked through her security camera and spotted a student. “You’re supposed to do your Zoom classes today,” she said. "Hold on a minute. I’ll come down.”

In the parking lot stood two families who thought school was meeting in person today.

“It just breaks your heart,” said Barnes. “They really want to be here.”

From left to right: Anderson Suarez, 9, got back into the car with his dad, Jesus Suarez after Principal Derrick Ciesla told them that the first day of school at Russell Elementary was taking place online.
From left to right: Anderson Suarez, 9, got back into the car with his dad, Jesus Suarez after Principal Derrick Ciesla told them that the first day of school at Russell Elementary was taking place online.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Learning of the mistake, Principal Ciesla went downstairs to check in with the two families at the school entrance.

“No class today,” he said gently, asking the youngest boy — a kindergartener — if he needed his own Chromebook. When the family said yes, Ciesla walked quickly back inside the building to get one.

“We must have misunderstood,” said one of the parents, Jesus Suarez, speaking to a reporter in Spanish. He and his wife received an e-mail and a text, which they had thought said school started today for both of their boys.

Advertisement



“He was so excited to come,” said the boys' mother, Idalia Disla, pointing to her son Anderson, 9. Disla realized she would have to take the day off from her cleaning job to stay home with her sons. “It’s frustrating,” she said.

Ciesla, the principal, had anticipated that there would be some families who didn’t know to stay home today. “That’s how it is with communication, but you have this little ache for them,” he said, putting his hand on his heart.

He remembered showing up to the wrong school for his own first day of first grade. His mother had to pick him up and drive him to another school across town. By the time he got there, classes had started.

“I was devastated,” he said. “You want things to go as seamlessly as possible.”

Principal Derrick Ciesla walked down an empty hallway during the first day of school at Russell Elementary.
Principal Derrick Ciesla walked down an empty hallway during the first day of school at Russell Elementary. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Ariana Crowson
9-9:40 a.m.

Four-year-old Ariana Crowson stepped out from under the arched doorway of her yellow-brick apartment building just after 9 a.m. and paused there a moment. The air felt autumn-crisp, especially in the shade beneath the trees that bowed gracefully over her narrow street, but Ariana wore fuzzy legwarmers to keep warm, on top of her polka dot leggings. She soon skipped ahead down the sidewalk, crunching over acorns and towing her mom, Sophia Moon, along behind her, before pausing to ask her dad, Adam Crowson, to hoist her up onto his shoulders.

It was Ariana’s first day of pre-kindergarten. And instead of saying their milestone goodbyes outside her new school, the Harvard-Kent Elementary in Charlestown, the newly-minted BPS student and her parents walked together to the rented studio space where they both run their own small businesses. There, the family settled in together in front of a school-issued Chromebook, sun streaming in through a window behind them. They logged into the online classroom around 9:40 a.m., and waited for Ari’s public school education to begin.

After a brief delay — during which Ariana happily recognized several children she already knew fidgeting and waving on her screen, including her good friend Vera — her teacher appeared and welcomed her small pupils.

“Today is your first day of school,” she said. “We’ve got a lot to do today, so I’m going to get started.”

Ariana Crowson's mom showed her how to mute and unmute her microphone.
Ariana Crowson's mom showed her how to mute and unmute her microphone.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

It was a smooth — if remote — beginning to a first day of school that almost didn’t happen. After entering the lottery for one of Boston’s much-coveted pre-kindergarten spots last winter, Ariana’s parents uncomplainingly accepted that her chances of winning a placement were slim. When she landed well down the waitlist for the Harvard-Kent, they were unworried, and felt lucky that their flexible schedules would allow them to teach her at home themselves.

Then, early on Friday afternoon, Sophia Moon’s phone rang with startling news: A spot in pre-K had opened up at the last minute, the domino effect of multiple last-minute decisions by other families. Ariana was going to pre-kindergarten on Monday.

The school’s principal called to welcome their family just before 3 p.m. Friday, and by 4 p.m. Moon was at the school picking up a Chromebook. Her login credentials arrived in an e-mail from her teacher late Sunday night.

It seemed like destiny. But her parents wondered what Ariana would make of it. The 4-year-old briefly tried virtual learning this spring, after her preschool shut down, and the ebullient, gymnastics-loving youngster had not embraced it. “She was not having it,” her mother said.

