The chaos of COVID-19 has lead to tons of hilarious memes. Some of the funniest depict parents homeschooling their children. While the jokes may temporarily lighten our mood, an unfortunate truth remains... Many teachers, parents and students are struggling with distance learning.
A wide variety of parents leads to a range of comments and concerns. The most prominent appears to be childcare. When kids have to stay home, mom or dad often need to take off work. If lucky, they have nearby grandparents and relatives to help them out. If not, then what?
For parents and kids with limited access to internet, distance learning is anything but equitable. According to the Bend-La Pine School District website, the district offers laptops and hotspots, but the internet connection ultimately depends on cell service. Many families lack a decent connection. What happened to the good old-fashioned textbook?
Another concern seems to be the lack of consistency. Some kids finish schoolwork before noon while others spend hours on one subject. Parent Crystal Deluca said, “My high school student is doing great. The WebEx and class assignments brought her back to life when she was in limbo. My 7th grader, they aren’t getting the same type of interaction and the assignments feel thrown together just to keep them logging on.”
And then there’s the subjects themselves. Parents trying to help their kids with technology, math or some other aspect of school often find doing so excruciating. Third grade math is one thing, but attempting eighth grade Common Core Math... another animal entirely. Plus, downloading and implementing the seemingly endless number of new apps and programs can be overwhelming.
After working full-time, Jessie Schermer comes home and immediately has to pull a second shift. A parent of four, she states, “I work as a full-time nurse. It’s stressful enough. Add in homeschool on my days off and there is no break. My kids miss their friends. They miss the park. And I miss being their mom on my days off.”
Learning differences also appear to be a major issue. It’s hard enough to meet the needs of every student in large classroom settings. Imagine the time and effort it takes to find what works for each kid from a distance.
These criticisms may sound negative, but a number of parents are also enjoying the experience. They relish seeing what their student is learning and often learning along with them. They enjoy helping with assignments and talk of feeling rewarded when a light bulb goes off inside their child’s head. They also supplement assignments with practical skills. For example, Sean Radcliff, father of two elementary students and a middle schooler, has his kids helping to plant the family’s Victory Garden (or "apocoloptomist garden," as he calls it). Add 12 chickens running around the yard, and you'd better believe those kids will get to know the source of their food!
“Breathe, relax and be patient. In the grand scheme of life, missing two and half months of school won't be the end of the world."- Conor Holmbergtweet this
Ask most students and they confirm that they long to return to school. Though they enjoy summer and Christmas vacations, this extended hiatus is just too much.
Friends and social activities, the sustenance of most school aged kids, have all but disappeared. No organized sports or clubs, no extracurricular activities... for high school seniors, no prom. For those without easy access to online learning, even virtual interaction is nonexistent.
The diversity of learning styles and needs cannot be successfully captured from a distance. Without a routine or specific agenda, many kids lack initiative. They don’t have the discipline to complete assignments or the patience to sit in front of a computer screen and listen to a drawling lecture.
An erratic homelife is a different story entirely.
Other kids get excited for the daily or weekly class meeting on WebEx. My 4th grade daughter, Kaia, prepares extensively. She gets dressed in her school clothes and makes sure to brush her hair. She finds a private spot outside, usually the trampoline. She makes comments like, “I wonder which of my friends will be on today?” and later tells us about a classmate who got new cat and another who has a messy room. Students are getting a glimpse of classmates’ daily life, and this, in a sense, is more intimate than before.
TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS
Believe it or not, teaching online from home is reportedly much more difficult than maintaining an in-person class of 30. Teachers miss their kids. Coordinating class meetings, finding new ways to teach, meeting student needs, learning new technology – the abrupt shift has been staggering. As time progresses, they create routines and become more adept and consistent.
Like local Bendite Linda Blair reminds us, “Keep in mind that teachers have kids, too!”
Administrators are busier than ever before. Kelle Hildebrandt, principal Elk Meadow Elementary, said, “Our brains are being used in new, creative ways. With only so many hours in the day, we are spending time making contingency plans for every possible scenario.”
Will kids return to school next year? If so, what will it look like? If distance learning is necessary to continue, how will we meet the needs of every kid? Administrators have no idea what the future holds; no hints from the state or the federal powers that be. Instead, like all of us, they are learning as they go. If helping a couple of children at home seems unmanageable, imagine planning the future for the 18,000 students in the Bend-La Pine school system!
These aren’t the days of old when dad went to work and mom was a homemaker. It would take nothing less than a shift in society to alleviate all of the current educational ills.
So what can we do?
First, focus on the positives. When I look back one day, I'm sure that I will remember and cherish this extra time spent with my family. Our kids grow up before we know it. The cliché holds true.
Take these opportunities to dig deeper into what your kids are learning. Explore new technology, review your math skills (ok, maybe not Common Core Math), read about Lewis & Clark or Mesopotamia, teach them practical skills or plant a Victory Garden!
My advice to you - just try to do the best you can. No need to stress about a 10am WebEx meeting, but allow them to interact with teacher and classmates as much as possible.
As time progresses, the schools are adjusting and implementing more and more helpful resources. The Bend-La Pine ‘WE ARE HERE TO HELP’ webpage provides a number of insights. Grab and Go lunches provide plenty of food, no questions asked. Laptops and hotspots are a start to helping with technology. Counseling services are available for kids, and book clubs and web meetings for parents are continuously popping up.
Parents can also reach out to teachers. Communicate with them frequently. They can offer resources and advice, and will often reach out to help individual students.
Some of the best advice I heard came from Elk Meadow 4th grade teacher Conor Holmberg.
“Breathe, relax and be patient. In the grand scheme of life, missing two and half months of school won't be the end of the world. It's not ideal at all, but here we are. Make the goal being just to maintain your current reading level and not regress. Be creative! The iPad has tons of great resources and apps and lots of things to fill your time... but get outside too, read a book, laugh, build a fort. Be a kid!”
We are all in this thing together and we will survive it. It’s not any one person’s responsibility to educate our children. It’s a task that falls upon the entire community. Not all classrooms have four walls. Kids (and adults) get educated daily. It’s called life.