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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Silver linings: Schooling at home

After schools closed in March, families soon faced decisions of how they would deal with children finishing the academic year at home.

For many parents, it’s been a bumpy ride that came with juggling work at home. After nearly three months of adjustments, some families say they have discovered a few silver linings, too. Brighter moments came with more time together. Parents gained insights into how kids learn, or the family created memories around new customs.

Spokane resident Trena Wanless knew that her three older children would adapt well to learning at home. However, she worried about lost ground for her youngest daughter, Sarah, who she said has more trouble learning than her siblings, as well as social and emotional delays.

“She’s in third grade, which is a big transition year,” Wanless said. “The online things were not really an option for her.”

Wanless said an unexpected bonus came when her mother, Chiere Martyn, a former teacher and principal, offered to use FaceTime to home-school Sarah about two hours daily for five days a week. Early in her career, Martyn taught at her granddaughter’s school, Willard Elementary. She retired in 2012 after being principal at Skyview Elementary and Continuous Curriculum School.

After steady virtual classes since March, Wanless and Martyn think Sarah now has a strong foundation to start fourth grade.

“We joke that she might be one of the only kiddos who comes out of this ahead of where she might have been otherwise,” said Wanless, adding that the school did much for Sarah, but that, logistically, it doesn’t have the resources to provide the same level of one-on-one time.

“Sarah is really benefiting from this individualized instruction, and my mom is really able to focus on the things that Sarah needs most, the core areas where Sarah struggled.”

After reviewing state standards for third grade, Martyn used classroom materials she owned along with a workbook from Sarah’s school. The sessions are done via a tablet, and Sarah uses a whiteboard to write lessons that her grandmother can see over the device. Martyn said their virtual times began in March with only two days, but it soon became evident that Sarah needed daily sessions.

She created lesson plans and adapted them to Sarah’s learning style.

“I’ve been able to gear everything so that I present it in a way that works for her,” Martyn said. “It helps that I know her well. I know how things work in her brain.”

It’s been a social bonus also for Martyn after spending multiple weeks at home because of cancer recovery and surgeries and then self-quarantining because of the coronavirus pandemic. She and her granddaughter’s learning sessions won’t stop with the end of school.

“We’re going to continue twice a week during the summer, once with FaceTime and the other time during the week, I’ll go get her, take her out for a treat, and we’ll come here to my house and do school. She’ll play here, and then she and I will have dinner together.”

Artists in residence

Alissa Adams said a schedule she set for her children’s learning lasted for about two weeks, then her work from home ramped up as a Gonzaga University employee. That’s when her kids took over their learning time: Kadence, a seventh-grader at Westwood Middle School, and Elek, a Windsor Elementary fourth-grader.

“They get their work done,” Adams said. For her older child, that meant FaceTime with friends in the same class to complete work, and Elek sat by her doing schoolwork with a makeshift office at the dining room table.

“I feel they should have more structure, but there is only so much I can do while also working an eight-hour day from home,” Adams said. “Our silver lining is this: We got to work with a dog snoozing at our feet and two cats sitting on a lap or lounging on a bed while the kids are doing their reading for the day.

“The silver lining is the artwork these kids have created while they have been home. My younger child has painted numerous canvases, while my older child has painted, drawn and released an original song on a music platform that pushes it out to Spotify, YouTube, etc.

“The silver lining is they got to stop by my ‘desk’ every time they walk by and share what they are working on or reading about. There is a silver lining. Just open your eyes and see it.”

Outdoor time

Kelly Brajcich found that her family did better by easing home-school schedules and having more outdoor time.

Their dining room table also became command central for stacks of homework packets. But her color-coded, laminated schedule was quickly replaced with a more forgiving format, which was a white board listing pared-down daily goals, Brajcich said.

Some good moments came with learning to master new technology, such as online learning platforms. What helped most were the moments outside.

“One silver lining of the pandemic has been this greater appreciation for those things we take for granted,” she said. “As the weeks have turned into months and the temporary school closure turned into a permanent end to the school year as we knew it, we have settled into something like a routine.”

“What has kept us most sane has been copious amounts of time outdoors, whether family walks around the neighborhood or time spent in the backyard. My fondest memories of this time have been hours spent in the garden watching my daughter newly riding a bike, a quarantine achievement, with a Bluetooth speaker attached to her handlebars, Michael Jackson blaring and her little brother trailing behind her on his scooter. And if that is what my children remember of this time, that is a blessing.”

Double-duty teaching

This spring proved to be challenging even for a teacher as her two children, a second-grader and a fourth-grader, learned at home.

Kathryn Teske from home continued her job teaching 10th- and 11th-grade students, and her husband also worked from home. The family did some hands-on learning that everyone enjoyed, she said, such as an experiment on how pulleys work by making an elevator for stuffed animals. They made slime and art out of extra scraps such as painter’s tape.

There were LEGO challenges, and the couple taught their son Aristides, 10, the basics of demolition because they had started a major remodel right before the stay-home order started.

For a virtual teaching of 10th-grade students, Teske joined in a “double-decker distance learning” session on a bunk bed with her daughter Emmelia, 8, working on a math Zoom session.

“Our other big silver linings were the amount of time we’ve gotten to spend together, more sleep and how many homemade meals we’ve been able to enjoy since we’re not running from school to one activity after another. We’ve made it through this unprecedented end of the school year and plan to continue learning together at home.”

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