Now Moon draped her arm across the back of her daughter’s small orange chair, drawing her close, as the little girl, barefoot, pointed her toes and squirmed. She had made to to pre-K. But it wasn’t clear yet how long this first school day would last.

Lee Heaton
9:30 a.m.

Rising well before dawn once September rolls around is like an old habit for Boston bus driver Lee Heaton.

“I’ve been doing this for nearly 40 years,” said the 76-year-old, talking to a reporter at the Dorchester bus yard under a bright morning sun.

In ordinary times, “I’d be in my bus” right now, “feeling safe, and looking forward for another day.”

But not today.

Today the buses are idle as Boston schools start remotely.

Boston Public Schools busses parked at the Freeport Street lot in Dorchester were idle in the early morning on the first day of school in Boston.
Boston Public Schools busses parked at the Freeport Street lot in Dorchester were idle in the early morning on the first day of school in Boston.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

After waking up at 3:30 a.m., per custom, Heaton had spent the wee hours of the morning painting the last section of her house green, with a white trim.

She then got dressed and drove to the bus yard, where other drivers trickled in. They lined up near a tent to get their temperatures checked and then walked to another tent to scan a list of potential bus routes they would be able to bid on when in-person classes begin next month.

By 9:30 a.m., Heaton stood near the chain-linked fence, squinting over a black mask, bundled in layers of sweatshirts and heavy work shoes. She spotted a few routes that interested her — in East Boston, Hyde Park, and Charlestown — and greeted other drivers. At the bus yard, Heaton said, everyone is like family.

She raced up to one of the managers, circled the woman from behind, and gave her a sturdy hug.

“I love this job,” Heaton said.

But the weight of the times is also heavy here. Three bus drivers and a retiree died from COVID-19 in the spring, and two maintenance workers at the Readville bus yard recently tested positive. The bus drivers' union is pressing for new rules that would ensure the safety of all 600 active drivers. They want stations with additional hand sanitizers, masks, and gloves, as well as additional monitors to keep watch over the children. For now, Heaton and the other drivers must wait to see what happens.

“I’m anxious. I’m tense,” said the veteran driver. “I don’t know how they are going to provide for our safety, the children’s safety, and the monitor’s safety.”

She then walked off, disappearing amid a sea of parked buses.

Earnest Bass
10 a.m.

By mid-morning, Earnest Bass had spent hours making sure that the McCormack Middle School in Dorchester stays clean. Holding a yellow dust cloth, the custodian concentrated for now on the building’s first floor.

At the entrance to the main office — which still sees plenty of use these days even with students studying from home — Bass sprayed disinfectant and vigorously wiped the door knob.

In the lobby, he scanned the faces of pictures of students taped onto the wall.

“I find myself looking at them,” he said, in a whisper. “Where are the kids?”

Earnest Bass, a custodian at McCormack Middle School in Dorchester, walked down the hallway with a bucket in hand as he finished cleaning a nurse's office restroom.
Earnest Bass, a custodian at McCormack Middle School in Dorchester, walked down the hallway with a bucket in hand as he finished cleaning a nurse's office restroom. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

About 14 staff members were at the McCormack today, including at least a half-dozen teachers, according to principal Elvis Henriquez.

Late in the morning, health science teacher Nilo Ashraf sat alone in her bright and airy classroom, her laptop resting on a black crate on her desk while her two bearded lizards kept her company before a Zoom class.

“I think the kids want to see them more than they want to see me,” she said, jokingly.

In the nurse’s office, Bass greeted nurse Jonell Johnson, who was seated behind a clear Plexiglass-like shield. She sung his praises, telling him that he’s the hardest working professional there is. Next door, two staff members waited in an empty conference room that will eventually be used to isolate anyone with a possible case of COVID-19.

The school’s lockers, cafeteria, and gym will be all off limits to students, Bass said.

“Hey Miss Lorna” he said, greeting a woman in the hallway who was helping ready brown bags filled with food to be distributed to families.

Earnest Bass wrote on a log sheet for rooms that have been cleaned and sanitized.
Earnest Bass wrote on a log sheet for rooms that have been cleaned and sanitized. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Bass kept working, wiping down the tables nearby. His afro was neat and his eyes shone brightly behind a surgical mask. His black sweatshirt, which was made by McCormack students, read “Our Voices Matter” across the front.

