Parents, students adjust to school closures

Parklane Academy student Liberty Gillihan studies at home. Students and their parents are adjusting to continuing their lessons as schools remain closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

With all public schools in Mississippi closed until mid-April, seemingly every parent is a homeschooler now.

Gov. Tate Reeves announced March 19 that all public schools would be canceled until April 17, which led children across the state to be sent home and continue their learning online. But not all families have internet in their homes, like parent Molly Johnson.

“Our fear is our internet connection, but we are handling it,” she said.

Johnson, a teacher at North Pike Elementary School, said her children have had to use their smartphones’ internet hotspot to complete schoolwork. One of her sons had to drive to Southwest Mississippi Community College to access the internet to stream a lecture, and another has had trouble turning in assignments using the hotspot.

Colleges were put on an extended spring break last week, so this was her college-aged children’s first week back.

Johnson said the cancellation of all sports hit her and her children the hardest because all of them are athletes. One of her sons, who attends high school at North Pike High School, is on the tennis team, and she said the team had a good chance to make it to the state championship this year. She said sports are her family's largest social connection, so they’ve felt isolated without them.

Johnson has been staying at home as well with her sons, and her husband Pender is also at home.

“I have a lot of time on my hands now,” said Johnson, who has also spent some time working in her garden. “Everything is on hold.”

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Friendgirl Things clothing store owner Anita Fenn said the closure of her business due to the virus has been difficult, but it could be much worse.

“It changed our way of life, for sure,” she said. “It is harder on the parents that are in the medical field,”

Her two children, one in eighth grade and the other in 10th, both go to Parklane and have been able to complete assignments as needed over the internet. She said the school and its teachers have done a great job in taking the closure in stride.

“We’re making the best of a bad situation,” Fenn said. “The school and everybody is doing everything they can for everyone.”

Being at home has awarded Fenn more time with her children and opened her schedule to get things done around the house. She said she loves getting to spend more time with her family.

“This is God's way of saying, ‘Let’s slow down and enjoy life,’ ” Fenn said.

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LaToya Rembert-Sterling, who works for the Mississippi Community College Board, has a daughter in the sixth grade at Summit Elementary School, and she agreed with Fenn’s sentiment.

She said it is important to take it slow and reduce stress when possible.

“Take this time to spend time with your children,” Rembert-Sterling said. “Take it easy. Don’t stress your child out.”

She said there is enough stress in the situation without adding extra stress to children. She said she lets her daughter work at her own pace and takes breaks when needed. When she and her daughter aren’t doing schoolwork, the two of them are working on life skills like cooking and cleaning or extracurricular activities such as painting and drawing.

“With this time at home, we are able to do more enrichment,” Rembert-Sterling said. “There is no rush for her. I am able to give her breaks throughout the day.”

The one thing Rembert-Sterling said her daughter is missing out on is the social aspect of going to school every day, and that is one of the reasons she doesn’t want to homeschool full time.

She also said the school is doing a great job helping her teach her daughter. Teachers are accessible by phone or text, and the school provides breakfast and lunch to the children still.

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For homeschool parent Elise Parker, it’s business as usual.

“Between the two of us, we have five college degrees,” Parker said of she and her husband Patrick. “There’s no one more qualified to teach our children then we are.” 

Parker, who has been homeschooling her children for 15 years, said since parents have been forced to homeschool, there has been an explosion of resources and tools for teaching. She said she feels bad for parents who might be having trouble adjusting, but they will find their footing eventually.

“I feel sorry sometimes for the social media posts I see from traditional school families and their struggle to get their kids to work, but I have seen a lot of success stories, too,” Parker said. “In our current situation of being quarantined, homeschooling families have an edge because flexibility is a necessity.

“I think it is great that our local schools are providing meals to community kids, and I hope that everyone in homeschool mode will cherish their extra family time.”

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Tammy Gillihan, a physical therapist at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center, said it is rough for her to work her shift at the hospital and come home to help her children with learning.

“I’ve got a new respect for people who homeschool their children and a new respect for teachers,” Gillihan said. “It is tiring to work all day and coming home to put on your teacher’s hat.”

Gillihan agreed with Fenn that Parklane Academy was doing a great job transitioning to at-home learning.

“It is going well. Teachers at Parklane have done a great job transitioning from in-person to online,” Gillihan said, adding that she is happy that students did not have to spend so much time out of school without any learning.

She said her children have also made the transition well. Her son, Newlon, who attends Millsaps College, gets up every day like he has an 8 a.m. class and completes his usual routine, and Liberty, her daughter in high school at Parklane, does her work on a routine as well.

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Ebony Felder, an eighth-grade math teacher at Denman Junior High, said the most important thing a parent can do as a homeschool teacher is to make a schedule and stick to it.

“They get to spend days in the day in the life of a teacher,” Felder said. “Everything is about scheduling and timing. Create a calendar and explicitly follow that calendar. If you don’t have a plan of action, those kids are going to tear you down.”

She also said parents need to be familiar with the material their children are learning.

