Homeschooling In The Age Of The Coronavirus : It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders Right now a lot of parents have taken on a new responsibility: homeschool teacher. Many feel like they have no idea what they're doing. Sam talks with parents in all different kinds of circumstances trying to make it work.
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No More School, No More Books: Coronavirus and Homeschooling

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No More School, No More Books: Coronavirus and Homeschooling

No More School, No More Books: Coronavirus and Homeschooling

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MELISSA KIPERS: How old are you?

FELIX: Five years - I am 5 and a quarter's half.

KIPERS: (Laughter) Do you know what the coronavirus is?

FELIX: The coronavirus makes people sick.

KIPERS: Yeah. What's different right now? It's OK. Like, have you gone to school in the past week?

FELIX: No. I'm too sad.

KIPERS: You're too sad.

FELIX: Yeah.

KIPERS: Do you want to try doing this later?

FELIX: Yeah.

KIPERS: You want to take a couple deep breaths real quick?

FELIX: I'm trying.

KIPERS: OK. It's OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAM SANDERS, HOST:

Hey, y'all. From NPR, I'm Sam Sanders. IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. This episode, we're hearing kids and their parents talk about what it's like in this age of coronavirus to be home all day long with no school.

CARRIE CONRAD: Hi, my name is Carrie Conrad (ph). I live in Upper Marlboro, Md., with my husband and my three kids. Our day lately - there's a lot of yelling. There's a lot of screaming from the other room. If I have to come in there...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Right when I think I've gotten to a sweet spot of, OK, I've got everyone working at the same time, someone says all right. I'm done. What's next?

CONRAD: There's not a whole lot clothing happening either, but there's less laundry for me.

MARCUS ZAMLICA: My wife and I are both teachers, so I thought it would be a smooth transition where we could get all the work done in the morning and then have the afternoons to just hang out. But it's just been a process of trying to find a groove, to set a schedule, to get a routine going.

CONRAD: We'll spend a little more time getting into a schedule.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Ow (ph), ow, ow, ow, ow, ow.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Oh, my gosh. What can I say about homeschooling other than it is horrible? They just don't seem to want to, like, get it or just have chill or just, like, be kind or normal or - are these my kids? Because literally two weeks ago, they were different people. But now they're, like, the worst humans. I hate this so much. What is life? 2020 sucks.

CONRAD: Guys, what do you think? Are we going to get through it?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: No.

CONRAD: No?

SANDERS: Thanks to Samantha Braxton (ph), Marcus Zamlica (ph), Amy Stead (ph), Carrie Conrad and my good friend and colleague Melissa Kipers (ph) and her son Felix (ph) for sharing. Thank you, Felix. By the way, Felix did end up feeling a bit better after a few minutes.

FELIX: Whoa (laughter).

SANDERS: As you know, a lot of parents right now are having to become teachers to their kids, and most of them have no idea what they're doing. Some are trying to come up with the perfect, color-coded schedule. Other parents are content with their kids having days that are totally unstructured because who has the time or the energy to teach them on top of doing their actual jobs? This episode, we'll hear from several parents trying all kinds of things to make it work, like this mom.

HEIDI DRESNER: I kind of feel like we're in the twilight zone. Like, it's a little surreal.

SANDERS: That's Heidi Dresner. She lives in St. Louis.

DRESNER: I'm actually a nurse, but I took time off to raise my family and then got into carpentry. So I actually build furniture, like farmhouse furniture - barn doors, rustic tables, things like that.

SANDERS: Wow. That's amazing.

DRESNER: (Laughter) Yeah.

SANDERS: You sound really interesting.

DRESNER: I know - a nurse and a carpenter, right?

SANDERS: And on top of all that, Heidi is a mom of three.

DRESNER: I have three children - a 10-year-old who's in fourth grade, - so elementary. I have a 13-year-old girl, and then I have my son, who's 15, a sophomore in high school. So I have...

SANDERS: Heidi's kids have been home now for about two weeks, but the homeschooling could go on for a while. All the schools in St. Louis County are closed through April 24 at least. Heidi told me when the kids got sent home from school, she began with a plan, but it didn't quite turn out like she expected.

