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As the coronavirus pandemic continues into the fall, three Wicomico County teachers explain how they’re preparing for the upcoming virtual semester.

Salisbury Daily Times

SALISBURY, MD. — Christy Rose was at a loss as she and her husband, Andrew, prepared for the upcoming school year.

Their two daughters — one in Kindergarten and the other in third grade — were set to attend Northwestern Elementary School in Mardela Springs. That was until COVID-19 forced the prevention of in-person learning for several schools across the state.

Students and teachers have moved quickly to adjust to a virtual format, while parents balance their responsibilities at work with the attention required for their child’s education.

It’s an issue members of the DiCarlo Digital Copy Center noticed. The family-owned business has several employees — including Andrew Rose — with young children.

The DiCarlo School of Virtual Learning kicked off at the start of the 2020-21 academic year, with just under 10 student taking part in the experience. (Photo: Submitted Image: Susan Martin, DiCarlo Digital Copy Center)

The company holds training sessions every month in which businesses come on site and learn to operate certain equipment and devices. Since the pandemic, those sessions have been halted, leaving DiCarlo Digital Copy Center with an open space.

Company officials started to brainstorm ideas for the vacant spot, and given the struggles some parents were preparing to face with a virtual academic year, a classroom for children of DiCarlo employees became the new solution.

“For an employer to invest in their employees, it shows a lot about the employer themselves,” Christy Rose said. “(DiCarlo) has always put their employees first.”

‘We’re a very close company’

The DiCarlo School of Virtual Learning kicked off Tuesday, the start of the 2020-21 academic year, with just under 10 students taking part in the experience, according to marketing director Susan Martin.

Students are seated at desks and spread out at least 6 feet apart. Plexiglass sheets surround each student and a moderator is in the room at all times to assist, if needed. Students range from Kindergarten to freshmen in high school.

“It was a huge weight lifted off our shoulders,” Rose said. “They have plenty of supplies, are wearing masks, and (DiCarlo) is definitely taking the right approach while allowing us to get back to normal.”

Martin said the idea easily came to fruition due to the family-type atmosphere at DiCarlo. 

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“We’re a very close company,” she said. “Many have been here for 15 or 20 years, and we’ve kind of in a sense grown up together. It really feels like a family back there.”

Employees were struggling with the thought of switching to part time or needing to bring in outside help to assist with their child’s education. Rose, who is not an employee at DiCarlo, said she considered working from home after the pandemic kept her away from the office for nearly four months.

But when she returned to work in July, it was apparent she would need to re-transition to an office setting.

The DiCarlo School of Virtual Learning kicked off at the start of the 2020-21 academic year, with just under 10 student taking part in the experience. (Photo: Submitted Image: Susan Martin, DiCarlo Digital Copy Center)

DiCarlo members first started planning the classroom in May or June, according to Rose, but many steps were required before students could be admitted. 

Social distancing would be enforced and temperature checks and other screenings would have to take place to ensure the safety of both the students and their parents.

School districts provided students with equipment, such as laptops and hot spots, allowing DiCarlo to only provide the work space for those individuals to carry out their assignments.

“These are unprecedented times, and we weren’t sure how this was going to work,” Martin said. “But from the bottom of their hearts, they said we were going to do this.”

Will young students be receptive?

Parents needed to be comfortable before sending their children into an environment with other students.

Rose worried about her 5-year-old, not only from a health perspective but also because she was curious about how receptive her young daughter would be to a virtual format.

Rose spent Tuesday and Wednesday at home, taking a week off to help her daughters adjust to the new way of learning. Through Zoom calls, learning how to use the computer and guidance from teachers, Rose felt confident her youngest could grasp the demands.

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“There’s only so much a child that is 5 years old can handle sitting behind a desk and looking at a computer screen,” she said. “But the moderator can assist, and we’ve known most of the other kids forever so they’ll be helping each other.”

Rose isn’t the only satisfied parent. Martin said the response from DiCarlo employees has been overwhelming.

On Tuesday, she posted a picture on the business’ Facebook page detailing the project with a picture of socially distanced students. Martin said parents who don’t work for DiCarlo reached out expressing excitement for the idea and hope their respective employers create something similar.

“If they had something like this, that weight and worry would be lifted,” Martin said. “You can see that the community thinks this is amazing.”

It’s not just for the parent’s benefit: Martin hopes the DiCarlo School of Virtual Learning inspires students as they progress through their academic careers.

“These children are growing up to be our leaders,” she said. “This sets them up to succeed and allows them to feel more productive and energized.”

It’s not the traditional classroom, but DiCarlo Digital Copy Center has found a way to provide a safe, in-person learning atmosphere while taking some of the burden off working parents.

Other companies have implemented similar practices, but Rose and Martin hope the example set by DiCarlo inspires others to give back to their employees by lightening the load.

“When an employee is treated the way we are, it makes the employee go above and beyond,” Rose said.

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