My year in a twenty-first century schoolhouse


Adelaide Berrett

A Spanish III text, a third-grade math book, a kindergarten letter practice page and a seventh-grade history book are just a few of the learning materials in sophomore Adelaide Berrett’s “multi-grade schoolhouse.” She and her siblings, who would normally be in four classes in three different schools, are learning from home.

Adelaide Berrett, Editor-in-Chief

I never imagined I would be attending school in a multi-grade schoolhouse in the 21st century. But history has a tendency of repeating itself. 

My home in Concord transformed in August from a comfortable living space into a school for a high school sophomore, a seventh-grader, a third-grader, and a kindergartner. Forced into distance learning due to the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, we are learning and studying under one roof. And we are not alone.

According to the United States Census Bureau, almost 93% of all houses that have school-age children in the United States are learning from home in some capacity, with the help of Zoom and Google Meet. Furthermore, the prospect for schools to return to fully in-school or a hybrid-style schedule looks grim. Locally, Contra Costa County slipped back into the purple tier on Nov. 16, the most severe statewide level indicating widespread cases of COVID-19, according to California’s statewide plan Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

At my house, someone is constantly on Zoom, doing their best to learn. Even though teachers have made it as easy as possible for me and my siblings to learn, with Play-Doh and worksheets sent home for the kids in elementary school, we still struggle to grasp concepts, leaving our parents to teach or support us with our respective coursework, ranging from learning letter sounds to proving the congruence of triangles. 

Everyone has their own learning area in order to stay more organized and to have an area just for school, with two students in our front room, one in our family room, and one in her bedroom: me. We have many lists and routines in order to keep our schoolhouse neat and tidy. It’s easier to learn without the distractions of a messy room or the lure of enticing toys.

Although the Mount Diablo Unified School District, which includes Northgate High School,  has improved the distance-learning program phenomenally from the circumstances of the spring, it is still difficult to get the experience of traditional school. Especially for our resident kindergartener. She doesn’t get the experience of cubbies, a playground, making new friends, or enjoying herself in person with an amazing teacher. Instead, she sits at her kids’ play table-turned-desk and tries her best to connect with her teacher and classmates over Zoom. When she’s not on Zoom, she interrupts my Zoom to ask for a popsicle.

However, attending this multi-grade schoolhouse hasn’t been all bad. This forced togetherness has given our family a chance to better support each other and to grow closer. I have been able to read with my sister and help teach the right-of-passage skill of learning to make macaroni and cheese to my siblings. We have been able to make treats and (safely) deliver them to friends, vote on our favorite movies in the form of March Madness-style brackets, which has led to many lines from famous movies being quoted all of the time. 

We’ve also been able to teach each other important life skills such as when is the proper time to ask for a Popsicle – though one of us has yet to master this skill, as my classmates might have noticed. With the constant cleaning in hopes of slowing the spread of germs, we now all know how to properly clean the bathroom, a skill that will benefit us greatly!

 Who knows how long our four-in-one school will remain while Mt. Diablo district leaders consider if, when, and how students will safely return. Meanwhile, we are making the best of an unprecedented time of learning. And enjoying each other’s company. And, most importantly, eating a copious amount of Popsicles.

All in all, this school year is definitely one for the books. Speaking of books, as I have been reading my World History textbook, I wonder if my story – the 2020 global pandemic caused by the coronavirus and the quarantine, the distance learning and the togetherness of families now learning together –  will make it into a new edition in years to come. 

Will my grandchildren come to me one day and interview me for a school project, asking me to recall my experiences? What will I tell them? 

I will probably start by saying: I never imagined I would be attending school in a multi-grade schoolhouse in the 21st century. But history has a tendency of repeating itself.