As a former McCormack student himself, Bass, a custodian for five years, loves the school. He also has two children, a kindergartener and a third grader, who attend the city’s Josiah Quincy School.

The first day was going fairly well, but he knew it would be much different when the kids return for in-person learning.

“Right now, everything is pretty much laid back because there are only a few teachers here, but I’m anticipating it will pick up once the students come back,” Bass said. There’s “always something to clean.”

Ariana Crowson
10:15 a.m.

In Charlestown, Ariana Crowson’s first hour of pre-kindergarten was in full swing, with a predictable mix of online antics from the class of 4-year-olds. The teacher showed the students how to turn their cameras and microphones on and off, and Ariana’s mom, Sophia Moon, helped her daughter try out the screen controls, guiding her tiny fingers across the mouse pad.

Ariana’s dad, Adam Crowson, watched in wonder. “Their first lessons are very different from ours,” he said ruefully. “We learned ‘This is A’ - they’re jumping straight to microphones.”

Next it was time for a get-to-know-you song. The teacher sang each student’s name in turn, and invited each one to point to him or herself. As Ariana’s turn approached, she looked uncertain, reaching out beneath the table to squeeze her mother’s hand. But when her moment arrived, she nailed her first assignment, grinning widely at the camera, her eyes bright, as she pointed confidently at her own belly.

A few minutes later, it was time for a stretch. The teacher urged the children to “shake their wiggles out,” and Ariana waved her arms above her head. Some yelling broke out, and one of Ari’s friends disappeared from the screen, apparently enjoying her newfound command of her own camera.

By 10:15, Ariana had had enough. She stood up and asked to leave her desk. Her mom sent a note to the teacher to explain that they were signing off, and closed the Chromebook.

Then the 4-year-old was leaping and twirling across the floor, performing a high-energy routine inspired by her favorite gymnast, Simone Biles. “You be the announcer,” she instructed her dad, who enthusiastically obliged.

“I’ve been watching her in practice all week and she’s been nailing these moves,” he said in his announcer voice, using a pen as a microphone.

Later, reflecting on her first day of school, Ariana was pensive, imagining a future where she will attend the Harvard-Kent in person.

“When the big germ is over, I’ll be able to go there,” she said, sounding hopeful.

As for online school, she isn’t quite sure yet.


Derrick Ciesla
10:30-11 a.m.

Derrick Ciesla sat at one end of his long wooden desk behind a Plexiglas barrier. The Russell Elementary School principal pulled out his cell phone, looked at his laptop for the number, and dialed.

“I wanted to make sure everything is okay,” he said. “I noticed you were having some technical difficulties.” The mother on the other end didn’t have a school laptop for her child and had used the wrong login to get into Zoom.

“I know you were upset and I wanted to address any questions,” he continued. “I have a son in elementary school and the first day we had class the teacher wasn’t there. It was very frustrating. I had to take a deep breath. And now he’s up and running.”

The mother agreed to come by at 2:30 p.m. to pick up a new Chromebook. Ciesla also recruited her to be part of the school and parent leadership committee. “I like how you advocate for your daughter,” he said.

According to Ciesla, a handful of students needing Chromebooks had been the biggest problem so far in a day where it seemed so much could go wrong. His biggest fear — that the software students and teachers are using would crash with the surge in traffic — hadn’t come to pass.

Principal Derrick Ciesla gave a Chromebook to a student whose family tried to drop him off on the first day of school, not realizing that the first day of school at Russell Elementary would be held remotely.
Principal Derrick Ciesla gave a Chromebook to a student whose family tried to drop him off on the first day of school, not realizing that the first day of school at Russell Elementary would be held remotely. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

One teacher who was free that morning delivered a Chromebook to another student’s home. The computer booted up, but the student’s password and identification numbers didn’t work to sync the computer with the district’s network. The information technology department will have to solve that problem.

Ciesla credits his staff for how smoothly the day had gone so far.

He looked out his office window onto the school parking lot full of cars.

“People think teachers don’t want to be teaching, but they’re here,” he said, adding that nearly 70 percent of the school’s teachers had come to teach remotely from their classrooms, even though they weren’t required to. “A lot of this would be a lot harder if I didn’t have access to the teachers,” he said.

