Families, teachers, and schools in California and in states across the nation are having to establish new sets of standards and rules for distance learning since the schools from elementary through college have shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most schools in the Fullerton area will probably lose the last 2 to 3 months of the school year. Just being at home with children has required parents to think up ways to help their children get schoolwork completed, as well as to fill their spare time in creative, productive ways.
Mehul’s 11 and 9-year old daughters attend Laguna Road Elementary School in Fullerton. His girls are pretty good about getting their homework completed and they usually work on assignments from about 8am to 3-4pm with an hour break for lunch. The older girl has two or three live Zoom classes every day. Students can contact their teachers during their “office hours” to ask questions and get help. That seems to be working pretty well. There is still a lot of spare time to fill. They are playing a lot of board games, and talking to friends on video app Houseparty.
The younger girl is learning how to roller skate. She also has a mail circle with a group of friends where they mail letters to each other. That is snail mail, not email.
She also created a post office. “It includes mailing supplies (small notes) and a stamp,” Mehul said. “Everyone in the house uses the notes to write notes to each other. We each came up with our own funny street name. After writing the note, we address it to the person—their name, their street name and finally a stamp on the letter. We rotate as the mail person and deliver the letters every night from the post office to everyone’s individual mailboxes. The mailboxes are paper cups that everyone has decorated and added their street names. The notes cheer us up during the day.”
Bobby is the father of a 9th grade son at Troy High School, and a daughter in 7th grade at Parks Junior High. In the morning, they each log on at 8:00 to their first class to verify their attendance. If they don’t, the home receives a phone call or email to check on the absence. The rules are pretty much the same as if they are at school actually sitting in their classrooms. If they need to contact a teacher, they can email, or in some instances, on-line chat with the teacher if they have concerns. Bobby’s kids work on their assignments until they are completed each day. “They are pretty disciplined. My son is in an AP Computer Science class and is in a 4-person group for his group work. He is also in 4 other honors-level classes and has a couple of group projects in those classes, as well. He is diligent about doing his assignments; my daughter is, too,” Bobby said. “This is obviously not home-schooling; it’s just about doing your best.”
Because they are responsible about their schoolwork, the only challenge is boredom and figuring out activities for their spare time.
“Structuring is hard. We limit their time on the iPad, but we try to stick to a daily schedule. We take walks in the evening in our neighborhood, play board games and we’ve learned some new card games,” Bobby said. “And they are delving into learning new languages on the Internet.”
“As for me, I’ve worked from home for a few years now, so I’m less concerned about childcare.” Bobby’s wife works at Kaiser. “So, when she comes home, she heads straight upstairs and changes out of her work clothes, puts them in a plastic bag and showers before she comes down to greet us.”
“I worry about what happens when this is all over and people start to go back to work. Will the schools start at the same time people go back to their jobs? If schools are still out, who will watch the children? I work from home so we’ll be fine, but what about others?”
There are some real positives, though. ”The best part is having them home. I feel like they grow up so fast, I love having this time with them. It’s a blessing,” Bobby said.
A father of a daughter in 9th grade at Troy and a son in 3rd grade at Laguna Road has found his daughter’s learning experience lacking, especially in her math class. “There’s not enough support,” he said. ”There’s just no interaction. They’ll maybe post a video on-line and my daughter is supposed to watch it and do what it says. If she doesn’t understand, there’s no one to explain it to her. Yes, she can email the teacher, but all she gets is an email response with the same explanation. They should post an interactive video, maybe twice a week. There is so much unknown. No tutoring is available. That could be done with video conferencing.”
“I have a friend who teaches at a community college and he teaches all his classes with video and stands in front of the camera writing on a white board showing the students how to work out the problem,” he said. “Students can also ask questions.”
Both kids miss their friends, miss the personal interaction, and sometimes miss their teachers. But they seem to be adapting well. On the plus side, his daughter is teaching herself the ukulele from the Internet, and his son spends time outdoors practicing sports, such as basketball and baseball, in the back yard. They also each take a turn making dinner once a week. “We are eating healthier now that we are eating at home,” he said. “I feel with the kids being home now, we are bonding, and that’s been a positive thing for all of us.
