Oct 17, 2020

Parents Navigate Virtual Learning for Kids

Reporting Texas

As a full-time restaurant manager and mother of three young boys, Carolina Benitez has a lot on her plate already. She works 55 hours each week and spends her two days off, Mondays and Tuesdays, supervising her oldest son, Jeremiah, while he attends school online.

“I honestly am concerned that he will fall behind. I’m not a teacher. I sucked at school. I’m worried if I even try to help with his homework, I’ll confuse him even more,” Benitez said.

During the other five days of the week when she works her 12 hour shifts, her ex-husband and Benitez’s parents split the time caring for the kids and helping Jeremiah attend his virtual classes.

Parents across Texas are suddenly finding themselves in a new role: teacher. And they have had to adapt to assisting their children with virtual learning as most schools in the state have gone online our offer a hybrid style of learning amidst the pandemic.

As of early October, the reported number of positive COVID-19 cases among students in Texas is 5,725 while the number of positive cases among staff in Texas schools is 4,132, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Any parents in Texas who feel uneasy about sending their child to school have the option to request virtual learning. If the school their child attends is unable to provide virtual learning for their child, they are allowed to transfer to another school that does, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Benitez said she was relieved when her son’s school loaned her a Chromebook that her son can use for class. “I don’t know what we would have done,” she said, “We can’t afford a computer.”

Benitez said her biggest concern is that Jeremiah may not receive the education he needs, but she is also concerned about his social development because he is unable to play with other children aside from his two younger brothers.

“I know I can’t go to school because people are sick, but I really miss seeing my friends,” 7-year-old Jeremiah said.

Parents who have a more stable home life have concerns as well. James Mears and his fiancé are both on unemployment because their jobs have been closed since the start of the pandemic. Mears said that he feels grateful that there is always a parent at home to help his daughter if she needs it, but he has some concerns about the quality of education his daughter is receiving and also her physical and mental health.

Mears voiced concerns about the lack of physical education and learning about art and music. He feels that those creative outlets are crucial to the childhood experience.

Another issue he has found with virtual learning is the difficulty teachers face attempting to discipline children through Zoom. He says that the only thing they can do is tell the child to behave and then later contact their parents to explain the situation, which doesn’t seem to be as effective as previous methods from in-person schooling like timeout or detention.

“Many children seem to not have parents around so they are either acting up and the teacher can’t do much about it or the students can’t figure out what to do when they’re having technical issues and it’s almost impossible for the teacher to solve these issues,” Mears said.

Mears said he feels lucky to be in a comfortable financial situation during a time when many other families are not.

“We could have gotten a Chromebook from the school but since we have a computer she can use we wanted to let someone else get it. They don’t seem to have enough for everyone,” he said.

The issue he is most concerned with though is Renee’s mental health and social development.

“She’s worried to talk and nervous to speak to her peers online when she is the most social butterfly normally, like for lunch the kids sit at the computers and all and Renee doesn’t really want to. She definitely misses going to school and is upset about missing it. She talks about it every day.” Mears said.

Mariah Najmuddin, a teacher at Rowe Middle School, agrees it is unfortunate for children to go without physical education classes and the arts. She recommends that parents find a way to incorporate exercise, music and art in the daily lives of their children.

She also recommends that parents help create a space for their child that makes them feel more eager to learn. “Let them personalize it and make it feel more like their designated school spot so that when they come into that area of the house it feels more like a learning environment,” Najmuddin said.

Some advice she has for fellow teachers is to have planned breaks for the students. “As much as you can, have kids stand up or do something kinesthetic.” Najmuddin said. “It’s hard for children to sit all day, mostly silent and without someone to interact with.”

Najmuddin also touched on the differences between families from different socioeconomic backgrounds. She said that she can tell by her students’ work which kids have a parent at home with them and which don’t.

Most of the children who have parents at home are typically in a better financial situation than families with parents who are unable to work from home because most of those jobs that require in person presence are service industry and manual labor jobs, which employ most of the people from a lower socioeconomic background.

“It’s really hard,” Najmuddin said, “for families not working from home.”