Tales told of local students homeschooling

| April 29, 2020 | 0 Comments

STELLA COPPOLA, 2nd grader at Melrose Magnet, participates in an online class via Zoom with her teacher.

Our April 2020 story “With social distancing decree, families begin work-from-home, homeschooling juggling act,” resonated with families in the neighborhood — many have written to share their own experiences. So, we shall continue the story as a series. Should you wish to have your child’s / family’s experience of homeschool featured, please reach out to: caroline@larchmontchronicle.com

As a mom to a 6- and an 8-year old, I can attest that sharing anecdotes about the experience of homeschooling, or “distance learning,” is vitally important (from a mental health perspective). This feels truer than ever since those of us in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) received the latest official word: schools are closed for the remainder of 2019-2020 school year. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner delivered that message on April 13, whereas some private schools may have received such an edict even earlier or are still awaiting word.

Knowing that we likely are in this for the long haul, here are this month’s interviews to offer some solidarity.

The questions asked

1) What are the names, ages, and grades of your children? 2) How are you structuring your days? 3) What remote learning strategies are you employing, and what (if any) materials / resources did the school provide? 4) How are YOU coping (as parents)? and — new this month! — 5) How is everyone handling the news that school (likely) will not resume this year?

Jill Coppola, S. Lucerne Blvd., wrote:

1) Stella Coppola, 2nd grade at Melrose Avenue Mathematics / Science / Technology Magnet
2) First of all, it’s a luxury to even have the ability to shelter in our home, and I am beyond grateful that we are all healthy and safe. Obviously, no one was prepared for a worldwide pandemic, least of all the children, so I’m trying to frame this in a way that puts more of the focus on being helpers than on panic. So far, most of our days at home, which began for us on March 13th, have felt more like crisis management than the mindful experience I’d hoped to create for my daughter. This is not easy.

I was trying to structure our days at home intuitively. By that I mean, beginning the day with activities that she gravitates to in the morning, like reading, and saving trickier subjects for when we are all more awake. But, in actuality, we are getting a late start, ending schoolwork late, going to bed late. Everything is out of whack. Everything!

I had hoped to look at homeschool as an opportunity to go more deeply into subjects. I had hoped to work with her and that we’d read together and copy down lines of poetry and, in general, be more thoughtful about all of her school subjects. I feel frazzled and scared and filled with sorrow for all the loss of life in the world. I haven’t had the time I’d like with her because I’m working so much. I’m so grateful for the work, not only for the simple fact of economics but also for the distraction. I’m like a busy beaver and staying busy has helped me personally. Still, it can contribute to my feeling frazzled and disconnected. It can also show up in my daughter acting out if we don’t have enough quality connection every day.

3) We are finding our rhythm little by little — some days are more successful than others. Her school, Melrose Magnet, and her teachers, namely Mr. Gaffield, are incredible and we were up and running in less than two weeks! She has a full school day now, and she can do some of her work at my desk with me while I work. My husband is unbelievably helpful through all this! He is lovely with our daughter — they cook meals together and play basketball and soccer. He brings laughter to the situation.

4) [How are we coping?] A few moments of grace and beauty have sustained us. Stella’s sweet friend dropped a letter off on our doorstep on St. Patrick’s Day, and it brought me to tears. A fairy camp she did last summer, “Melissa and Sue,” emailed a letter and checklist from the fairies for moments of outside magic. Hearing her laugh with friends on phone calls. Walks with our dog around the block, masks on. Her sweet friends drove by on her 8th birthday with beautiful homemade signs wishing her a happy birthday. Surprise visits at our front window just to say hello. These moments, and more like them, offer such intense beauty that it makes my heart ache. That’s how the world feels to me right now, a heart-wrenching mixture of sorrow and deep, deep beauty.

5) She is so sad that she won’t be going back to school this year. I am glad that she will be home and safe with me. I try to comfort her with the fact that one day our lives will be back to normal. I remind her that she’ll be back in school and going to play with friends, but right now we have this gift of time together, which will be over before we know it. But she is an only child with only her parents to play with so it is a small comfort.

SAWYER JENKINS, 1st grader at Van Ness Elementary, works at the family table.

Shelby Lee Jenkins, who lives in Larchmont Village Neighborhood, reported:

1) Sawyer, 1st grade; Blake, 5th grade, both at Van Ness Elementary.

2) The first week we had no structure as schools were not prepared for this. But by the second week, I had made a schedule that complements the daily online school tasks and assignments. Once I had that agenda and it was taped to the wall, it was respected. My 7-year-old really needed it and gets annoyed if we are not on schedule. We start with a morning walk. Then they both do their online learning, then lunch, followed by an hour of creative time. Then it’s on to an hour of reading to me (my 7-year-old) or by himself (my 10-year-old) and, finally, to end the school day, they both get 30 minutes of their own device time. In the evening, we either go for another walk or they participate in an online PE class. I have them finish their day with writing in their daily journals while I prepare and cook dinner. If we accidentally skip a day in the journal, it is hard to figure out what we did as the days have now all blended into each other.

