September 2020

Creative Distance Learning

By Jeanette Prather

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage through communities and shuttering human gathering locations like schools, many families are finding themselves at a loss for how to juggle it all. Some parents have gotten creative with intended pod learning, pulling former teachers out of retirement, or even schooling in nature.

“After struggling with all of the back-and-forth of what ‘school’ would look like this coming school year, I had decided that no matter what I wanted my son Mason to have, first, a break from me being as his teacher, and second, some kind of social interaction,” said local working mother of two, Devon Obert. “I began to have conversations with four other moms from Mason’s kindergarten class about a possible home instruction ‘pod,’ as they’re being called.”

Obert referenced the group meeting a few days per week to utilize the co-op situation as well as possibly bringing in a tutor or two. Their dilemma was space. “We had a few zoom meetings discussing social distancing, health and safety precautions to be considered, possible enrichment additions like science and nature hikes, music, and art lessons,” said Obert, who also mentioned the onset of anxiety from additional exposure to people outside of her immediate family. “It was like a tangled web of exposure and the anxiety crept in. I kept thinking about the few friends and family we see and have seen thus far, and the exposure we could be adding to their lives, or the reality that we would have to trade our pod ‘family’ for our real family. I finally made the choice to pull the plug on the pod early August.”

This wavering approach as the beginning of school drew closer appears to be a popular one. Some parents have really taken to the idea of pod learning or even hiring furloughed school staff and students to assist with instruction, but in addition to Obert’s concerns, there seems to be a growing divide in regards to privilege and social justice among pod families.

“If you are a relatively privileged person seeking a pandemic pod because you simply cannot imagine working less, the solution you seek might not be a pod, but a rethinking of the unrealistic expectations of ‘work’ our current economic system is placing upon us,” wrote Medium.com columnist, Shayla R. Griffin (PhD, MSW) on July 23 in an article titled, “If ‘Most Students Should Stay Home,’ What Do I Do with My Kids?’”

Griffin, referencing an article she had written previously about social justice and the education system, doesn’t necessarily discredit the idea of “pandemic pods,” but explains that parents should be lobbying and “marching, or calling, or emailing, or tweeting, or Facebooking, or zooming, or figuring out who in your circles of privilege knows some senators,” to try and eradicate any of the social inequalities that currently exist and may worsen as a result of this pandemic.

With Santa Cruz County’s school district mandating distance learning indefinitely for the immediate future and/or 2020 – 2021 school year, there is no question that parents need to get creative, whatever that might look like.

One resource that some local parents are turning to for creative solutions to this intensely unique dilemma, is Facebook. The private Facebook group, Santa Cruz Moms, outlines some of the options and potential solutions from hiring high school straight-A students to moving the curriculum to a secluded park for tactile learning.
“High schoolers will also have a more flexible schedule and may not be able to work their regular after school jobs as things get shut down,” proposed one mom sure if this violates any privacy laws]. “They may be available for back-up help or tutoring in the afternoon.”

Another mom is offering up her recently converted spare bedroom to a classroom for small group instruction as well as a comprehensive afterschool enrichment program. “We will be doing a rotation of hiking, sports, workouts, dancing, singing, art projects, etc.,” she wrote to the Facebook group, referencing the use of outdoor space. “Newsletters will be sent out every Sunday with an exact schedule of what we will be doing.”

In addition to the robust thread in the Santa Cruz Moms Facebook group, other distance learning resources include DistantLearners.wixsite.com (a start-up education business out of response to the fall 2020 school year not opening for in-person instruction), SantaCruzLearningCenter.com, and WolfSchool.org (a non-profit outdoor-based educational program and camp facility), to name a few. Of course, most of these resources come with a fee.

And what about preschools? Daycare facilities? As of July 20, all schools were mandated distance learning with Superintendent Munro announcing, “School districts, charter schools and private schools are now required to provide distance learning instructional services only.” However, the grouping of care facilities that hold Community Care Licensing (i.e. those considered daycares regardless of an educational curriculum) fall under the Department of Social Services and could remain open.

“When the shelter-in-place order first began in California in March, childcare facilities were only available to the children of essential workers, like nurses, grocery store clerks, child care providers and farm workers,” wrote EdSource.org in an article published on July 17. “But in early June, childcare facilities were allowed to reopen for all children, if they meet health and safety guidelines like wearing masks and keeping children in small groups and six feet apart, as much as possible.”

Whether pod learning, homeschooling, nature school, or daycare, there’s no doubt that this school year will be one to remember and hopefully lay the foundation for a more sustainable education system in the future.

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