By Kristin Boza
With the news that all Illinois schools are closed for the remainder of the 2019–2020 school year, teachers, parents and students alike scrambled to make sense of a new normal. Within a short timeframe, educators and administrators developed programs to keep kids busy and engaged in the middle of a pandemic.
In mid-April, Cory Overstreet, principal of Kellogg Elementary School, 9241 S. Leavitt St., and his staff prepared 63 Chromebooks to be distributed to students in need of at-home technology, with a phase two roll-out to come.
“We also put in an order during a special LSC (Local School Council) meeting to order an additional 80 Chromebooks for next year,” Overstreet said. “We want to make sure we have enough technology for every student to work from home if needed.”
The digital divide, especially in Chicago Public Schools, has never been more evident than now. “In CPS, each individual school controls their own budgets, so it’s up to them if they had acquired technology up until this point,” Overstreet said. “We had 60 Chromebooks when I started at Kellogg; during my four-year tenure, we are now a 1:1 school and have more than 300 devices for students and teachers. That put us in a good position during this transition because our staff and students were familiar with Google Classroom and Class DoJo for a few years now.”
In addition to Google Classroom, most schools are using educational software to further ensure that students remain challenged and occupied. Dream Box, Moby Max, IXL, Pearson Realize and Khan Academy are just a few ed tech programs that were once being used by teachers to supplement learning, and are now being used for the bulk of lessons and assignments.
Despite having highly trained teachers and personalized learning, Overstreet says that Kellogg still is undergoing growing pains in this transition. “We were ready for this moment, but it’s still very challenging,” Overstreet said. “Our teachers are awesome because they’re also taking care of their families or have a working spouse and they’re engaging our students in Google Meets. This situation has really humanized everyone; we have staff meetings with our kids in the background and it’s ok.”
Above all, Overstreet and his team are stressing to keep it simple and make sure parents are focusing on their families’ mental and physical health as well. “It’s stressful for everyone, and it’s important to be flexible,” he said. “Between my wife and I, we have over 30 years of experience in education, and we both have doctorates. We also have a 22-month-old, a 6-year-old, and a 9-year-old, and we are struggling just like everyone else! Trying to teach my third-grader fractions is not easy.”
Overstreet verbalized what every parent is dealing with right now — the fact that we learned math differently than the kids are today. Overstreet suggests using the “I Do, We Do, You Do” Gradual Release of Responsibility Method (developed by Fisher & Frey): First, show the child how to do the problem, then do a few problems with the child, and finally have child do the rest on their own.
Never forget that the kids are stressed about all of this, too. Kathleen McShane, Clinical Director and Heather Dejanovich, Child and Adolescent Therapist, both with Begin Within Therapy Services, developed a guide for parents to aid in the transition to schooling from home. “We’ve been telling parents to not stress if you cannot keep up with home/crisis schooling demands,” McShane said. “Communicate with the teachers and do your best. The most important thing is that your kids feel safe and secure right now. Your ability to provide that is paramount. If it means you let some things go or some assignments go in late, but you are able to be more grounded and patient, then so be it.”
McShane and her team of therapists passed along these suggestions for easing stress for children:
Encourage open communication and be available.
Ask your kids how they are feeling, and don’t assume they are going to come to you.
Limit adult conversations around children.
Set aside time for undivided attention.
Try and stick to a routine, but give yourself grace if you are using more screen time than normal
Keep connected with family members and friends via video conferencing. Connection is so important right now.
Understand that grief looks different in children.
Keep bodies moving! Especially if the child is holding onto fear with fight-or-flight responses. It’s important to find healthy ways to get the energy out of their bodies.
Sticking to a schedule is imperative for many families. “We get up and start our day just like we would if we left the house for school,” said Kellie-Jo Angone, a Clissold Elementary School mom and a pre-K teacher who is teaching remotely. “We are up around 8 a.m., get dressed, eat breakfast, gather necessary supplies, and the kids go to their designated work areas. I bounce around from kid to kid, while I work on creating lessons and Zooming with my pre-k students. We take snack and movement breaks, and we are done for the day around 12:30 p.m.”
“At our house, we do creative time first, and break up our day into one-hour blocks,” said Overstreet. “We work on school for two hours a day, which is all they can realistically handle. We need to make sure our kids are ok and supported. It’s definitely normal if they have breakdowns and get frustrated.”
The technology aspect is tough on parents, too. “I had to spend an hour on YouTube watching how-to videos about Google Classroom,” said Katie Regalado, parent of a child at Clissold. “I’m not that old, but the tech divide is real!”
From education to mental health experts, the bottom line is that everyone is in the same boat. Expectations are definitely shifted, and educators are taking that into account when planning for next school year. “We are definitely thinking about how to catch up our students when we get back,” Overstreet said. “With budgets and school improvement plan, we are determining how to allocate resources to support our kids while recognizing that there will be learning gaps for our students.”