Cheryl O'Connor went over a list of rules for how her fourth grade class should interact over Zoom during the first day of school at Russell Elementary.
Cheryl O'Connor went over a list of rules for how her fourth grade class should interact over Zoom during the first day of school at Russell Elementary. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Principal Derrick Ciesla said hello to members of Beverly Timothy's fifth grade class on Zoom.
Principal Derrick Ciesla said hello to members of Beverly Timothy's fifth grade class on Zoom. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Physical education teacher Carlos Mangum danced along with his students during his gym class.
Physical education teacher Carlos Mangum danced along with his students during his gym class.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Tyreke and Tyrelle Satchebell
12-12:30 p.m.

Math was their favorite subject, but class today was a struggle.

Sitting in the gymnasium of the Roxbury YMCA, Tyreke and Tyrelle Satchebell, 11-year-old twins, were trying to solve multiplication problems on the screen, but their friends' basketball game sounded way more fun.

Eleven-year-old twins Tyreke and Tyrelle Satchebell did their remote learning at the Roxbury YMCA on Monday.
Eleven-year-old twins Tyreke and Tyrelle Satchebell did their remote learning at the Roxbury YMCA on Monday.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Their friends had a break from classes, so they were dribbling and yelling on the other side of the red curtain erected in the gym. On the Satchebells' side, students sat quietly at well-spaced tables with earbuds in, logged into their first day of online classes.

“If this was real school, I’d be paying attention, but here I’m so distracted,” Tyreke said. “I hear them and I wanna play. I’m also starving and that’s a big distraction!”

The twins, both sixth graders at Martin Luther King Jr. K-8 School, were among dozens of kids learning remotely at the Roxbury YMCA on Monday. With after-school programs across the city opening up remote learning centers like this one, eventually an estimated 6,000 Boston students will be studying from sites like the YMCA.

The centers are aimed at offering child care for working families. They also provide students with at least some adult guidance and the chance to socialize. The Satchebells' parents both work — their dad in construction and their mother in hospital intake.

After-school Site Coordinator Giselle Johnson helped a student who was having a tough moment during her remote school learning at the Roxbury YMCA on Monday.
After-school Site Coordinator Giselle Johnson helped a student who was having a tough moment during her remote school learning at the Roxbury YMCA on Monday.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Today, the twins wore matching navy sweatshirts and school-branded face masks. Tyreke munched on Doritos. Lunchtime wasn’t until 1 p.m. on his schedule.

“I got 46 minutes left!” Tyreke said, staring at the screen. “I just wanna play so bad!”

On the screen, their teacher was asking how many baskets a girl would have if she had five baskets times three: “15 baskets,” Tyreke said.

He mulled leaving the class — hovering his mouse over “leave meeting” for a few seconds. But he feared he might get in trouble with an adult staffing the center. “Karma’s gonna get me,” he said.

“Tyreke!” his twin chastised. “Pay attention!”

Tyreke licked orange Doritos residue off his fingers and tried to stay semi-focused on the computer screen. The boys noticed on Zoom that the King School teachers were working from the school building — Tyrelle recognized one of their classrooms in the background, where a world map hangs on the wall.

“How come they’re at the classrooms and we’re not?” Tyreke asked.

Tyrelle shrugged.

They reminisced about school, and getting to see their friends. The twins are excited to return to school for two days a week starting in November, when middle schoolers are tentatively slated to go back in person.

“The building’s better,” Tyreke said. “It’s kinda easier because we’ve been doing school in the classroom, but this is new to us.”

He stood up and danced around a bit.

“I’m just hyper because it’s the first day of school.”

A student raised her hand in her virtual classroom at the Roxbury YMCA.
A student raised her hand in her virtual classroom at the Roxbury YMCA. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Nine-year-old Myarri Smith-Knight worked in the gym of the Roxbury YMCA. Boston Public Schools students learned remotely on their first day of school at the Roxbury YMCA on Monday. The Roxbury Y is among nearly 100 programs across Boston providing school-day space while public schools are closed for more than 6,000 students so their parents can work and the students can receive help, be supervised, and have fun playing with other kids.
Nine-year-old Myarri Smith-Knight worked in the gym of the Roxbury YMCA. Boston Public Schools students learned remotely on their first day of school at the Roxbury YMCA on Monday. The Roxbury Y is among nearly 100 programs across Boston providing school-day space while public schools are closed for more than 6,000 students so their parents can work and the students can receive help, be supervised, and have fun playing with other kids. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Derrick Ciesla
1 p.m.