3) They are using tons of platforms. Way too many in my opinion. No one was prepared, and I really feel for the teachers who are trying to figure this all out on the go. What challenges me as a parent is both kids are using different platforms, and each week there are new ones. I feel a rhythm has started to take shape as to what platforms each teacher prefers, so having new ones each week will settle down eventually. But to name the main ones … we have been using Zoom, Google Classroom, BrainPop, Epic Books, Newsela, Zearn, etc.

4) How am I coping?  It really is an hour-by-hour moment. I am a single parent who is now unemployed, so I am trying to keep as much normalcy for my kids as I can. Keeping on schedule helps. My kids don’t really talk about their feelings, as I don’t think they have the words, and I am trying to figure out how to teach them to communicate with me. And to add to this, we need to decide on which middle school we would like to attend by this Friday. I have settled on the one that I think will be the best, but it is hard to for me to say “yes” to a school for 6th grade when we really don’t get to finish 5th and 1st grade (emotionally and physically).

5) I had to ask my kids directly about their feelings on school being closed for the rest of the year, as I am not sure they grasp the length of time they are in with Teacher Mommy.

My 5th grader says he is sad because it is not the same as if he was in the classroom with his schoolmates. My 1st grader says he is fine, but his actions are that he is clearly frustrated with Teacher Mommy. And I know he would not have those same frustrations with his actual 1st grade teacher. It’s hard to be Mommy and Teacher … and living with each other 24/7 nearing 40 days.

LUCAS SZENTGYORGYI, Junior at Campbell Hall, studies at home.

Angie Szentgyorgyi, Windsor Square, tells us:

1) Evan, 9th grade; Lucas, 11th, both at Campbell Hall.

2) We just finished spring break, where there was not much structure!

Now that school is back in session, as of April 13, both of them share the same school structure, although they use their free time differently.

At 9:30 a.m., they have their first class, and they run through four classes until 2:30 p.m., with breaks in between. The school is using a combination of Zoom class where attendance is taken, and reading — assignments and quizzes to be done on their own time, although some of the tests are administered during Zoom sessions. This is their school schedule Monday through Thursday. Friday is less structured, with the day reserved for a meeting of their advisory group and scheduled meetings with teachers or groups they may be working in.

The boys are responsible for knowing where and when they need to be somewhere virtually. They manage their own schedules and homework. There is much more free time now, and they each use it differently. With the change in start times (previously, we would usually leave at 7:30 a.m. for the bus) and the teenager preference for late nights, we do check in with them in the morning to be sure they are up! But that is all we need to do.

We make them breakfast many mornings, but they are self-sufficient and handle most of their own meals during the day. We have a family dinner every night and sometimes gather for a TV show. At midnight, phones and laptops are put away in a charging station outside their rooms. Both of them use social media to stay in touch with friends during the time they are not “in” school.

Evan is a musician and spends much of his time in his room or on the piano practicing or composing. This is not a big change from how he would spend his day when he was at school except now he has more time to devote to music. During school days he would not get home until 4:30.

Lucas is a baseball player and spends time running, hitting in the backyard or throwing. His schedule has been changed considerably by not attending school, as he would often be at practice or games and not get home until later in the evening.

One big change for Lucas has been preparing for the coming senior year and college applications. His SAT was cancelled in March, and they just cancelled the June tests. Most juniors take the test in the spring with a second try in the summer. He and his classmates may not be able to take it at all. There is discussion that there may be an online version in late August, but so far we don’t know what that will look like.

We had planned our first college tours for spring break, and now we aren’t sure if he will visit any of the schools where he will be applying. As part of our weekly schedule, he and I meet frequently and do virtual college campus tours.

3) At this point, the kids already have been running their own schedules for years, so there is not much added work for either me or my husband due to the boys not attending school. There are certainly more dishes!

Having them at home means more time cooking and cleaning (we have a once-a-week housekeeper who we are paying, but she is not working here now). I have been able to split much of that house cleaning with my husband as well as using it as an opportunity to teach the kids how to use a mop. Despite the added domestic duties, my husband and I still have enough time to get our work done and fit in some downtime.

I do occasionally miss having time to myself at home, but honestly, it has been nice to have a full house.

The most difficult thing has been having to say no to them seeing friends right now. Some of their friends have parents who are letting their teenagers get together with other kids daily. It is not much fun to be the “strict” parents. Oh well.

4) [We parents coping?] I think stay-at-home is necessary for everyone’s safety and to ensure that we can get back to work as soon as possible. I am sorry my kids are missing out on so much — performances, seeing friends, baseball season and college prep, but, in the scope of everything, we feel fortunate for all that we have. We can certainly stay home for as long as we need to in support of keeping our family and others safe.

5) Right now, the school will only confirm “distance learning” through May 15 since that is the date to which stay-at-home currently extends. However, I am not expecting school to open again.

As I said, I am good with doing whatever needs to be done to keep everyone safe. I am just sorry to see the kids miss out on all the school activities. Both had been preparing for performances, and Lucas is missing most of the baseball season.

Write to us

To continue this series about the homeschooling juggling act, feel free to send us you own answers to our informal poll about what you and your children are doing while staying “safer at home.” The contact information for us is in the first line on page 20.

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