A couple who are both high school English teachers (not in the Fullerton District) have a 5-year old son. One of the challenges for them has been to teach and prepare lessons while occupying their son and helping him with his schoolwork. Many of the wife’s fellow teachers are struggling with the same challenge—trying to work while their children are at home. Another challenge her district and school have had is coming up with teaching and grading policies that are uniform and fair for all. The policy at the present is that no student’s grade can be lowered, but they can be raised. This can be tricky to keep students motivated when they know their grade won’t suffer. The teachers can choose to have video classes and/or post assignments online.
When she administered a survey to her freshmen and junior IB students recently, one question was, “What are some of the challenges you face in being able to complete your schoolwork, if any? Please let me know if you are sharing a device with other family members, if you are helping your parents watch younger siblings, etc.” Some of the answers that showed up regularly among her students were:
“There are so many distractions in the home.”
“There’s no place in my small apartment to do my schoolwork or just be alone.”
“We only have one computer for me and my 2 siblings.”
“I miss human contact; I miss my friends; I even miss my teachers.”
“I’m the oldest and I have to watch my younger siblings all day while my parents—a doctor and nurse—are at work. I’m responsible for helping them with their schoolwork. It makes it really hard to get my own assignments done.”
As a teacher, she also misses the interaction she has with her students as well as with her fellow teachers.
Q & A with Julienne Lee, Fullerton School District Asst. Superintendent of Educational Services
What policies has the District set in place for teaching during the stay-at-home order? Video conferencing? Posting assignments on a site?
JL: The Fullerton School District (K-8) has a plan called FSD 360° A Circle of Support, which offers to students and parents support from school sites, district resources, and community outreach. The plan includes five elements of distance learning that include quality instruction, designed learning activities and experiences, online engagement systems, distant learning expectations such as recommended schedules and communication outreach to students and parents. A blended learning approach is taken with a combination of hardcopy packets that are available at sites and resources provided online. Information can be found on the district’s website under Distance Learning or by visiting: https://sites.google.com/myfsd.org/fsd-distance-learning/home.
How much leeway does each individual school have in setting their own policies? Or, in other words, what is the division among the District, the schools, and the teachers in the policies they each are able to determine?
JL: Each site has developed a distance learning plan around the five elements, incorporating their instructional vision and addressing their community needs. The schools have been directly communicating with parents regarding their site’s instructional plans. Each school site has a webpage dedicated to distance learning, and specific plans on platforms, communication, and instructional plans will be posted on each school’s website.
How is grading being handled?
JL: We currently have a Grading Committee that meets to provide input on grading policies, participation, citizenship and home support to encourage active learning. Based on guidance from Governor Newsom, California Department of Education, and Orange County Department of Education, the committee will recommend that grading policies hold students harmless for spring grades (code.ca.gov).
How is the District meeting the needs of students whose parents don’t speak English, or students who have learning disabilities, physical disabilities, etc.
JL: All community messages including videos are translated into both Spanish and Korean. Teachers are asked to differentiate instruction based on the diverse needs of their class, including English Learners, students with specials needs, and Gifted and Talented (GATE) students as well as those without internet access.
My grandson is a student at Hermosa Drive Elementary School and they post a lot of activities on Instagram, such as, “Post a picture of you in your PJs,” and “Furry Friday—post a photo of you and your furry friend,” etc. They also have regular posts of their teachers reading books. Is this something other schools are doing?
JL: Many schools/teachers have been sending home family activities as well as fun learning activities through their distance learning plan as well as through social media. The district has family challenges, art activities, and family conversation tips on the Parent Resource page as well. Hardcopies of home activities are also being passed out along with learning packets.
From Jeremy Davis, Fullerton School District Asst. Superintendent of Innovation and Instructional Support…
How are the district and the schools handling technology issues, such as access to WIFI and devices for all students?
