"I just can't do this." Harried parents forgo home school

Eli Illig, 10, does homework on his computer April 9 in Ebensburg, Pa. “My entire Facebook feed is nothing but photos of happy, organized families, sitting together at the kitchen table doing classwork and I can NOT relate,” Eli’s mom, Kara Illig, recently posted on social media.

With school closures extended to at least May 15 by the COVID-19 crisis, many parents are struggling to keep up with their children’s educational needs. For parents who don’t speak English, the challenges are even greater.

Fortunately, a number of organizations are available to help with information and other resources.

Chad Ransom, co-founder of Compass Edvantage, said the shift to digital classrooms has exacerbated existing inequities in educational resources. One of the biggest gaps for non-English speakers is technology.

Most middle and high school students use Canvas, a digital learning management system that allows them to remotely access their coursework and upload homework assignments. All of the coursework is posted in English, making it difficult for Spanish-speaking parents to answer their children’s questions.

“In a normal school setting, students would need less support with homework because they have had a lot more contact time with teachers before having to do that work,” Ransom said. “Now, parents have reported needing to support that work more, and Spanish-speaking parents feel that is a really big challenge.”

Maintaining a home-learning schedule is also especially difficult in households where one or both parents are considered to be essential workers.

Ransom said he has heard from families that often, when parents are away at work, an older sibling is left to look after younger students. That can make it difficult for the older children to attend their own online classes, either because they are busy caring for their family or because the younger sibling is using the family computer.

In response to such obstacles, Compass Edvantage has organized a series of three free webinars to help parents create productive learning environments in their homes. The final webinar, which will focus on how to keep children motivated, will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Find information on how to register and links to recordings of previous webinars at www.CompassEdvantage.com/projects.

Ransom and his colleague, Christi Roberts, said the webinars are meant to help parents learn how to use the resources available to them. One of the webinars, in partnership with the Teton Literacy Center, was conducted in Spanish.

“It’s important for parents to remember that it’s OK to reach out for support,” Roberts said. “They’re not expected to be teachers with no training whatsoever.”

While the Teton Literacy Center provides tutoring for a variety of students in need — those from low-income households, for whom English is a second language or any in need of extra assistance — its tutoring has shifted online, too, and Ransom has observed gaps that remain in educational resources in the county.

“We have not seen anything else specific, especially for kids who may have already been at risk or had already been behind,” he said. “There’s a need there, for sure.”

Ransom said Compass Edvantage is working to develop a targeted resource for those students.

To help students cope with social isolation and other COVID-19-related stressors, Teton County School District No. 1 has compiled a list of mental health resources that it sent out to parents.

Contact Hallie Mellendorf via Managing Editor Rebecca Huntington at 732-7078 or rebecca@jhnewsandguide.com.

Managing Editor Rebecca Huntington has worked for newspapers across the West. She hosts a rescue podcast, The Fine Line. Her family minivan doubles as her not-so-high-tech recording studio.

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