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Homeschooling? You're not alone. Tacoma parents share plans, resources as schools close

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 3/17/2020 By Allison Needles, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

When her kids’ schools in Tacoma were forced to close Monday, Christina Kindt was confident she was ready.

Kindt, a Tacoma resident and mother of four, is a certified teacher and is used to homeschooling her kids during the summer.

“We’re always learning — that’s just the way our family is,” she said.

Kindt also knows not everyone feels as prepared to teach from home.

“I know that some parents don’t even know where to start,” she said.

Last Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that all public and private schools in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties — now all schools statewide — would close for six weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19, coronavirus, that’s caused more than 40 deaths statewide. In Pierce County, nine new COVID-19 cases were reported Monday, bringing the county total to 38.

More than 30,000 TPS students are affected by the closures.

The same night of the announcement, Kindt and two other friends — Kristina Loper and Genevieve Rose Allen Arnold — came together to create the 253 Parents Get Resourceful Facebook page as a way for parents seeking help during school closures to come together. The page has more than 4,000 members and counting.

“I’ve been putting together short videos with giving some tips on organization and structure, and I’m trying to make sure I’m giving a lot of encouragement and reminding people to breathe,” Kindt said.

Facebook is just one place families are looking for resources and ideas for the weeks ahead. Homeschooling groups have seen a surge in followers.

Washington Homeschool Organization Board Advocacy Chair Jen Garrison Stuber said in a statement on Facebook, “The law doesn’t give us particular guidance for a centennial pandemic.”

“Our best advice, if you are planning to return when school reopens, is to do a lot of reading, writing and math together,” Stuber continued. “... Bake and cook together. Create art and music together. Look up hygge for ideas to make hunkering down in your house more fun. Write letters to distant relatives. Do that deep cleaning you’ve put off. There is so much to life that is learning that we often overlook when we’re in a ‘schooly’ mindset.”

Schedules

Some Tacoma families have already drafted hourly schedules, with time carved out for chores, learning, physical exercise and snack time.

Other families don’t plan on homeschooling at all — at least not for the first week.

“We are using this week as a break week. It has been a wild ride and allowing our kids to have a little space is a good thing,” Michelle McClure, a member of the Organize: Parents of Tacoma Support Facebook group. “Next week we will start utilizing the online resources.”

In Kindt’s homeschooling experience, children learn best when they have routines.

“My recommendation to (parents) is to do things as normal as possible,” she said. “Get up at the same time, go to bed at the same time. Follow your family’s morning routine ... It’s not going to be the exact same as school, but it gives them something familiar and it’s comforting to kids.”

Research shows children are more likely to thrive on consistent routines, according to The News York Times.

“It’s important kids don’t see this as an indefinite snow day,” said Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard Medical School in a New York Times article.

Tacoma parent Joy Vandenberg said her family’s schedule starts before 9 a.m. By 9, everyone is expected to be dressed, eaten breakfast, brushed hair and teeth, fed the pets and made their beds. From 9 a.m. to noon, it’s schoolwork. Noon to 1 p.m. is lunchtime. Then, the second block of activity occurs between 1- 4 p.m., with free time until dinner at 6 p.m.

“Honestly, the family time had been part of our almost daily schedule before,” Vandenberg said in an email. “We just don’t have a Girl Scout meeting on Tuesdays or a Wednesday night activity at our church at this time with everything shut down to interrupt it.”

Liz Waller set up a schedule for her daughter, an eighth grader at Meeker Middle School, that includes Spanish, English, history, math, art and science lessons.

“My daughter is not ready to take a break,” Waller said. “She needs something that feels stable. We put together a schedule she and her high school brother can follow and use a variety of online resources.”

Tacoma parent Jennifer Reyes had to do some trial and error to find which online learning resources helped her kids in sixth and seventh grades.

“This morning we were using the free sites that have been going around Facebook,” Reyes said on Facebook Monday. “They frustrated the boys and 5 minutes in they hated homeschooling. A family member messaged me about IXL.com (you have to pay for a membership). The boys love it and the day greatly improved. We have talked about how this is a learning experience for all of us. If something doesn’t work for them to let me know and we will find something else.”

Alisha Cross Brown, a mother of four in Tacoma, made a schedule but isn’t stressing over it.

“It’s needed otherwise we’d spend our time looking at screens and the vibe of our home would be awful,” she said.

Online resources

Tacoma Public Schools is not holding online classes but has provided families with learning resources online at tacomaschools.org.

“Unfortunately, Tacoma Public Schools cannot provide educational services during a school closure because we are not equipped to provide equitable opportunities for all students,” said district spokesman Dan Voelpel. “That’s why we have posted and distributed optional family resources.”

Those resources include activity packets for every grade level and links to additional learning tools, like i-Ready Reading Instruction, which is available to all TPS elementary students.

Charles Wright Academy, a private school in Tacoma, is shifting to a remote learning platform.

“Much of the work will be done asynchronously — meaning that students work on their own time, such as conducting research, engaging in learning apps, reviewing recorded lectures, or collaborating with peers. The program also includes synchronous work, meaning the teacher and students will work together at the same time,” the school announced in a press release.

All preschool through 12th grade teachers, counselors and learning specialists will remain available for support, and all teachers will offer daily electronic office hours. Faculty will check in with students individually throughout the week.

“Our remote learning program isn’t designed to replicate the on-campus experience exactly, but we have been developing ways to maintain healthy connections with our students, both individually and as a community, even when we’re not together on campus,” said associate head of School for Strategy and Innovation Greg Bamford.

Across the country, businesses are stepping up to provide more learning opportunities for students experiencing closures.

Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform, launched Virtual School Day, which provides 30 hours a week of online instruction that is free to the public and interactive. It offers practice problems, quizzes and flashcards.

Varsity Tutors Chief Academic Officer Brian Galvin said his team spent the last few days in a “whirlwind” to put the program together.

“Our tutors have really rallied in a way that’s inspiring,” he said.

As families scramble to find resources to help them at home, Galvin said his hope with the free program is to make it as easy as possible.

“The world is having online education thrust on them — we want to make sure it’s a good experience,” he said.

Other resources shared by families:

Khan Academy - Online classes

Pacific Science Center - Live streaming science shows, hands-on STEM activities

Code.org - Online coding lessons for beginners

Scholastic Inc. - Projects to do at home

Pierce County Library System’s digital media platform, online database and resources are available

Tacoma Public Library online resources are available

Virtual field trips with the San Diego Zoo, Yellowstone National Park and more

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©2020 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Visit The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) at www.TheNewsTribune.com

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