DRESNER: So I was one of those parents who made a schedule. Like, it was all colorful. And it was like, 9 o'clock, we're waking up, and we're out of our pajamas. And from 11 to 12:30, we're going to do school and then lunch and literally had the whole day planned.

SANDERS: Oh, my.

DRESNER: So the first day my kids thought I was absolutely nuts about the schedule.

SANDERS: Yeah (laughter).

DRESNER: And they were like, this is never going to work. And I quickly realized that it wasn't going to work either. I totally, like, almost just ripped up the schedule after the first day (laughter).

SANDERS: After the first day - OK.

DRESNER: Yeah. Yeah.

SANDERS: And how much has that schedule changed from then to now, like, two weeks in?

DRESNER: You know, the minute that I relaxed the schedule, the kids actually became more self-sufficient. And what I found was they need structure, but they also need time to laugh and to play and to reconnect with friends. And instead of saying that, you know, my fourth grader has to do a lesson on fractions, we'll cook. She's learning about a half cup of this and a quarter a cup of that. So we're just finding kind of alternate ways of learning and being really creative.

SANDERS: What's been the hardest moment so far? Was there one moment where everything was loud and crazy and you just said, oh, my goodness?

DRESNER: Yes. It just kind of hit everybody at once, and everybody was yelling at everybody. And it was kind of like World War III.

SANDERS: OK.

DRESNER: The issue that set it off was we had said that, you know, everybody's bedroom is their own space. Well, the argument was, you're invading my space. I'm asking you to leave. You're not listening to me. And that escalated to name-calling and fighting and screaming and yelling. And so I said, everybody get in the car. And we got in the car, and obviously, we didn't get out of the car. But we hopped in the car. We put on The Black Eyed Peas. We turned up the radio as loud as we could. And we sang, and we danced. And it was just amazing. It was just what we all needed.

SANDERS: Oh, my goodness. Which song?

DRESNER: "Imma Be." What else? The - actually, the album is called "The E.N.D.," which is kind of a bad pun right now.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: The Black Eyed Peas saved the day.

DRESNER: Yes. Yes. Yes.

SANDERS: Your kids are there with you now. One of them is right next to you.

DRESNER: Yes. Actually, two of them are right next to me right now. Yep.

SANDERS: OK. Can I say hi?

DRESNER: Yes, you can. I'll pass the phone to them. Here's Brady (ph).

SANDERS: Hi, Brady.

BRADY: Hello.

SANDERS: How you doing?

BRADY: I'm doing good.

SANDERS: You sound like you're the high school student.

BRADY: Yeah.

SANDERS: OK. How are things going?

BRADY: They're going well - just doing my schoolwork pretty much.

SANDERS: What's been the hardest part of all this for you?

BRADY: I'm a big sports fan. So all the sports are canceled now, and March Madness is canceled, so it's probably the hardest part for me.

SANDERS: I bet. I bet. Is there another sibling right there with you?

BRADY: Yeah, my sister Tess (ph). She's the 13-year-old.

TESS: Hello.

SANDERS: Hey, Tess. This is Sam. How are you?

TESS: Good. How are you?

SANDERS: Pretty good. So, Tess, first question for you - how do you feel as a young person going through this? Are you sad? Are you scared? How weird is it? I ask this because I'm 35. I'm a grown-up, and seriously, like, every day, I have at least one moment of totally freaking out. Is it crazy like that for you in the same way as well?

TESS: Well, I'm not necessarily scared. I'm just, like, worried for the people at risk in my family or people who I'm close to, like my dad. He has diabetes, and he's at risk. But, like, honestly, just going through day by day had just made me realize that it just made us all closer.

SANDERS: Yeah. You know, speaking of that newfound closeness with your family, have you learned some new things about your family in the last few weeks?

TESS: Oh, yes. I have learned that we are all, like - kind of get along, honestly, when we're together more. I feel like we get along a little bit better than just seeing each other on a regular day, like, that we would have school. I don't know. We just talk more, and I'm kind of closer with my family now.

