At about 10 a.m. weekdays, 8-year-old Django Doran’s school day begins when his father, Waco guitar instructor and musician David Doran, rings a guitar chord from Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” or, yes, Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” through the house to make sure the Kendrick Elementary School second-grader is up and out of bed.
Over at Ellen and Kelly Filgo’s house, Rapoport Academy second-grader Marc and kindergartner Andy are checking a white board that has the day’s lessons and tasks outlined.
For Kathleen Cochran Laundy, that hour in the morning finds her at home, getting 17-year-old Sylvan Cochran ready for 11 a.m. lessons with his Waco High School special education teacher. At the same time, Seth Laundy, 17, and Sarah Laundy, 13, students at Connally High School and Connally Middle School, respectively, are probably already on their way into their Google Classroom classes — or maybe not as both work online at their own pace.
Welcome to home schooling in the Texas spring of the coronavirus, a new experience for thousands of Waco-area parents and their children, although Baylor University education professor Brooke Blevins is quick to make a correction: “I would say this is ‘crisis schooling.’ We are not schooling from home, home schooling or anything like that. We (parents) are trying to fill a gap we are not capable of filling as a trained professional would.”
City and state measures in March taken to slow the spread of the potentially lethal coronavirus stopped in-person classes and activities at public and private schools, colleges and universities, forcing educators, students and families to navigate a shifting territory of school from home.
For many parents, grandparents and guardians, keeping their kids on task with online school work added one more ball, and a heavy one, to the daily rotation of household, work and family duties.
With Gov. Greg Abbott’s order Friday extending school closures to the end of the school year, they now find themselves not in the home stretch of schooling from home, but not even halfway at four weeks completed with six or more to go.
Do not panic, said Blevins, the Baylor professor who is also mother of three children ages four to 10 and chair of the School of Education’s Curriculum and Instruction Department. There is more to learning than completing a lesson, and in a troubling, uncertain time, sometimes what a parent can best provide is stability, care and love, she said.
“At the end of the day, give yourself some grace,” she said.
Blevins offered some pointers for those concerned about doing it right.
- A schedule, however soft, can help provide structure and focus.
- Learning goes beyond what is in the assignment. Baking from a recipe can provide quick lessons in reading or fractions. A trip outside can mean an encounter with biology. “It’s a great time to teach your kid something you love, whether it’s a hobby, wood working, gardening, whatever,” she said.
- Sometimes it is the process that is important. If they find something interesting on a website, talk to them about it. Ask them to write about it. These are all learning activities.
- Listen to your kids and be attuned to their feelings. The key is to be aware they are viewing what is lost — their friends, their routine, their school and extracurricular activities.
- Read, read, read — either to them if they are young or encourage them if they are older.
“I don’t think our kids will necessarily remember what they’ve learned during this time, but they can walk away feeling loved and hopeful for the future,” Blevins said.
There is no one size for what works in schooling at home, and parents should avoid the trap of comparing what they are doing, or not doing, with other parents, said Deena Cornblum, Waco Independent School District assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
Parents should stay connected with their school district and school through their websites and social media pages, and, to avoid a spring extension of regular summer learning loss, they should keep students engaged with their schoolwork.
“The most important thing is to keep them going,” Cornblum said.
At the Filgos, helping their sons with at-home schooling came at the same time that both parents, Ellen, director of the Baylor Libraries liaison program, and Kelly, executive director of special projects at Texas State Technical College, were also transitioning their jobs to working from home.
Those early morning starts to get the kids off to school and parents to work — not any more. Work schedules, phone conferences and Zoom meetings superimposed on a day at home with young boys do not lend themselves to old habits.
“It’s tough,” Kelly Filgo said. “I really like to focus on what I’m doing for a long period of time. I had to shift how I like to work.”
The parents worked a rough tag-team arrangement where one supervised the boys while the other tended to work duties, then switch after a break or lunch. The boys’ schoolwork for the day gets listed on a white board and marked off as completed, and there is flexibility for learning experiences away from a computer screen or tablet. There is also the occasional online interaction with teachers and classmates.
“We have nothing but amazing things to say about their teachers. They’re just phenomenal,” said Ellen Filgo, a sentiment repeated by multiple parents interviewed for this story. “And kindergarten Zoom meetings are quite adorable.”
Teachers are a crucial link in at-home learning, and parents should feel free to contact them for any questions, Cornblum said.
Grace Mangrum, a sixth-grade reading and English teacher at Cesar Chavez Middle School, readily agreed. A broad network of support, from both schools and community, has formed over the last few weeks, she said.
“People have been bending backwards for the kids,” Mangrum said.
If a teacher cannot help with a language issue or a specialized problem, she can find others who can.
“Don’t be afraid to call, text or email,” she said.
That contact also gives teachers understanding and sympathy for parents trying their best in difficult times, she said.
She knows of some students living with their grandparents because both parents had jobs in retail and were afraid their contact with the public might cause them to catch and spread the coronavirus to their family.
Some parents have found helping with at-home learning a delight. David Doran, 45, found his job as guitar and music theory instructor flexible enough to work at home and help Django with schoolwork while his wife Charlotte worked her day job with the city’s utilities department.
Working with his son from home is somewhat familiar to Doran. An autoimmune disorder before Christmas break had kept Django at home for days, and last year Doran worked with Django’s teachers to provide after-school instruction.
Online lessons provided from school and worked on an iPad fill part of the second-grader’s day, but Dad readily supplements them with work on multiplication tables, spelling words, exercises, karate, cooking — Django is responsible for making his lunch — being nice and gardening.
Many of Doran’s music students have shifted their lessons with him to online and scheduled outside of Django’s classwork. It is clear from Doran’s tone that he is enjoying the time with his son and his education.
“I think Django misses his friends, but I think he kinda likes having school here (at home),” he said. “I definitely could see us finishing the year out this way.”
Like some area parents, Laundy, a costume design professor at McLennan Community College, found herself teaching her college students from home as well as helping her own children. Keeping up with different schools’ preferred communications — daily emails from Connally, a mix of online programs and emails from Waco High — caused headaches initially, but connecting directly with his teachers has helped Sylvan, she said.
A trickier issue for her college students now working at home has been motivation. Without in-person training in costume building or the cameraderie of a company preparing for a play, some of her students have found it too easy to get distracted from finishing their assignments.
James Villas also knows the twin hats of teaching and parenting. He is an eighth-grade science teacher with 84 students at Tennyson Middle School, and he and his wife have seven kids at home.
Creating schedules helps keep everyone on track, and keeping up with a school’s revised attendance policy, such as regular online check-ins or completed assignments, is important, Villas said.
So is paying attention to a student’s well-being, as teachers do.
“Tired, hungry children don’t make good learners,” he said. “In a time of crisis, that matters a lot.”
Parents also should remember learning should not be confined to school assignments.
“Instilling a love of learning — you can’t go wrong with that,” Villas said.