Students, parents doing their homework during virus

The term homeschooling is taking on a different meaning during the coronavirus pandemic as many parents are finding themselves taking on the role of teacher.

Katey Lynch is the mother of Fiona, a kindergarten student at Mary G. Hogsett Primary School, and she said her days at home are fun as she helps her daughter learn, but she also sees challenges.

“It’s difficult because she misses her friends, her class and her schedule. Most of the day, she tells me what they would be doing at school at that time,” Lynch said.

Students working from home in Lisa Denny’s class are greeted by a message, along with cartoon icons they select to accompany their name and show they are participating in online activities. (Photo by Jeff Moreland)

She added that the school has provided a lot of things for students to do in the non-traditional instruction packets, and she is doing her best to keep things interesting and exciting for her daughter around her school work.

“We take a lot more breaks than at school. We draw outside, take walks and wave at people,” Lynch said.

Heather Delaney’s son, Cedric, is also a student in Denny’s class.

“It has been definitely a new experience. I have enjoyed the one-on-one learning and teaching with my son, and so has he,” Delaney said. “He is liking Mom being his teacher, but he misses Mrs. Denny as well as his classmates.”

She added that his favorite activity has been having dance parties and doing activities on DreamBox, an online learning portal being used by the students.

Lisa Denny is Fiona’s kindergarten teacher at Hogsett, and she said she and other teachers are working hard to keep their students engaged.

A lack of social interaction can be difficult for children. Joshua Graham, a student in Lisa Denny’s kindergarten class, and his mother Crystal Wilhite practice social distancing at home, visiting with his grandparents in Danville, as well as his aunt, uncle and cousins in Lexington. (Photo from Facebook)

“I’ve always had a love for children, and I love what I’m doing. I feel very responsible and connected with these kids, especially at this time of confusion and crisis. None of us have ever gone through anything like this before,” Denny said.

Along with other teachers in her school, Denny said she does everything she can to stay in contact with her students and their parents, but added, “There is no perfect way to do this. We’re all just doing the best we can to reassure children and let them know we haven’t forgotten bout them.”

With students being at home, schedules can be difficult to keep. Denny said there is no right way to schedule a student’s day since parents are dealing with their own barriers, some working from home and others trying to educate multiple children in different grades. She simply gives the parents of her students a copy of her regular schedule and lets them adjust to their needs.

“I say this is our schedule, but you’re working one-on-one with these kids. They need play breaks. When you’re working with 25 students (in the classroom) it takes a little longer to do an activity. Don’t feel like you have to adhere to the school schedule. Do what works for you,” Denny said. “We’ve got families at home with maybe three or four children, and they each have their own NTI packets to work on. The parents might be working from home, and they’ve got their work to do, plus trying to help the kids. It’s a real-world problem. People just have to do the best they can.”

Teachers are helping parents by hosting sessions during the day to keep students involved.

Each morning via her classroom Facebook page, Denny conducts a morning meeting just like she did in the classroom. She features a student to be included, and she said that builds community in the classroom. She said she posts on the page which of her students will be featured, and she also contacts the parents the night before.

“All of this stuff is just to keep the home-school connection going. I’ve been so blessed with wonderful parents, supportive parents. I feel like building that connection early in the school year has helped lay the foundation for working together in a situation like this that none of us would have expected in August or September,” Denny said.

Suzanne Farmer is principal of Mary G. Hogsett Primary School, and she said her school and staff are very grateful for the support of their students’ families during this crisis.

“I know it’s been a big shift for everyone, but we wouldn’t have been as successful as we are without the help of the parents who are really taking this heavy lift for us at home,” Farmer said. “We have preschool, kindergarten and first grade. We can’t just give them a Chromebook and have them do online learning, so we had to get creative on ways to keep those kids engaged appropriately and continue their learning.”

Farmer said teachers in her school are doing various things to engage their students. One teacher is doing a virtual recess to allow children and their families to meet virtually and play together because they were missing the social interaction. The school’s staff members are also hosting a virtual morning meeting, providing fun ways for students to get exercise at home, and much more. At the end of each day while in school, a meeting called a “crew gathering” was held to celebrate the successes of students during that day. Farmer said those meetings now take place online each day at 2:30 p.m. Working with young children as they do at Hogsett, one popular activity with students and parents is a bedtime story on Facebook at 8 p.m. each night.

“As a parent, I love it, and Fiona looks forward to it every night,” Lynch said of the bedtime story.

Farmer said all of her school’s teachers are also doing online meetings with their classes, and some who didn’t have Facebook pages before the COVID-19 crisis are now setting those up as another means of communication with families.

Stuffed bears and other creatures line the West Lexington Avenue window of the home of Katey Lynch. Her daughter, Fiona, has placed the toys there as part of a Facebook project conducted by her kindergarten teacher at Hogsett Elementary. Roscoe, Lynch’s dog, has added himself to the display. (Photo by Jeff Moreland)

“Their having not just conversations, but they will do instructions with their kids virtually. They will send them a meeting link and they can hop on. We’re calling all of the families, some of our teachers have sent snail mail letters home. It’s just been great to see the community of staff and families come together and support our kids the way they have,” Farmer said.