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Families Give Their Take On The First Few Days Of Remote Learning

Spencer Tritt

Many Illinois students are more than a week into remote learning, and parents are still finding new challenges and trying to get used to the new normal.

“We’ve just had a morning recess mishap. Did that land on your foot? Are your toe-sies okay?” One of Colleen Chavez’s children was crying. After a few seconds comforting them, she told them to run along and play with something safer. Only got a few minutes before it’s time to log on or school.

“Yeah, after the first day my son asked for morning recess,” she said. Chavez is a mom with two young kids in the DeKalb School District. Remote learning for her family is going more smoothly than she expected, save for a few recess injuries.

DeKalb, along with other school districts in northern Illinois, delayed their in-person start date in favor of remote learning.

E-learning in the spring was overwhelming and, like many, Chavez' family chose to stop doing it. Now, she said, it feels like teachers have made it much more organized. But it has been tough for her daughter starting kindergarten.

Kristin Arriaga also has a kindergartener in DeKalb. She’s struggled to try and help her daughter with her work.

“I was never trained," she said, "to teach someone how to read and write."

Her daughter had a video meeting lesson with her whole class, which Arriaga described as a “hot mess.”

“She looked kind of down almost," said Arriaga. "I think it was because it is so hard for all of them to engage. I could tell she wanted to just unmute and engage and couldn't because that's not what they were doing in that moment.”

She said her daughter has done much better with pre-recorded videos her teacher made with activities that go along with them.

Cara Leadingham has seven children in DeKalb schools. Having them all work at the same time in the house hasn’t been as chaotic as she imagined. Everyone has their own Chromebook, and there’s enough space -- although siblings will occasionally cameo in the background of someone else’s Zoom call.

Nicole Herbert has run into that issue, especially with one of her kids trying to talk with their social worker.

“It's very awkward," said Herbert, "especially since when they do their zoom meeting, you know, their siblings are around and they're like, I don't want them to hear."

E-learning has been successful for her kids, she said, especially for her son in middle school. He has more options in the new digital format, like making a video instead of writing out an assignment.

“They'd never seen him so engaged,” she said. “They'd never seen him participate or do his work or be excited about things, but that flexibility really helped him a lot.”

Theresa Nordquist has five kids who are students in DeKalb. One of her sons’ assessments of e-learning made her feel a little better: it felt like school.

“He was like, 'well, it was a normal, boring first day of school. We went over the syllabus,'" she said. "So at least I was comfortable."

She stressed that teachers have been doing an excellent job getting creative within the confines of remote learning. Nordquist also said she sees the potential for schools to utilize the advantages of e-learning beyond the pandemic.

It could allow students to learn at their own pace, whether accelerated or if they need extra attention. She said it could open access to classes they wouldn’t normally be able to offer. And, right now, it gives her a window into a part of her children’s lives she wouldn’t normally have.

“I love being able to overhear what they're saying to their teachers and the way they're interacting with their classmates,” said Nordquist. “Like there's nothing like hearing your 13-year-old laugh at a comment by the science teacher. So, it's kind of neat to get a glimpse into their school day that I wouldn't otherwise.”

Childcare has been a major issue for some parents who work during the day when their kids would be in school.

LaWanda Lacy and her husband were able to shift their work schedules, but they still have to have a babysitter for four hours a day.

Her son runs cross country. That’s one of the fall sports still running this fall, despite restrictions.

“Because they would run against Genoa-Kingston, and they had a positive case," she said, "we opted for him not to do cross country just because that could potentially cause a COVID case."

Lacy said her kids are still interacting with their friends, they just have to get creative to do it.

Nordquist agreed. Her kids and their friends have met up virtually over Minecraft.

Other parents were more skeptical about their kids being able to connect with classmates.

Kristin Arriaga’s daughter in kindergarten was especially bummed out about not being able to go to school for the first time in-person.

“For her school was, 'I get to meet other kids, and I'm going to meet my bestie,' Arriaga said. "That's what she said, ‘I can't wait to meet my forever bestie.'” 

It’s unclear when students could start returning to school. But many DeKalb parents said they don’t see it happening this fall.