This school year, more than 21,000 students in the Akron, Ohio, district are receiving online instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the history of such learning in the district actually goes back decades.
In doing so, he became the first student in
Palchick blazed the trail nearly 60 years ago by attending classes via telephone.
The 12-year-old boy had a hip disorder called bilateral slipped capital femoral epiphysis in which the femur disconnects from the ball joint. He had it in both legs and underwent two surgeries in the summer of 1962. It was one of the first times that doctors used a bone graft instead of putting pins in the hip.
“Part of that required me to be in traction for three months and then off of my feet for nine months,” recalled Palchick, who is now 70. “So I couldn’t go to school. My dad said: ‘There’s no way you’re not going to school.’”
I was known as ‘The Boy in the Box'
Palchick sat in a wheelchair at a card table in his family room and listened to seventh-grade classes through a toaster-size apparatus that resembled a radio. It had two-way audio, but no video.
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“At the school, there was a little box that got carried from classroom to classroom,” Palchick said. “In fact, I was known as ‘The Boy in the Box.’ Isn’t that great? My wife still laughs about that.”
He could hear everything that transpired in the classroom. During morning attendance, Palchick said “Present.” If the student had a question, he flipped a lever on the squawk box to speak to the teacher. The boy was an active participant in classes and was often called upon to answer questions.
Palchick studied math, science, English and social studies during the 1962-63 year, but for obvious reasons, he was spared gym class.
There were plenty of challenges for the student.
“You can imagine what it’s like taking a math course when you can’t see the blackboard,” he said.
It just so happened that the Akron district introduced “New Math” that school year, which emphasized a conceptual understanding of arithmetic instead of rote memorization.
“Which means that I don’t think anybody from that year can actually do math,” Palchick joked.
Another drawback for “The Boy in the Box” was that Palchick had classes with four or five boys named Mark.
“So I’m learning remotely and the teacher would say ‘OK, Mark, what’s the answer?’ I had no idea if he was talking to me or one of the other Marks,” Palchick said.
A lack of social interaction with remote learning
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage was the lack of social interaction. Students from multiple elementary schools were converging at junior high for the first time and making new friends.
“I did not have that,” Palchick said. “When I finally attended school in eighth grade, I was essentially the new kid in a social environment when most social bonds had been formed the year before.”
On the other hand, Palchick thinks he received some of his highest grades that school year because there were fewer distractions and he had to concentrate harder to understand. It also helped that he had a tutor,
Overall, he thinks his remote learning experience was excellent because the classes were “highly dynamic and bilateral,” with discussion and interaction between teacher and pupil. He worries that too many remote classes today are unilateral with the teacher “being a talking head” on video. When students are not actively engaged, they are likely to lose attention and focus, he said.
“I think remote education is a real challenge,” he said. “It's a whole different type of teaching.”
After graduating from
He worked as an attorney for the
What a coincidence.
Palchick lives in
So unintentionally, he’s come full circle. One of the first remote learners in the country now works to make remote learning more widely available, including in
“All of these accomplishments were built on the foundation of education I received starting with remote learning in seventh grade,” he said.
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Palchick came back to
“People remembered ‘The Boy in the Box,’ but few knew that I was that Boy in the Box,” he said.
(c)2021 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.