SANDERS: Well, that's beautiful.

TESS: Yeah.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. Well, thank you for sharing your story with me. You can pass the phone back to your mother.

TESS: OK. Thank you.

SANDERS: Yeah. Thanks. Heidi, you still there?

DRESNER: Yep.

SANDERS: What are you most scared of right now?

DRESNER: I think my greatest fear right now is that my husband's business kind of comes to a screeching halt. That will force me to be the primary breadwinner, which I can be. And I'm not scared of going back to work, but I am also terrified that I would contract it or bring it home to my husband...

SANDERS: Yeah.

DRESNER: ...Who has heart disease and diabetes. But I think a week ago, I would have answered that question with, I'm most worried about the kids and our family. But that actually is, like, the least of my worries now. It's just really unified us, and it's just been really nice.

SANDERS: Heidi, you're giving me hope.

DRESNER: (Laughter).

SANDERS: Heidi, thank you for your time. And thank you for being an inspiration, I'm sure, not just to your kids but to me and all of our listeners.

DRESNER: Yep. Well, thank you. I hope everybody stays healthy. Stay home. And we'll get through this. Take care, Sam.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMMA BE")

THE BLACK EYED PEAS: (Rapping) Imma (ph), Imma be - Imma be, be, be, be - Imma, Imma be.

SANDERS: Thanks again to Heidi Dresner in St. Louis and her kids for talking with me, and, of course, thanks to The Black Eyed Peas. Coming up, we will talk about what happens with coronavirus homeschooling when there's no schedule. BRB.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: This episode, we're talking with parents and their kids about the new realities of homeschooling and working from home in the age of social distancing.

Hello, Elizabeth. How are you?

ELIZABETH FARFAN-SANTOS: Hi, Sam. I'm good.

SANDERS: Elizabeth Farfan-Santos is a professor of anthropology at the University of Houston. She has two kids. Oliver (ph) is 9 years old, and Anhita (ph) is 20 months. And Elizabeth says the first thing she felt when schools closed in her neighborhood in Houston was overwhelmed.

FARFAN-SANTOS: Lots of messages about, you know, here's this website that you can use to practice math. And, you know, our teacher sent us a message saying, stay prepared for, you know, your star test. And for me, you know, it was too much. And so I'll be honest. I shut it off.

SANDERS: So she turned off all notifications and just let her son Oliver be - no schedule, no forced routine. But she quickly realized something was off. Oliver got moodier and more defiant.

FARFAN-SANTOS: Oliver struggles with anxiety, so we already know kind of how he gets in stressful situations where he can't control things or where plans that he may have had just kind of suddenly change. And, you know, one of the things that changed was that, well, he wasn't able to see his friend in the neighborhood anymore.

SANDERS: Elizabeth realized it was time for a more detailed plan to keep Oliver busy.

What has been the routine or activity that has worked best for him right now?

FARFAN-SANTOS: Yeah. Well, we, you know, noticed that he needed to have a little bit more structure. And we sat down and - you know, he loves making lists (laughter)...

SANDERS: OK.

FARFAN-SANTOS: ...And schedules. And, you know, so I said, OK. Let's sit down and make - you know, make a schedule. And he was actually interested in checking out some of these online resources. He's really into math and science and loves computers and programming. And so for him...

SANDERS: OK.

FARFAN-SANTOS: ...You know, the thought of, you know, being on a computer was OK. You know, it was exciting.

SANDERS: What has he been sharing with you about how he feels about all of this? Is he forthcoming about his emotions during this time, or do you have to pry a bit harder to get that from him?

FARFAN-SANTOS: Well, so he and I, ever since he's little - he's been smaller, we've talked a lot about emotions. And the other thing that I've noticed is that he gets physical symptoms from anxiety.

SANDERS: Really?

FARFAN-SANTOS: So for him - yeah. So for him, it's been - stomachaches and nausea are things...

SANDERS: Oh.

FARFAN-SANTOS: ...That he's had. And so that last week of school, he actually started complaining about stomachaches, and I noticed that he was going to the bathroom a lot more often.

SANDERS: Oh.