In the early afternoon, Derrick Ciesla huddled around his laptop with Russell teacher Elizabeth Reynolds Lupo sitting close by. They logged into Zoom and smiled when classroom chatter spilled from the laptop.

Consider it the contemporary equivalent of the principal stopping by for a classroom visit.

“I see Mr. C is here,” said an adult voice coming from the computer.

“Mr. Ballard, are they working hard or what?” Principal Ciesla asked the virtual class’ teacher. “We’re looking at attendance. So you need to show up everyday.”

As they closed the conversation, another teacher rushed into the principal’s office, looking frantic.

From left to right: Principal Derrick Ciesla, school secretary Kerry Barnes, and teacher Elizabeth Reynolds Lupo waved to students in a Zoom class as they dropped in to say hello during the first day of school at Russell Elementary.
From left to right: Principal Derrick Ciesla, school secretary Kerry Barnes, and teacher Elizabeth Reynolds Lupo waved to students in a Zoom class as they dropped in to say hello during the first day of school at Russell Elementary. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“I figured it out,” said teacher Louise Kent, waving her arms in the air, her mask askew.

It was the latest in a daylong saga involving twin boys in first grade.

Earlier in the day, one of the twins' teachers came in asking principal Ciesla and Lupo for help because she could hear her colleague teaching in the background. She thought her Zoom signal had somehow crossed with another.

But in the end, they realized that the boy’s brother was in the same room and had his computer volume turned up.

“They need headphones. We’ll send them headphones,” said Lupo, who is in charge of student support and technology at the school.

Now their mother was complaining that she couldn’t log one of the twins into class. It turned out she was logging him into her brother’s class.

“We’ll make a video for them explaining everything,” said Lupo. “It’s going to be okay.”

Linda Garmon
1 p.m.

Linda Garmon settled into a green chair in her bright office in Cambridge and put her eyeglasses on the desk. Peering at the screen of her laptop, the teacher at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School waited for the five sophomores in her media arts class to log on.

One by one, they appeared, and Garmon’s quiet excitement turned to unabashed joy.

“Oh my God,” she gushed, touching her light-colored scarf around her neck. “I love you guys. I miss you all so much.”

It’s easy to imagine an animated Garmon striding around a classroom. But this afternoon, seated in her home office, she swiveled, laughed, and chopped the air while also reminding her students to unmute their audio to participate in the class, or write a comment using the “chat” function.

Linda Garmon pantomimed as she asked her students, "What's a good source of Vitamin D?" The media arts teacher at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School welcomed her sophomore media arts class students on the first day of remote learning for Boston Public Schools.
Linda Garmon pantomimed as she asked her students, "What's a good source of Vitamin D?" The media arts teacher at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School welcomed her sophomore media arts class students on the first day of remote learning for Boston Public Schools.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

She made it as active as possible, however, for both her students and herself. At one point, Garmon leaped up to grab a tripod, sword, shield, and roll of toilet paper from a nearby closet to demonstrate one of the skills the students will be perfecting this year. It’s called “the toilet paper challenge”: a lesson on how to shoot and edit so that everything seems like one continuous action.

Garmon asked her class to rate how they were feeling, with one being the worst and 10 the best. Noting that these are “challenging times,” she promised 15 to 20 minutes of self care each class and urged students to use her cellphone number to call her, anytime. “Whatever you need I will be here to help you,” she said.

Garmon held up the equipment she will be delivering to students: a camera, tripod, and microphone. She told them she has also been fighting to ensure they all get desktops at home, so they can edit more easily than on a Chromebook.

“I’m going to make this happen for you, all right,” she told them.

Linda Garmon illustrated for her students the concept of continuity.
Linda Garmon illustrated for her students the concept of continuity.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Tyreke and Tyrelle Satchebell
2:30-3 p.m.

As the clock ticked toward dismissal, the kids attending online classes from the YMCA gymnasium were growing restless, ready to shoot basketballs at the hoops above them. The staffers, many in their 20s who have worked in the Y’s summer and after-school programs, urged the kids to stay focused.