Felder said she sees parents having to relearn the material they are helping their children learn as one of the major hurdles parents must pass.

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Jessica Magee said it was a rough transition to get used to both working from home and homeschooling her daughter, who is a third-grader at Otken Elementary.

“It started off a little rocky because we didn’t have a direction to go in,” said Magee, who works at Pike National Bank.

Now that they have the school work packet and are able to text or call teachers when needed, it is going much smoother, she said.

Magee said she is enjoying the time with her daughter but does not think she would want to be a homeschool parent permanently.

One of the resources Parker mentioned was a compilation of resources that the Mississippi Department of Education put together to aid in homeschooling, which helps parents teaching pre-K through 12th-grade and is available online at www.mdek12.org/LearningAtHome for free.

The MDE said this resource is not to be used to replace what children have already learned in school, but it will go towards helping students practice skills and strategies taught by teachers. The site has learning activities, videos and digital resources that support Mississippi College and Career Readiness standards as well as resources for visually or hearing impaired students.

“During this unusual time of extended school closures nationwide, it is important that students continue to read, write and engage in social studies, science and math activities,” the MDE said in a press release Monday.“Take this time to spend time to spend time with your children,” Rembert-Sterling said. “Take it easy. Don’t stress your child out.”

She said there is enough stress in the situation without adding extra stress to your child. She said she lets her daughter work at her own pace and takes breaks when needed. When she and her daughter aren’t doing schoolwork, the two of them are working on life skills like cooking and cleaning or extracurricular activities such as painting and drawing.

“With this time at home, we are able to do more enrichment,” Rembert-Sterling said. “There is no rush for her. I am able to give her breaks throughout the day.”

The one thing Rembert-Sterling said her daughter is missing out on is the social aspect of going to school every day, and that is one of the reasons she doesn’t want to homeschool full time. She also said the school is doing a great job helping her teach her daughter. Teachers are accessible by phone or text, and the school provides breakfast and lunch to the children still.

n n n

For homeschool parent Elise Parker, it’s business as usual.

“Between the two of us, we have five college degrees,” Parker said of she and her husband Patrick. “There’s no one more qualified to teach our children then we are.” 

Parker, who has been homeschooling her children for 15 years, said since parents have been forced to homeschool, there has been an explosion of resources and tools for teaching. She said she feels bad for parents who might be having trouble adjusting, but they will find their footing eventually.

“I feel sorry sometimes for the social media posts I see from traditional school families and their struggle to get their kids to work, but I have seen a lot of success stories, too,” Parker said. “In our current situation of being quarantined, homeschooling families have an edge because flexibility is a necessity.

"I think it is great that our local schools are providing meals to community kids, and I hope that everyone in homeschool mode will cherish their extra family time."

Tammy Gillihan, a physical therapist at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center, said it is rough for her to work her shift at the hospital and come home to help her children with learning.

“I’ve got a new respect for people who homeschool their children and a new respect for teachers,” Gillihan said. “It is tiring to work all day and coming home to put on your teacher’s hat.”

Gillihan agreed with Fenn that Parklane Academy was going a great job transitioning to at-home learning.

“It is going well. Teachers at Parklane have done a great drive transitioning from in-person to online,” Gillihan said, and she added that she is happy that students did not have to spend so much time out of school without any learning.

She said her children have also made the transition well. Her son, Newlon, who attends Milsaps College, gets up every day like he has an 8 a.m. class and completes his usual routine, and Liberty, her daughter in high school at Parklane, does her work on a routine as well.

n n n

Ebony Felder, an eighth-grade math teacher at Denman Junior High, said the most important thing a parent can do as a homeschool teacher is to make a schedule and keep to it.

“They get to spend days in the day in the life of a teacher,” Felder said. “Everything is about scheduling and timing. Create a calendar and explicitly follow that calendar. If you don’t have a plan of action, those kids are going to tear you do,”

She also said parents need to be familiar with the material their children are learning. She said she sees parents having to relearn the material they are helping their children learn as one of the major hurdles parents must pass.

n n n

Jessica Magee said it was a rough transition to get used to both working from home and homeschooling her daughter, who is a third-grader at Otken Elementary.

“It started off a little rocky because we didn’t have a direction to go in,” said Magee, who works at Pike National Bank.

Now that they have the school work packet and are able to text or call teachers when needed, it is going much smoother, she said.

Magee said she is enjoying the time with her daughter but does not think she would want to be a homeschool parent permanently.

One of the resources Parker mentioned was a compilation of resources that the Mississippi Department of Education put together to aid in homeschooling, which helps parents teaching pre-k through twelfth-grade and is available online at www.mdek12.org/LearningAtHome for free.

The MDE said this resource is not to be used to replace what children have already learned in school, but it will go towards helping students practice skills and strategies taught by teachers. The site has learning activities, videos and digital resources that support Mississippi College and Career Readiness standards as well as resources for visually or hearing impaired students.

“During this unusual time of extended school closures nationwide, it is important that students continue to read, write and engage in social studies, science and math activities,” the MDE said in a press release Monday.

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