FARFAN-SANTOS: You know, everybody was still going to school, so, I mean, I was still sending him to school. I was worried about whether I should be sending him to school, but nothing had been canceled yet. But he told me every - almost every day that he went to school that week that I was risking his life by sending him to school.

SANDERS: Oh, my.

FARFAN-SANTOS: And so, you know, through these kinds of expressions, it was clear that he was worried about what was going to happen.

SANDERS: Yeah. What is the biggest lesson you've learned in this whole process of having to, you know, deal with your kids schooling from home?

FARFAN-SANTOS: (Laughter) I'm learning that - I'm learning the value of just taking things day by day and starting over as many times as we need to. You know, yesterday was the first day that we really tried to implement this loose schedule. It was - started off great, and then it got rough. He - again, because, you know, he's dealing with so much loss and his emotions, all our emotions are all over the place. We're all struggling. You know, we all miss our friends.

SANDERS: Yeah.

FARFAN-SANTOS: You know, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as parents, and, you know, we feel like we need to do something. And sometimes it's not about doing. Sometimes it's about not doing. Sometimes it's just about being.

SANDERS: You need to just be.

FARFAN-SANTOS: Yeah.

SANDERS: You need to just be. You need to be still, you need to be at home, and you need to be patient because this could be a long haul.

FARFAN-SANTOS: That's right.

SANDERS: Well, thank you for your time. Thank you for sharing those words of wisdom with our listeners. And I feel like I know your kid already. He sounds awesome. Tell him I said hey, and keep on pushing.

FARFAN-SANTOS: Thank you so much, Sam.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHANNON: Hey, Sam. This is Shannon (ph) from Madison, Wis. My perspective right now is that I'm also a nurse practitioner at a community health center. Needless to say, it's been very stressful to not only be doing that on the frontlines but then also figure out how to homeschool my 8- and 10-year-old when I'm not in clinic. So also, to complicate things, my husband works in transportation infrastructure, so he's considered essential and is out there as well making sure that things continue.

And the truth is our kids are not going to school every day because it's just not possible because we're both doing important jobs that keep things running and keep things going and keep people healthy. So our kids are going to get the school they get when they can. It's a little bit demoralizing, but we're just trying to take it one day at a time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: So far, we've talked about parents who have the types of jobs and the time to be able to work from home and teach their kids, but a lot of parents don't have that luxury right now. After the break, we'll talk with a mother who has no choice but to keep going into work. She tells us how her kids are going to school. BRB.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

KATE DAVIS: My kids have special needs. My younger kid is autistic, and my older kid has ADHD. We had a whole team of folks at school in the special ed department, and we had some therapists at home who really helped us kind of hold it all together. So, you know, in the course of a week, we, like, lost all of our support. My younger son, he has an aide with him at all times in school who really helps kind of redirect him and makes sure he can focus and learn.

And, you know, my husband and I, we just don't have that kind of skill set and time to do that. You know, our first focus is keeping them safe and happy. And then, little by little, we're trying to just figure out how to help them learn. You know, we've had to kind of be patient for years with these kids, so we'll just keep going with that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: That is Kate Davis (ph) in Seattle, Wash. We heard from so many parents like Kate for this episode - parents with kids who have special needs, parents working from home while also teaching their kids who can't go to school. But there are a lot of parents in a different boat right now, parents who still have to go to work - first responders, grocery store employees, laundromat workers. Kiana Wilson (ph) is one of those parents.

Hey. This is Sam. How are you?

KIANA WILSON: I'm good. And you?

SANDERS: Good, good, good. Thank you for your time. I hear a kid there in the background. Who's that?

WILSON: I have two kids, and now my sister has five kids. So it's seven kids in the house right now.

SANDERS: Ooh, boy.

WILSON: (Laughter).

SANDERS: Kiana is a cabin cleaner at San Francisco International Airport. She is on the frontlines in a different sense. Every day she goes to work and is exposed to all the gunk that's on most airplanes, and she's been going to work since before the coronavirus outbreak really grabbed the country's attention.

WILSON: We have to clean up pocket seats (ph), the bathrooms, the floor, everything dealing with basically getting the next flight out.

