VIRUS DIARY: For these kids, no adventures to choose

Billy Nuckols, 10, plays video games while his brother Jimmy, 6, watches TV at home in Burke, Va., July 19, 2020. The activities are a major part of their daily routine during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ben Nuckols)
Billy Nuckols, 10, plays video games while his brother Jimmy, 6, watches TV at home in Burke, Va., July 19, 2020. The activities are a major part of their daily routine during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ben Nuckols)

BURKE, Va. – On a recent car ride, my sons, Billy and Jimmy, were discussing an interactive “Minecraft” show on Netflix that allowed them to choose the direction of the story. I said it sounded like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, an artifact of my 1980s childhood.

Then Billy, who's 10 years old, surprised me. He had heard of “Choose Your Own Adventure.”

“My friend had one. He said I could read it when he was done,” Billy said. He paused, long enough for me to know what he would say next.

“That was right before the virus,” he said.

For my kids, 2020 has been the opposite of a choose-your-own-adventure story. Their options have dwindled. Windows of opportunity have appeared to crack open, only to slam in their faces.

As the debate rages over whether U.S. schools should reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, the way Billy learned about “Choose Your Own Adventure” demonstrates the intangible harm that comes with kids being away from school. A rising fifth-grader like him can learn the curriculum virtually, complete worksheets and projects, and take tests. But nothing can replace the knowledge and experience he gains from being around his peers five days a week and sharing their intellectual curiosity.

“I hate virtual school,” Billy said.

It's not the school part he hates. It's the virtual part.