EAST WENATCHEE — Like many other districts, Eastmont is implementing an online-only start to the school year with classes beginning today.

Students could gradually return to the classroom if health officials deem it safe.

However, Vanessa Betancourt and her 13-year-old daughter, Chanel Nguyen, have elected to continue online learning for the whole year even if students are allowed back in the building. For them, it’s about keeping Chanel on a consistent schedule and avoiding possible exposure to COVID-19.

Betancourt, who also has a toddler, works for Head Start and takes precautions like changing her clothes when she gets home.

“But to have her exposed also, it’s just adding more factors in,” she said of her daughter. “At this point we don’t even know how we’re going to react to being exposed to that. There’s people that are only sick for a few days, and there’s people that are sick for a longer time.”

Chanel is entering eighth grade at Eastmont Junior High.

Her last year at Sterling Intermediate was interrupted when Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all schools to close in mid-March. Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal followed with a mandate that learning continue online.

Chanel said last semester involved daily virtual meetings with teachers and educational websites like Freckle that included lessons.

“You have to be more self-motivated and try to focus on learning, stay organized more,” she said. “In classrooms you have your stuff all there and they give you the papers to do your assignments. It’s different. The pros of online learning are you don’t get distracted as easily because of your classmates talking or telling jokes, but also it’s kind of sad because it’s just you and your family.”

A couple of times the internet went out, causing her to miss lessons. Another downside, she said, is having to email teachers questions and wait for a reply instead of getting direct answers in the classroom.

She also misses hands-on activities at school. However, she keeps in touch with her friends by phone.

“I’m also going to make a schedule to socialize,” she said. “There will be times when friends will want to talk during school hours, so I’m just going to tell them that I have a schedule from this time to that time and I can talk to them (after). The most important thing right now is learning because you don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

Although not required, schools throughout the state have been encouraged to use remote instruction — especially in counties deemed high-risk for virus spread, like Chelan and Douglas.

Betancourt and Chanel picked up a Chromebook from school last week.

A desk helps Chanel stay organized, and her calendar and Amazon Echo Dot remind her of meetings and other events. She also uses headphones to better hear the teachers.

Chanel was named Student of the Year last year at Sterling. She plans to be involved with the student government at Eastmont Junior High this year and also hopes to take beginner violin classes, though she’s not exactly sure how either of those activities will work.

Betancourt said she does worry about Chanel’s socialization needs, but tries to meet them by having her spend time with family, go on hikes or run at the school track.

“If it was a child that didn’t have access to those kinds of things, I’m sure they would be suffering through depression,” Betancourt said.

Although the transition to remote learning was stressful at first and the family had to adjust their schedules, she said, it helped that her daughter was motivated. Chanel kept on top of her schoolwork and in touch with her teachers.

Betancourt believes Chanel’s grades will benefit from that level of focus.

“With her age group, it’s a little bit easier, but I can’t imagine having (a child) that’s in first or second grade,” she said. “I’m a teacher, but I’m also at home more right now. It’s just a little bit easier for me. Our experience is going to be a lot different, I think.”