JD: We are getting information regarding home Internet, WIFI, and device access in a number of ways. We did an in-class survey, a home phone/app/email survey, and now we are calling every family at every site to ask about access and devices. We have also partnered with a company that parents can call or text to get free or low-cost Internet set up in their homes. We highly suggest parents work with this company. They are called Human I-T and they respond fastest through texting. Their text number is (562) 372-6925 and their phone number is (888) 391-7249. We are working on other ways to get students access as well and will have more information in the coming weeks. All of our 5th-8th grade students have take-home iPads every year through the district VIP (Visible Innovation Program). Schools have also sent home iPads to 4th graders and to other grades.
Q & A with Caroleann Curley, 3rd Grade Teacher at Laguna Road Elementary School
What is your situation at home—kids, spouse, working from home, etc?
CC: I have a daughter and her friend doing college remotely. My husband is a school administrator in south county and drives there each day so he is accessible to his community to better respond to needs there. There are some days our Internet is maxed out and things are moving pretty slowly, but we’re hanging in there.
How are you doing distance learning with your students?
CC: My students all have iPads provided by my school’s foundation so that makes it easy for me to connect with them everyday. I email daily lesson plans to my students and their parents and then hold a class Zoom meeting each morning for direct instruction and to answer questions about the day. Besides email, we use two main platforms, Google Classroom and Seesaw, to share assignments. My kids also enjoy Flipgrid, which is an app where they share videos of their work and give each other feedback. I also create screencasts for instruction in reading, writing, and math and share them with students via Google Classroom. Our district’s adopted ELA, math, and science curricula also have online components that are useful. Some of these apps are helpful because they give automatic feedback to students when they are learning new skills.
Do you have time during the week for “office hours” so students can ask questions or get help?
CC: Yes. I post my office hours on my lesson plans, but honestly, parents and students can email me throughout the day for help and I will respond as quickly as I can.
What have you found to be the most challenging part of working from home?
CC: One would think working from home would be easy with lots of extra downtime, but I have found it to be more demanding. It takes a lot of time to produce screencasts, give feedback, and curate curriculum to best fit the needs of my students.
How are you handling grading the students? Is there some sort of uniform grading policy at your school or from the District?
CC: Grades are not the focus right now. My goal is to keep students connected to school and learning. I work to give them meaningful feedback so they can move forward in mastering their grade level standards. I am keeping track of assignments, but realize that some families are under a lot of stress and have unique needs and they are all doing the best they can every day. My principal is keeping us informed about how the District would like us to handle grading as we progress. There are committees at the district level that are listening to the directives from the State and County that will help us navigate this in the weeks to come.
Are there some students you feel you aren’t reaching, either because of lack of Internet access, or just non-participation? What do you do about that?
CC: My goal is to connect with every child every day in some way. If I see that a student hasn’t been at our Zoom class meeting or submitted any assignments for the day, I reach out to them and their parents to see if there is any way I can help. Sometimes it’s a tech issue so I refer them to our District for help. Our Tech Media Services has been very responsive and a great support to all of us as we continue to forge ahead with remote learning.
Have there been any unexpected benefits to you, either as a teacher or a parent yourself?
CC: I can’t think of any benefits! I miss my class so much. This is really hard on everyone involved. Learning is very much a social act for students as well as cognitive and I know it’s hard for the students to be at home for so long. A positive outcome, however, is the way our school community has come together under the single mission to continue learning for our students. Teachers, support staff, administrators – everyone has worked as a team and has gone above and beyond to make this happen for our kids.
What has been the hardest part?
CC: I would say the hardest part was the timeline. This all happened overnight! We’ve all had to learn a lot in a short amount of time. Teachers have needed to build new systems to instruct, disseminate materials, and give feedback. Students have needed to learn new ways of showing what they have learned. Parents probably have it the hardest. They are holding down the fort at home and are also figuring out how to help their students.
Anything else you’d like to say?
CC: I am honestly so proud of my parents and students for jumping on board so quickly. This is such a stressful time for many families, but they have really helped by staying positive and supportive. My principal as well as specialists at the district level have done such an amazing job supporting me as I figure this all out with my students. It really has been such a team effort to provide a network of support for our families and students.
Visit www.fullertonsd.org for more information.