When the state of Florida decided to shift to distance learning in March — parents, teachers and students found themselves facing a steep learning curve.
“This thing came on pretty quick. We’re all learning on the fly,” said George O’Connor, who is supervising his 7-year-old granddaughter Julia’s instruction, in his Wesley Chapel home.
Normally, Julia attends Sand Pine Elementary. Now, she’s beginning her school day by reciting The Pledge of Allegiance in her grandparents’ dining room.
“The first week was a challenge, getting all of the programs and things like that,” O’Connor said. “We started the second week off yesterday, and it seems to be going a lot better.”
“It’s a least four hours of scheduled work.
“The teachers are holding something on Zoom, like a teleconference with the students. They’re also offering tutoring over the phones, as to how to work the programs,” O’Connor said.
Their granddaughter is staying with her grandparents because her mom, Kim, is an officer with the Tampa Police Department.
Normally, Kim is assigned as a School Resource Officer at Benito Middle School, but while school campuses are closed because of the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, she’s assisting the department’s patrol officers.
George said Kim is practicing social distancing, to avoid any potential spread of the virus.
Kim said she and Julia are communicating through texts, FaceTime and games they can play together on their devices.
Meanwhile, George’s other daughter, Meg Lewandowski teaches 10th grade Honors English at Freedom High School and her 6-year-old daughter, Margaret, attends Chiles Elementary in Tampa.
So, Lewandowski is experiencing online both as a teacher, and a parent of an online learner.
“I’ve been an educator for 15 years and this is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Lewandowski said.
“Trying to reach students through a computer screen and keep them engaged has proven to be a new challenge,” she said.
But, she added: “I’m finding that my students generally want to succeed, and they want to complete their work and continue with their learning.”
She said her daughter, who is kindergarten, is adjusting.
“We’ve kind of fallen into our routine,” she said. “Her teacher has been great about updating all of her assignments.”
But, she said her daughter misses going to school, and seeing her teachers and friends.
Lewandowski can empathize.
“I miss my routine of going to work and doing my job, a job that I really love,” she said.
On the other hand, she said, “it’s been a great opportunity to just kind of slow down a little bit. We tend to miss out on a lot of things when we’re in our normal rush of going to work and coming home, and doing activities.”
Being able to slow down some, she said, also provides more time to play with Margaret and learn some new games, she said.
Online learning has some advantages
Rowena Mendoza said that social distancing put a damper on Spring Break because her children are accustomed to being able to go somewhere during the break, but they couldn’t this year.
So, when online learning started, Mendoza said it helped her and husband, who are both working at home in IT.
“It’s very relieving for me, as a mom. I know my kids have things to do during the day, and they’re very focused,” she said.
Plus, 12-year-old Kayla who attends John Long Middle School and 15-year-old Colin, who attends Wiregrass Ranch High, have enjoyed virtual learning because they can work at their own pace.
“My kids like to finish their work ahead of time, so the rest of the week they can do anything,” she said.
But, they do miss their friends and classmates, she said.
Also, there have been some technical glitches. And, with so many users on the system, it is sometimes overwhelmed, she said.
Overall, she thinks the school system has done a good job — but it may need to upgrade its system, she said.
Things haven’t gone so smoothly for some other families.
Angel Shannon’s daughter, Shaylee, is a third-grader at Lutz Elementary.
Trying to help her daughter, while she’s doing her job at home, has been very challenging, Shannon said.
She doesn’t blame the school.
“It’s a fabulous school. We love the school, and I know they are trying very hard.
“The teachers are available, but the problem is, I have a 9-year-old and they’ve never taken instructions off a computer screen for every subject,” she said.
Besides that, they have to log in to different softwares, she said. “I have to sit, not only read the instructions, go over it with her — and it’s like six hours of me, sitting there with her, doing it with her,” said Shannon, a Medicare Advantage sales agent.
“I’m trying to talk on the phone. She’s trying to ask me questions. It’s causing a lot of stress. It’s not going well,” Shannon said.
Plus, she said, she can’t help Shaylee with her Common Core math work.
“This math, I don’t even understand what they’re asking, let alone how to help her.
“To me, it’s so ridiculous — and, I was an honors student. Between my husband and I, we read it, I get so frustrated I have to take a break.
“And then I think, I’ve only got one child. I couldn’t even imagine if there were more than one child in the home — trying to get their schooling done,” said Shannon, noting her husband works as a truck driver and when he gets home from work, she’s still trying to help Shaylee with her schoolwork.
It’s frustrating for both of them, she said.
“This is just for the birds,” Shannon said.
She said the principal understands the parents’ frustration and sent home a note, suggesting they not do more than three hours a day, but she worries about her daughter falling behind.
Annaliese Reese, who has a child in middle school and one in high school, understands Shannon’s frustration.
Reese’s 18-year-old son, Dante, a senior at Land O’ Lakes High School does his work, no problem, Reese said.
But, it’s a different story for her 12-year-old daughter, Gabriella, who attends Pine View Middle.
“I think she feels like because she’s not in school, she doesn’t have to do it,” Reese said.
The fact that she and her husband are working makes it tougher, she said.
She also feels for her son, who is missing out on the traditions of senior year.
Clara Reynolds, the president and CEO of The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, said the shift to online learning has added to the stress and anxieties many are facing during this time of COVID-19.
She offered this guidance.
“I think it’s important for parents to remember, you need to set up routines, but you don’t have to try to recreate a classroom environment, where kids are in class for 6 hours a day, in front of a computer,” she said.
“I think you can build it into little bite-sized chunks. Make sure you’ve got some time for enjoyable activities and things like that, because otherwise everybody is going to be very frustrated and anxious,” Reynolds said.
Published April 15, 2020
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