“You’re almost there,” said Kyle Joseph, one of the YMCA staffers.

On Zoom, the twins' art teacher was showing pictures of the work of different famous artists — Frida Kahlo, Vincent van Gogh, Salvador Dali.

“Tyreke, are you listening?” Tyrelle asked.

“Yeah.”

“What she say?”

“Art…”

“You don’t pay attention.”

“I’m trying to draw your favorite animal for art class!”

Tyreke tried to draw a panda bear in yellow colored pencil, but changed it into an “evil face” with massive teeth.

A kid with braces wandered over: “This is so boring, isn’t it?” He was wearing a shirt that read “The Birthday Dude.”

“It’s not your birthday,” Tyrelle replied with a sigh. “I wanna go home,” he said. “At first I was excited, but now I’m not excited – it’s too long!”

Tyreke agreed: “Is class almost over?”

“Thirty more minutes!”

“Oh nooooo!” Tyreke said, looking at the ceiling.

“Oh, it’s gonna be OK,” said Cathy McCall-Latson, an after-school director checking on the kids.

As time passed, Tyrelle forced himself to listen to the teacher.

“If you don’t get an A, I’m gonna get mad at you,” he told his brother.

“I like that he’s holding you accountable if you get anything but an A,” said Joseph, the staffer.

“One more minute!” Tyrelle announced.

“Soon as it hits 3 o' clock, boom, I’m leaving,” Tyreke said.

The clock struck 3. The teacher was still talking. Tyreke closed his computer. Tyrelle followed him.

“Sorry y’all,” Tyrelle said to his teachers, though they couldn’t hear him. “I had fun listening to y’all, but bye, I have to go – it’s 3 o’clock! I need my free time.”

They ran to play with their friends. The quiet gymnasium now echoed with the sounds of balls bouncing and children screaming, laughing, and running.

Christopher Taylor
2:45 p.m.

Christopher Taylor collapsed in the car as his mom drove him to his after-school program at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs.

“It’s only the first day and already my brain is fried,” he said.

To recap, remote school was exhausting but also fun, he said. He enjoyed homeroom the best, when he and his new classmates became fast friends, discussing Fortnite and other video games.

“We just clicked like that,” he said, snapping his fingers.

He had a somewhat annoying moment when he struggled to enter a technology platform in his geography class, but his teacher helped him through it.

The biggest difference from the spring and his previous school, he said, was that the day was longer, with instruction time that started earlier and included fewer breaks.

“It’s gonna be a real struggle,” he sighed.

“There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging it’s going to be a hill to climb,” his mother said. “That leads to healthy strategies to make that climb bearable. Do you feel ready?”

“I’m reeeaaaady!” he said, doing a dance-y impression of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Derrick Ciesla
3:30 p.m.

It was the end of the day, classes were over, and Ciesla was on a Zoom call with the central office for school leaders across the district. With one ear bud lodged in his ear, he glanced at a presentation about transportation that flashed by on his phone screen.

Elizabeth Reynolds Lupo came by his office to say goodbye. “I’m teaching from home tomorrow so I can focus on teaching,” said Lupo, who now splits her time between teaching physical education and supporting students with technology.

“Sounds good,” Ciesla said.

Lupo was one of the teachers who made the first day work. She and her colleagues passed out or delivered more than 20 Chromebooks. They calmed the nerves of confused teachers and listened to angry parents. They even jumped onto Zoom calls to entertain students when their teachers couldn’t be there.

“You hear a lot of principals say they feel alone” Ciesla said. “That hasn’t been the case.”

Earlier in the day, Ciesla, who had expected a small number of teachers to work in their classroom, looked surprised when he realized all of the cars in the parking lot belonged to teachers.

Ciesla, Lupo, and others planned an evening Zoom call to dissect the day and discuss how to improve the second day of remote learning. After all, more than half of students at the Russell have selected to study at home for the foreseeable future.

“And we’ll keep on doing that until we don’t have to do it anymore,” Ciesla said.

“We might get the benefit of the doubt today, but we won’t … tomorrow,” he added.


Jenna Russell can be reached at jenna.russell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jrussglobe. Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons. Bianca Vázquez Toness can be reached at bianca.toness@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @biancavtoness. Naomi Martin can be reached at naomi.martin@globe.com. Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.