When going to school still means staying home in Hampton Roads


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — When brick-and-mortar schools reopened this spring, most children were thrilled to log out of virtual school and return to their regular classrooms.

That was the case in Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Suffolk.

But not in Newport News, Hampton, and Portsmouth, where more families decided to stay home for the “three Rs.”

Welcome to what could be called the “5920 Academy,” where Jaden Smith and three relatives, who did not want to be photographed, are in virtual classes and making straight As across the board.

WAVY-TV 10 popped in for his morning calculus class.

“So this is question number 14,” said his teacher whose image was tucked away in the corner of a virtual classroom while a complicated calculus question was in full-screen mode.

Jaden has a 4.7 grade-point average as he also takes college-level courses. For him, the success equation is not complicated.

“I treat it like I’m still in school. I still have the same and I feel like time management is the best thing to have,” he said. 

Aunt Bonita Hawkins hovers nearby, just in case Jaden needs help. Usually, he doesn’t.

Eli Bracy

“He utilizes every resource available; he emails teachers on his own. He’s participating in workshops, he is participating in volunteer and networking already — just to have that opportunity for whatever he has chosen to do,” said Hawkins.

Churchland High is his home school, but Jaden prefers to learn in his aunt’s home. He has attracted the attention of school board members and the administration.

“You are always going to have some kids who are going to succeed — no matter what — whether it’s virtual or in-person, some kids are equipped when they come to school day one,” said Portsmouth Schools Superintendent Dr. Eli Bracy.

Day one of virtual learning was vastly different for many other Portsmouth families.  The administration provided meals, the hardware, and the connection to the internet and it was done on a roll.

“We called it our ‘magic school bus’ that went out to bring meals into the communities, those busses were also equipped with [internet] hot spots,” said Dr. Bracy.

The process worked. Bracy was on-hand to welcome youngsters who returned to in-person learning.

“It was almost like the first day of school when our students returned on April 12. Our pre-K through sixth-graders, I had the opportunity to be at Parkview Elementary School and they were … the kids were coming in with smiles on their faces — but through the mask — but you could see that they were beaming. You could see it in their eyes,” Bracy said.

3,600 Portsmouth students returned for in-person learning, and 9,600 remained virtual as of April 23. Now, the schools are looking ahead to prepare for the fall by doubling the number of courses that will be available for summer school.

“We want to get the kids back in buildings get them acclimated and comfortable with being back in school. So that we can hit some of the basic skills in those core areas, so that we can have them prepared and cover loss learning that has occurred so that we can hit the ground running, ” said Bracy.

But, Jaden says given the choice, he would remain virtual. He says learning remotely was so efficient, he woke up one morning and decided to open a clothing business.

His art brings style to his vision that goes far beyond the pandemic.

“It’s called d-a-l-o-n-e-g-a and it stands for Don’t Allow Life’s Obstacles to have Negative Effects on your Greatest Achievements,” explained Jaden.

Jaden is a young man on a mission. He graduates next year; then it’s off to college. He hopes to enroll in medical school.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

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