By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
As schools across the state are scheduled to re-open in the coming weeks under the restrictions of COVID-19, Charles and Debra Smith, the parents of two elementary school-age children, are planning how best to divide their time between their jobs and their children’s schoolwork.
With two daughters, Jess, 9, and Jennifer, 7, the Smiths fall into a category of parents that are the least likely to favor an online learning model – elementary school parents with kids that require a significant amount of assistance and supervision.
According to the Smiths, they are planning to divide their work week into an alternating schedule of two-days-on, three-days off, where each parent is responsible for scheduling their day and workload in order to be available to help the children with their schoolwork.
“Charles and I alternate days,” says Debra, who works as a paralegal. “For example, one week I’m responsible for three days of availability to help with schoolwork and then two days off.”
“We alternate days each week,” continued Debra. “When it comes to the everyday chores, cleanliness and practicing social distancing, we do this daily as a family.”
The Smiths are not alone. Millions of parents across the country are having to make similar decisions as schools begin to open during the worst global health crisis of our lifetime.
The majority of the school districts in the Greater Seattle area have opted to offer remote learning, while some private schools are providing in-class and online options.
Alvertis Brooks, Jr., the father of three children – Braylen, 9, Jaxon, 5, and 13-year old Peyton — appreciates the fact that decision makers are prioritizing health and safety by offering online learning.
“From a parent’s perspective, I trust the district’s decisions to ensure that our children are able to learn in an environment that is safe,” says Brooks. “And, if they believe that the safest environment for our children is in the home, then I trust that.”
“Although my children attend private schools, the challenges will be the same nonetheless,” continued Brooks. “Trying to make sure they get their work done, at the same time keeping them out of my hair so I can get my work done will be a challenge.”
Shannon Jephson-Hernandez, the mother of four, including two elementary school-age children, learned from her mistakes during the Spring semester and his preparing her home to be as efficient as possible.
“The challenges we face as a family is structure and routine as well as making time to connect as a family,” says Jephson-Hernandez. “It is important that I set up structure, scheduling and a routine for my children to follow daily from hygiene to study habits to play time. All of this must be set in a routine fashion if my children are to be successful.”
One bright spot for Jephson-Hernandez is that her oldest son, Mason, lives at home and is able to help out with his younger siblings as the family adjusts to their new normal.
“My son, who is a college graduate and a very ambitious young man, lives at home,” says Jephson-Hernandez. “He is very helpful. I am a single mom so it is very nice to have him here to help.”
The challenges with online learning don’t just rest with parents. Teachers and school administrators also have to make adjustments.
Educators like Jerome Hunter, co-founder and head of academics at the Seattle School for Boys, says that it’s more important now than ever to make sure that students are engaged and have the necessary resources to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks.
“Even though we were able to pivot well to remote learning, we know that nothing can replace the learning that happens inside the classroom,” says Hunter. “The pandemic made it challenging for our teachers.”
“Our efforts during this challenging time is to ensure that our boys have adequate technology and WIFI to engage with remote learning,” he added.
In addition to academics, many parents also worry about long-term psychological impacts the pandemic can have on their children. In the beginning of the pandemic it wasn’t difficult for some parents to ease the anxiety in their children during lockdown for a month or two, but to prepare them for a whole year is challenging.
“I am also worried about the longevity of this situation,” says Jephson-Hernandez. “It was easy to motivate my children to survive one month. Now I am having to give that expectation for an entire school year. My children are standing up to the challenge. There are some moments where they are not giving up, but they just want to express themselves and say ‘this sucks!’”
The new school year is going to be challenging for many families and parents. Brooks, a former school administrator, believes that parents have to be open to allowing their children to discover the best way to learn under these conditions.
“Be creative, allow your kids to be outside the box in finding ways that they feel they can learn best and make it a partnership,” says Brooks. “We have embraced the new normal. I believe things are going to change, but if we don’t embrace it, it can make things that much harder.”