Learning from home

With schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, parents and teachers all over St. Charles County are facing the challenges of remote education

By Brett Auten

Since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, everyone’s new normal looks very different depending on the day. With all schools closed through at least April 24, how to keep some type of education regularity is the question that has been heavy on the hearts of all educators and parents.

The Community News checked in on educators in the City of St. Charles, Francis Howell, and Wentzville school districts to glean any tips or suggestions that could benefit you and your children during these wildly out of place times.

Christian Baez, who grew up in the Francis Howell School District and graduated from Francis Howell Central, is a fifth grade teacher at Becky-David Elementary. He stressed that one of the most important things to remember when teaching our children is the importance of being patient and establishing a routine.

“Things will be a bit rocky in the beginning, and that’s okay,” Baez said. “Meet with your kids and set the expectations first thing in the morning. A daily morning meeting works well at the elementary level. Give your child a voice and listen to them. This is hard for them too.”

Baez encourages families to let their children share some of the work they are completing. For example, if your child writes a story, ask them to share what they wrote with you. You might ask them, “What are you most proud of about your writing piece?”

It should go without saying that if a parent has a question or concern, they should reach out to their child’s teacher. They all want to help in any way that they can.
Dr. Megan Sutton has been in the Wentzville School District for 15 years. She taught kindergarten at Heritage Primary for 10 years and was the assistant principal at Crossroads Elementary for three years and is currently in her second year as principal at Heritage Primary. Sutton comes from a family of educators who are excitedly embarking on this new territory. An important factor Sutton says to keep in mind when teaching your child is attention span.

“A good rule of thumb for attention spans is one minute per year-old,” Sutton said. “So a seven-year-old will be able to hold maximum attention for about seven minutes at a time. So remember it is absolutely fine to take a quick break. Learning should be fun at home, so play a lot of games.”

Any type of card games, such as UNO, is another fun way to practice mathematics. When in doubt, students can always read a book and create a response about their reading, free write, create poetry, science experiment, cook with you or balance a checkbook. Remember, learning can happen in so many different ways.

“The main idea is that there is no ‘education normalcy’,” Sutton said. “So feel free to create a new normal that works for you and your kids and stick to a similar daily schedule each day so they know what to expect.”

Megan Hallam is a St. Charles County native who teaches English Language Arts at Hardin Middle School. She has been working in the City of St. Charles School District for 12 years. She and her husband have four children from the ages of two-to-12, so they are right in the thick of working from home while helping their two school-age children with distance learning and taking care of two preschoolers.  

“The most helpful system we’ve put into place is multifaceted, but it works for us,” she said. “Create a schedule that works for your family, and be sure to involve your school-age children in the process so they know your expectations. Set up a designated workspace for those in your family who need to learn and work at home free from distractions. Make learning and working on goals at the beginning of the day. Be consistent and flexible at the same time. Remember, your schedule is a working document, so you get to redesign it until it works for your family.”

The students who struggle academically, or who were just building momentum, are certainly a concern.  The most effective way to combat the struggle is to keep working through it using all of the available resources; emailing teachers with questions, looking up “how-to” videos to clarify confusing processes or content, attending online “live” teaching sessions, collaborating with a classmate on common assignments and doing these things consistently.

“I am concerned about my students who were already struggling,” Abigail Birhanu, a 14-year veteran at St. Charles High and a St. Charles West grad, said.  “No teacher wants to fail a student, but communication is key in helping us understand especially during this time when we are unable to walk by the student’s desk to pose those questions that help us understand if the students have grasped the concept. Without that communication element, it will be difficult to help those students who are struggling.”

Parents need to forgive themselves in those moments when it all feels overwhelming. All of the educators we spoke with love talking to the parents of their students whether on the phone or via email. As long as you keep an open line of communication, the teachers are ready to help and are hoping to be contacted. For these students, building confidence is key.

“Give a lot of compliments when they are showing success, even if you feel they should ‘already know that,’” Sutton said. “Find out what your child’s needs are and go slow and do not push. If your child seems frustrated, pause and take a break. Just remember to keep the learning fun and light.”

Jeremy Jackson, a St. Charles West teacher and graduate, says that it is always best to keep a positive attitude and embrace the new challenge. Perspective is good as well.  If this would have happened 30 years ago, the effects would have been much more devastating. He also stressed that, when possible, it is important for parents to keep their students on a somewhat consistent schedule.  

“Kids should be getting up at a decent time, getting breakfast and getting into their learning,” Jackson said. “Sitting at a computer can be more mentally fatiguing than sitting in a classroom, so frequent breaks may be needed.”  

One way to manage this is to have students set a goal about what they are going to accomplish before their next break. This is also a great time for students to do some exploratory learning.  

“YouTube is a rabbit hole of useless information, but also a wealth of amazing opportunities,” Jackson said. “You can do anything from getting extra help on a new math concept to learn how to paint or play the guitar to watch an oral surgeon perform surgery. There are many, many opportunities to explore new avenues of learning.”

Next week: Part II
Our series continues as we check in on the teachers and see what type of programs they are incorporating and how they are handling teaching students remotely.

CUTLINE: Photo by Brett Auten Elizabeth Jones goes over some lessons outside on her deck in St. Peters with her sons Carson (far right) and Wyatt. Jones, like many parents across the county, are confronted with the task of incorporating some sort of homeschooling into their life since the COVID-19 outbreak has all schools shut down through April 24.