Families deal with school closings, stay-home order

By Paula Neuman

Schools are closed to stop the spread of the Covid 19 virus, but kids are still learning at home.

They’re taking online classes and doing the work teachers send home to them in a number of innovative online ways. And in some cases, the learning is going beyond standard schoolwork.

The situation is particularly challenging for parents who aren’t used to serving as teachers, but the kids seem to be taking it in stride for the most part.

Anne St. Onge of Grosse Ile is mom to second-grader Mary and first-grader Owen, who are students at Parke Lane Elementary School. The kids can’t go to class now, but their teachers have sent home resources and are using Seesaw for Schools to communicate online with their pupils.

“Owen listens to his teacher (Kallie Davey) read a couple of books,” St. Onge said. “She’s reading stories to her class that way. It’s really nice.”

The children are doing math games online, too.

And Mary’s dance classes through the Trenton School of Dance, where St. Onge teaches, haven’t missed a step.

Dance school Director Meredith Shamanski started online classes for her students on March 16.

“I’m sort of blown away by the director’s timeliness on this,” St. Onge said. “My daughter didn’t miss a dance class, which is incredible to me.”

Using Zoom, dance instructors had their students set up a home studio with space to move and a chair instead of a barre — all in sight of a computer screen. The instructors conduct their classes over Zoom in a video conference call, and the students can see what to do and also be connected with each other.

“Mary is used to going to dance every week and seeing those people, and now she’s still able to see those people,” St. Onge said. “It’s really very cool.”

She teaches the youngest children at the dance school, and has started teaching even tiny kids online. St. Onge wasn’t sure how that would go, but it’s working out well.

“I taught my first class to my babies — 3- and 4-year-olds — and it was so cool,” she said. “At first, I thought it was going to be really challenging — I’m not the most technology-oriented person — but it was so simple and so good.”

Having her kids at home all day is fine with St. Onge.

“I’m used to having a little more quiet, but I actually enjoy having my kids at home,” she said with a laugh. “I’m kind of a homebody. It’s challenging in the sense that they want to go see their friends and play, but they understand in their own way that they can’t right now.”

For Wyandotte parents Kelly Wise and Chad Kellogg, having their children — fourth-grader Ellie and fifth-grader Jack — learn at home has been challenging. The parents were working full-time until the state’s March 23 stay-home order for nonessential employees.

“It’s very difficult,” Wise said. “You can’t make babysitters teach your kids. So when we got home from work, we got busy.”

Ellie Kellogg, 9, is in Brittany MacGraw’s class at Jefferson Elementary School in Wyandotte.

“My teacher has been putting assignments on Google Classroom, and I’ve been doing them,” Ellie said. “She also uses ReadWorks and puts assignments on there. You have to read and then answer questions about the books you read. My last one was about weather.”

How does she feel about learning at home?

“I miss recess and all my friends,” Ellie said, “but I like that there aren’t a lot of distractions. A lot of the kids are distracting.”

“She’s done a lot actually,” Wise said. “It’s too bad we can’t get to the library. We have books at home on famous people, and they’re reading one of those a day.”

She and Chad are taking advantage of the school closing to teach the kids more than schoolwork, she added.

“We’re teaching them cooking and how to clean better — life skills,” Wise said. “Ellie made deviled eggs all by herself yesterday!”

Jack Kellogg, 11, is in Terry Matulonis’ class at Jefferson.

Besides online lessons, he has other schoolwork.

“Our teacher also sent home packets of work,” Jack said. “We’re going to turn it in when we go back to school.”

He likes learning from home, he added.

“I can take a break whenever I want,” Jack said. “But I miss not being able to see my friends.”

Ashley Locke-Herald of Wyandotte is using the Khan Academy website to teach her second-grader, Malik, who normally attends Washington Elementary.

Locke-Herald majored in elementary education at Eastern Michigan University, and had classwork there about online teaching. She doesn’t work as a teacher, but she remembers her college lessons.

Her two older children get regular schoolwork to do from their teachers, but she hasn’t gotten as much for Malik. The website has been helpful for him.

“It works out perfectly,” Locke-Herald said. “You can pick whatever you want to work on. We just do it day to day.”

Stasia Convery of Southgate is mom to Lily, who is a fourth-grader at St. Joseph Catholic School in Trenton.

“For now, they’ve sent home weekly homework packets — work to do daily,” Convery said. “She’s not overwhelmed and she’s still learning and reviewing things. We don’t push our luck trying to do more. It’s a little stressful, but we’re pushing through. Her school has super open communications through texting and email. They’re very open for Lily to able to reach out.”

Lily and her classmates are connecting online with each other frequently through FaceTime video chats, and her piano teacher, Sarah Bond of Trenton, is keeping up the music lessons through FaceTime.

Even parents such as Ron and Leah Hinrich of Riverview who regularly homeschool their children are having some challenges because of the stay-home order to stop the spread of the virus.

The Hinrichs homeschool their children —Natalie, 7, and Ronnie, 3 — with help from online resources such as freehomeschooldeals.com and moneysavingmom.com.

“They know about the virus because they keep hearing about it, but we’re working through our day like we normally do,” Leah said.

She offers advice for parents who are new to being teachers for their youngsters.

“I think the main thing I would say is to connect with your child and enjoy the time you have with them,” she said. “And give yourself a break. Go read a book or have the kids watch a show for 20 minutes. It’s hard to have your kids with you constantly all day.”

The family has started beginning the day at the breakfast table by reading a chapter of a book or a poem with the children to set the tone of learning. They are all missing their weekly church services, and Natalie misses her dance class in Garden City.

“We haven’t gone the last couple of weeks, and she’s really upset about that,” Leah said.

Kathy Kuhn of Wyandotte is another mom who homeschools her kids and is missing some of their regular activities due to the stay-home order.

“A lot of homeschool families, ours included, do different extracurricular activities several times a week, so my kids interact with other kids and people on those days,” Kuhn said.

She interacts with those families through a local homeschool co-op group. Her three children, ages 9, 7 and 5, are missing those social activities and going to church on Sundays, she said, although her regular home teaching routine hasn’t changed much.

“The real big change was when I had to tell them we can’t go to co-op or to church,” Kuhn said. “But it was a good teaching lesson. We had a big science lesson about viruses and how they spread. I have more experience with teaching at home, and I feel sorry for those parents who just got into it suddenly. It just got dropped on them. It can be overwhelming, even for me.”

The hardest part of the situation for her family has been not seeing the children’s grandmother. Older people and those with health problems are being warned to self-isolate to avoid catching the virus, which can be exceptionally lethal for them.

“The kids are very close to my mother-in-law,” Kuhn said. “She usually takes the kids one day a week to give me a break. We haven’t been able to do that now. We all miss her.”

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