SANDERS: Do you feel safe doing your job right now?

WILSON: No, I don't.

SANDERS: OK. I'm sorry to hear that. How do you deal with that? How do you grapple with that and still find a way to keep doing your job?

WILSON: I mean, I really don't have a choice because it's my job, and I have two kids to take care of. I try my hardest to protect myself. They have gloves for us, but I bring my own masks and things like that to protect myself.

SANDERS: On top of worrying about getting sick, Kiana has to also think about her kids. Those kids were still on spring break when Kiana and I talked last week, and now this week, they are officially out of school. Kiana told me she's taken off of work recently to take care of them.

WILSON: They was going to day care, but day care out here is closed down as well as the schools. So I actually haven't been at work. I was trying to go back to work tomorrow, but I don't know if it's going to, you know, actually happen for me to go. I have to make sure I have someone to keep my kids. Or if I do it, you know, I have to drop them off somewhere, I need to have someone to be able to pick them up because I don't have a vehicle right now, you know?

SANDERS: So in these days that you've been home from work, have you thought about trying any of the ClassDojo stuff from your kids' teachers, or is that just too much to think about right now?

WILSON: I actually just contacted to her today. Some of us is supposed to, like, get tablets from the schools for us to do homeschool with the kids and stuff like that. But until their spring break is over, we don't know. Like, we're just stuck right now...

SANDERS: OK.

WILSON: ...Until their teacher to get everything together and we're able to go pick up the things that we need for homeschool.

SANDERS: Do you - you know, in talking to parents this week who are able to homeschool their kids from home, they've all been saying that they really enjoy it. They've been enjoying having more time with their family, with their kids and that it's allowed them to grow closer to their kids. And it's been a blessing. Do you kind of miss not having the opportunity - given your work and your life right now, do you miss not having the chance to be a homeschool teacher for your kids for the next few weeks?

WILSON: I miss it because, you know, like, I, like, make sure my kids is OK. I like to know that they're learning. I like to know that, you know, they know the things that they need to know. But at the same time, if I don't work, we could be homeless, you know? In the world we're living in and how things is going, we have to have some type of money to survive. It's like a bittersweet moment to me right now.

SANDERS: Yeah. What advice would you give to other parents who are having to juggle kids and homeschool and work and coronavirus right now in a very stressful way?

WILSON: All I have to say is try your hardest to keep focus and just know that you're doing this for your kids, you know? And just let them - you know, I really don't know because I really don't know what to do. But I just figure if you pray, keep - stay prayed up and stay with a positive attitude and things like that, I think that we should all be able to fight through this and get through it. What is it? A minor setback but a major comeback. That's how we can look at - have to look at it.

SANDERS: Yeah. Kiana, look at you inspiring me. Oh, my goodness.

WILSON: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I hope everything works out for you. And thank you for your time.

WILSON: You're welcome. Have a good one.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: Thanks to all the parents in this episode, including Heidi Dresner, Elizabeth Farfan-Santos and Kiana Wilson. And for all you parents out there, thank you for all that you're doing. I have no idea how you make it work, but you do. For more tips on homeschooling, check out the latest episode from our friends over at Life Kit. It's out now.

This episode was produced by Anjuli Sastry with help from Andrea Gutierrez, and our editor is Jordana Hochman. Listeners, I want to keep hearing from you. Tell me how you're getting through coronavirus. Your frustrations, your concerns, the snack you can't stop eating, the stuff you've been binge-watching, all of it - tell me everything. Record a voice memo. Send that to me at samsanders@npr.org.

All right. That's it for today. Till Friday, be well. Stay home. Talk soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KIPERS: What did you just do?

FELIX: I called my friends.

KIPERS: Which friends?

FELIX: All my friends from my school.

KIPERS: From your kindergarten class?

FELIX: Yes.

KIPERS: How did it feel to see all your friends?

FELIX: Good, good, good, good, good, good, good. Let's be friends. No, we're not yet, yet, not yet, not yet, not yet.

KIPERS: OK. All right. I'm going to turn it off.

FELIX: No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

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