Sheltered Diaries: ‘Are You For Real With This?’

It’s not easy to create a brand new online learning system out of whole cloth, and it’s even harder when the need for it develops while students, staff, and teachers are on spring break.

But districts and private schools all over North Texas are tasked with just that, and the rollout has – understandably – been a little slow as everyone figures out who needs a laptop, who has wifi, who needs meals.

Monday was the first day that Dallas ISD rolled out its grab-and-go meal pickup, and the response was robust, the district said. Each student that came to a participating campus got breakfast, lunch, and dinner for three days, and the district ended up giving out more than 100,000 meals yesterday.

The meals are served at 50 locations across the city from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays. And while there may have been a few hiccups (we heard that some locations ran out), the district says it’s ready to adjust now that it has a better idea of demand.

“Now that we have a better idea of what demand will be at the different schools, we will be better prepared on Thursday to feed students at these high-demand locations,” Dallas ISD food and nutrition services executive director Michael Rosenberger said.

Courtesy Dallas ISD

This week, now that teachers and staff are back, the district has been teaching teachers on best practices for online learning, helping them learn some of the new tools at their disposal, and making sure that every student has access to the technology that may be needed.

For us, that looks like frequent video messages from Tiny’s teacher, who today asked her students to read some books in a program they have access to through their school accounts, and let them know that they could pick up laptops (if they need them) on Thursday afternoon at the school.

“I miss you all, but we’ll make the best of our new normal,” she told her students.

Tiny was a little dubious. “Are you for real with this?” he asked me. “This is not sustainable. Parents are not supposed to be teachers, they’re supposed to be workers.”

Preach, kid.

For us, today was another busy day of combining deadlines (new county COVID-19 cases, a press conference, various and assorted emails to respond to, an interview or two) with teaching. Thanks to some advance work by the district, we have access to several programs his personalized learning campus uses regularly anyway, and we’ve been taking advantage of them – things like Istation, Flocabulary, and more.

I’ve had a few questions about some of the things we’ve covered, and resources.

Math is pretty easy – we have his textbook, since the district sent that home before spring break. We have a handful of programs online to use. We have some manipulatives, too.  Reading is much the same – lots of programs already loaded on his district account with, but we have been supplementing with readings of books by authors we find on Youtube.

For science, we’ve been studying about the coronavirus – partly because Tiny has been watching press conferences with me for weeks now, and partly because I thought it would be good for him to learn. This is a point in history that one day he will tell his kids and grandkids about, and understanding what is happening is important. We have been discussing a couple of subheadings each day from this excellent article from Live Science, that is geared for kids.

We also drew a coronavirus.

Art is always around lunchtime, when we enjoy a leisurely lunch while taking in the latest Mo Willems Lunchtime Doodles episode. PE consists of whatever we come up with to do outside for a half hour or so.

For social studies, we are talking about elections. We’ve read a few books geared for kids, and today we watched a Berenstain Bears cartoon about the time Papa Bear wanted to be mayor, but discovered it’s a lot harder than you think to fulfill campaign promises.

“You remember watching the debates with me, right?” I asked Tiny.

“You mean the Old People Yell About Everything show?” he asked.

“Well, do you remember any of their promises?” I asked him, soldiering on (9-year-old boys are a tough crowd).

“Yeah, I remember a lot from the debates. I remember that some people had ideas about just giving people money, and some wanted you to go to college for free, and then some wanted everyone to have a doctor or something, but everyone argued about how to pay for it,” he replied. “I also remember that I kept getting Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg mixed up because they might be interchangeable.”

“Do you think that if they got to be president, they’d be able to do everything they promised?” I asked, again, trying to ignore the editorializing.

“Of course not,” he said, with a dismissive hand wave. “I mean, Congress and all.”

I don’t know why I’m surprised though – this is the same child who told me a month ago that he and his third-grade friends have formed a politics club, and they talk about politics at lunch when it’s a rainy day and they can’t play outside.

Once again, we were done by 2 p.m.

I know we’re only two days in, but real talk: None of us are going to be able to replicate what our children’s amazing teachers did every day. And our kids are also quite aware of what is going on – mental health and well-being comes first. Some days, you may not get that math worksheet done. There might be a Wednesday or three where everyone is in tears by 10 a.m.

That’s when you stop what you’re doing, and take a mental health day. Put a movie on. Relax. Talk about fears. Admit that some things worry you, too, and share how you’re coping.

We’ve also built-in a day that is, in the words of Mary Poppins, a spoonful of sugar. On Friday, we’ll play games and bake. What Tiny doesn’t know is that Monopoly and the Allowance Game are going to teach him budgeting and executive function, our new game of Proof! will help with his math skills, and that Man Bites Dog will help teach sentence structure. He won’t know that while I’m having him read the directions on the back of the brownie mix, he’s learning both sequencing, fractions, and measurements, as well as science.

But most of all, cut yourselves – and your kids – some slack. Teachers are professionals. They’re trained to address summer slide – so of course, they’re going to be able to bring our kids back up to speed when everyone gets back. Do your best, and remember that your best teaching is what your kids see you do during this time.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about some of the resources the district has provided, and how we’ll use them. And we’d love to hear your tips too. Send your homeschooling pictures, and your impressions on how your day went via the Preston Hollow or Park Cities Facebook pages, or through this link.


Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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