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Balancing isolation, school and family life

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

With Claremont Unified School District announcing that it is closed for the rest of the school year and all students moved over to online learning, thousands of local parents and caregivers are now in the unfamiliar position of administering de facto homeschools.

Each has adapted uniquely, with some taking a hands off approach, and others looking to bring more classroom-like structure to the school day.

Overall, the feeling seems to be that CUSD’s online platform is performing well, and kids are rising to the occasion with admirable grit.

Yes, we’re just two weeks in to what could be a months’ long quarantine. But still, so far, so good.

“I don’t think we’re really having much stress about it, it’s just that the routine has changed,” said Paula Godwin-Richardson, whose son Oliver is a fourth grader at Condit Elementary. She echoed several parents’ comments that perhaps the most difficult aspect of the isolation has been the lack of social interaction.

“Missing out on those peer relationships, and having free time to do things and activities outside of the home has been a challenge,” she said. “We’re still trying to maintain FaceTime friendships and still reaching out that way.”

For most of the families I spoke with, the transition to online learning was relatively seamless.

“We had no issues at all,” Ms. Godwin-Richardson said. “We took all the books home we needed, and anything else was just available online.”

COURIER?columnist Mellissa Martinez, whose son Felix Fazel is a third-grader at Sycamore Elementary, was hesitant to delve into the online materials. But after some reassurances from her son’s teacher, and getting familiar with the online calendar and daily schedule, it’s been smooth sailing. 

“A lot of them are fun, and they’re online and interactive,” Ms. Martinez said. “What I’ve noticed is he doesn’t have to spend hours and hours on it; if he gets to task and does it, it really doesn’t take that long. And not only that, [Felix’s teacher] makes himself available to video chat with the kids between 8 and 3, so Felix video chatted, which helped us because he was able to see how serious it is.”

A second lifeline to managing homeschool for Ms. Martinez are her son’s weekly tutoring sessions with Middletree Academy.

Nirmala Gratton’s daughter Lilly, an eighth grader at El Roble Intermediate School, has been enjoying making her own schedule and having extra time to turn in assignments, but the family hasn’t been focusing too much on the transition.

“I hear a lot of people have the anxiety about their kids’ education, but I feel like there are bigger issues at hand, with a pandemic and potentially millions of people dying,” Ms. Gratton said.

“So, all things being equal, I feel like a couple months off her education is not really a priority for us.”

Some parents are opting to take a more stringent approach to the school day. They print out and hang up class schedules, and put their students on a regular school day bell schedule. Ms. Gratton is taking a different approach with Lilly.

“She is sleeping in late, but getting up and getting her assignments submitted, attending the online classes and doing the best that she can,” Ms. Gratton said. “But there’s an actual pandemic out there. It’s weird and it’s strange, and I want her to acknowledge that. I think too much normalization takes away from what’s really happening.

“I hear about adhering to the bell schedule, and it makes me feel like I should be doing more, like I should care more. I care, I just feel like there are bigger things I want her to be aware about, like what’s happening globally.”

Ms. Gratton hopes this experience will instill in her daughter more empathy and more awareness outside of herself and her small community.

Annette Tanner-Guthrie’s fourth-grade daughter, Anisten, also goes to Condit. Their experience thus far has been ideal, she said.

“It’s just the temperament of Anisten,” Ms. Tanner-Guthrie said. “She misses being at school to see her friends, but she’s kind of a homebody to begin with naturally. So far she doesn’t mind, she kind of likes it! And to me it’s not stressful at all. The only thing that stresses me out is going out to the stores and trying to purchase food.”

Homeschooling for CUSD seniors is another thing altogether. It’s not just contending with the mechanics of a new way of learning, communicating, and turning in assignments, it’s dealing with the uncertainty of, well, everything.

“I’m not sure whether it’s us or them who is sad about missing all the big high school moments,” said Mindy Teuber, mother of twin high school seniors, Faith and Rhys, who attend Claremont and Damien High, respectively.

“They seem to be adjusting far better than we are. We keep thinking, ‘Wait a minute, there’s a chance we might not have graduation?’ We may be jumping ahead on that, but ...”

Indeed, the dread and sadness among high school seniors is palpable. My own CHS senior has had many tearful moments over the past two weeks as the school year has shrunk, and rumors have circulated that graduation, prom, grad night, and other major milestone events may be cancelled.

“The other adjustment is with college choices,” said Brian Teuber, Rhys and Faith’s dad. “We were in the middle of that process. We haven’t yet visited the campuses. This derailed that process. I don’t think it’s fully sunk in yet, if everything were to be cancelled and there is no return to school, just how we’d adjust and what that would mean to these kids.”

Faith Teuber was set to be in CHS Theater’s season-capping production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Bridges Auditorium at the end of May. And after that, both kids were likely headed to their senior proms.

“I’m going to dress them in a tuxedo and a fancy dress for prom in the living room,” Ms. Teuber said.

And, since half the family business is musical theater—Mindy’s family has owned and operated the Candlelight Pavilion since her father the late Ben Bollinger founded it in 1985—“I’m still going to have Mrs. Potts in my living room,” she said. “Reese is going to be Chip and Brian’s going to be Beast and we’re going to have our own musical.”

A crucial role of a parent is to model how to remain calm in the face of catastrophe and danger. It’s what keeps kids feeling safe when things are uncertain.

And, whether or not we agree on what the coronavirus pandemic means for our community—some have said we are overreacting, and still others say we aren’t doing enough—parents and caregivers of school-aged children are going to be dealing with much more than the standard emotional ups and downs during the remainder of this most extraordinary school year.

Checking in two weeks into the new normal, it seems they’re doing all right.

“Hopefully it’s over sooner than later,” Ms. Teuber said. “I’m keeping positive on this thing. I can’t go Chicken Little. The sky’s not falling yet for me.”

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