It was a moment when things about COVID-19 became real for a lot of parents in Charlestown – the moment when they got an e-mailed letter from the Eliot School leadership announcing that there was a potential exposure to the virus through a “non-student community member” and that the school was going to be closed for one week.
Some were at the hockey rink, others were around the kitchen table, some heard through word of mouth.
All were in disbelief.
To that point, Mayor Martin Walsh had indicated that Boston Public Schools (BPS) wouldn’t close, and he had said so much that very night, March 11, on national television. But then, the e-mail came and it was shocking and unbelievable to most – even though now, one week later, the thought of a one-week closure of the schools seems rather tame.
In fact, the Eliot had only a few days ahead of the rest of BPS in bringing kids into the home to take on home-schooling as parents tried to help them cope with a new daily reality and schedule – all while trying to figure out how to work at home themselves.
It has been, for some, full of challenges and some fun distractions along the way.
State Rep. Dan Ryan and his wife, Kara, have been navigating the new reality with their two daughters as best they can. Saying they have had to work, but have some flexibility in their work schedules, they have started to get their kids on a schedule.
“I think it feels like it was a month ago when we started all this, but it was only a week ago,” he said. “We played a lot of Rummy and we have a chess board open right now. We’ve been going out to the park, keeping a distance. We’re really trying to keep a schedule and some regularity. We are doing a lot of online lessons on the computer. We have talked to them about the news. We talk about what it is. I’ve never watched so many press conferences with them. It’s a good lesson in government, science and even sign language.”
Both emphasized that their principal, the Eliot’s Traci Griffith, has been excellent in communicating and helping them get started on this journey.
One of the keys, he and his wife said, was keeping off the phone.
They initially started with a schedule posted online by Revere School Committeewoman Stacey Rizzo – a rough draft of a typical day that their kids tweaked.
“I’m just trying to keep them on task,” said Kara. “Having a suggested schedule is helpful when you’re not a teacher, which we’re not. Kids are used to structure in the day – going from math to science to art. You wake up and have breakfast at the normal time. Then there’s exercise time, like PE. If it’s raining they can do yoga inside.”
Both said they have used resources from the Eliot and elsewhere to have blocks of math, of science, and creative time. There is also a block for chores, and one day this week they made brownies with them in between working-from-home tasks.
“The uncertainty we’re facing and the anxiety right now, at least there’s a plan with your kids and the structure of a plan keeps them off the screens,” said Kara.
Eliot parent Joe DeRoeve said he and his wife, Jess, have also been trying to keep on a schedule with their two girls – but have found it hard as BPS has been slow to initiate online learning in full force. Both are workers that cannot take off long periods of time, and also cannot work from home if they have to work.
It has been an adventurous week so far, but with some fun mixed in as well, Joe said..
“For me, I’m a student myself getting my master’s degree and I have a job too,” he said. “Now I have to deal with my schoolwork and also try to help them with their schoolwork at the same time. I have to become a teacher too. How many hats can you wear at one time? The first couple of days were like a bit of a vacation, but they need to start working again. They need to keep up with their education and not fall behind. It is not a vacation.”
One frustrating thing for them, he said, is it seems like different schools are doing different things. Some kids that are now also out have teachers doing classroom Facetime lessons. His school isn’t yet there, but overall there is a concern for how his kids will keep this up through April.
“Clearly, the education is going to dip without teacher interaction,” he said.
On most days, DeRoeve said, the kids have been following a schedule of academics – and he asks for three or four strong hours. They supplement that by doing other fun learning things online and outside.
This week, they tried archery in the backyard – something they never thought they would do. They’ve ridden their bikes regularly, and watched the Dropkick Murphy’s livestream concert on Tuesday, St. Patrick’s Day.
“We’ve been looking at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy online and learning about sharks,” he said. “I’ve been trying to use the Internet to introduce alternative content – something that is more for enrichment and learning things about everyday life they might not have in school.”
For the Ryans, they are approaching the weekends with learning in mind too, but they are all learning.
“We all decided that each of us would learn something new on the weekends,” Dan said. “My kids are going to teach me how to play piano. We’re each going to learn something we haven’t had time to do and that we want to do.”
On the more serious side, DeRoeve said depending on how long the situation lasts, he is worried about the imprint that ‘social distancing’ will have on his and other children.
“I think about what these viruses and social distancing and the imprint it will have on this generation of kids as they come up the ranks,” he said. “If social distancing becomes the norm, whereas social media has already been pushing them in that direction anyway, I wonder what kind of engagement we can expect to see in the future between people. I would prefer a world that comes closer together, but will that be the world they want after this?”