Believe it or not, this is a school assignment. Holyoke teachers are getting creative while providing instruction remotely in response to the coronavirus outbreak. One of first grader Evie Cooper’s recent art assignments was to create a color wheel out of items found at home and send a picture of the finished product to her teacher.
Using her Chromebook to access Google Classroom, Paxton Gatton-Pollock’s current schooling method bears similarities to a traditional school day despite being conducted at home.
Brenna Gatton spends one of her modified school days learning to till the garden. While Holyoke teachers provide instruction in their usual subjects online, Jennifer and Scott Cooper are taking advantage of their kids’ extra time at home to teach them about such things as gardening, cars and baking.
Though Dragon’s Wagon Preschool is no longer in session, Archie Cooper keeps learning at home.
Using headphones is something Hagan Gatton-Pollock and her sisters have found helpful while completing their schooling in close proximity to one another.
With 5 kids at home, school looks a bit different for one local family these days
When things were still business as usual at Holyoke School District, Jennifer Cooper had a routine. Four of her kids would board the bus at 7:15 a.m. She would pack a lunch for her husband, Scott, before he left for work. Then she would be home alone with her 4-year-old son, Archie, who went to preschool a couple of days each week.
That being said, no one around here needs to be told that business is not as usual — at the schools or anywhere else. These days things look a bit different at Jennifer’s house. With the school buildings closed to slow the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, online teaching began March 30 and will last through at least April 30.
Jennifer went from having one kid at home during the day to having five. And with Colorado’s stay-at-home order, they’re there around the clock. She’s quickly had to transition to facilitating her kids’ online schooling and supplementing it with other educational opportunities around the house, all while squeezing in the usual chores.
With a 4-year-old preschooler and an 18-year-old senior in high school — and three others in between — Jennifer has seen the full range of experiences in the first week of Holyoke’s online schooling. Living in Amherst, they’re probably a bit more isolated than most, too.
“There’s a lot of different personalities and a lot of different schedules,” Jennifer said, “but I think we’re doing OK balancing out those things so far.”
The youngest four do their work in the dining room, where Jennifer can supervise and be on hand to help them out. While it’s admittedly a bit crowded, they’ve found that headphones aid in tuning one another out.
Jennifer’s oldest, Brenna, is one of the seniors whose final year of high school doesn’t look anything like she expected it to. Before the coronavirus disruption ever happened, Brenna had an online ASL class in which she learned that online learning isn’t her preference.
“She just wasn’t thriving in that environment,” Jennifer explained.
Knowing that, it was a blow to Brenna to find out all of her classes would be online during this time. Fortunately some are easier done remotely than others. Art and fashion, for example, remain hands-on.
Hagan, who is 13 years old and in sixth grade, was homeschooled her fourth grade year. That gave her a slightly different perspective going into this phase of online learning. She appreciates some of the flexibility that the current setup affords — even little things like eating a later breakfast than her siblings.
Paxton is 11 years old and in fifth grade. She and Hagan both used Google Classroom often even when classes were held in the school building. It made for a relatively easy transition to using it from home.
At 7 years old, first grader Evie had a different experience.
“I learned very quickly with Evie that she thrives on the structure of school,” Jennifer said. “The transition from that structure to this has been a little bit hard for her.”
Before online schooling got started, Jennifer had Evie write out a list of everything she does throughout a typical day at school. Now at the start of each day, Jennifer has a list of tasks for Evie to get done to help provide a bit more structure.
Some classes require more ingenuity from the teachers and students than others. For P.E. classes there are lists of exercises and apps to help the kids stay active. Paxton still practices her flute and Hagan her trombone. For music class, there are music videos and packets with the lyrics for students to sing along. Evie had an art assignment in which she had to create a color wheel with items found around the house.
Across the board, Jennifer said, the teachers have been flexible and easy to contact when there are questions.
Though he’s just a preschooler, Archie has had his share of adjustments to make too. It’s hard for him to understand why he needs to do his schoolwork at home, but Dragon’s Wagon Preschool director Marcia Walter is doing her part to help the littlest students keep learning in their new environments.
She posts videos and story time for the preschoolers, and Archie has kept busy with a packet of activities to work on as well. Beyond that, though, he’s been excited to have his siblings around during the day.
With all the extra time at home, Jennifer and Scott have been looking for other educational opportunities for their kids outside of the online schooling. Already they’ve learned about cars, gardening and baking bread.
At lunchtime, Jennifer has challenged herself to let go of some of the control by allowing the kids to make their own lunches, giving them yet another nontraditional learning opportunity.
The family owns a nearby house that they’re remodeling, and they’ve spent some of the extra time working on the house and doing yardwork. They’ve chopped wood for a neighbor and cleaned up the local playground. On days when the weather is nice, they get to spend a lot more time outdoors, playing, exercising and making art.
Education — whether formal or informal — is only part of the equation, though. The kids miss seeing their friends and have been finding ways to keep in touch from a distance using their phones. They also miss going to the park and visiting their grandparents, Jerry and Sue Cooper, in Holyoke after school.
They too are finding ways to stay connected, though, be it dropping off cat food, waving from the car, or supplying 25-pound bags of sugar and flour for the kids’ baking adventures.
Within the immediate family, everyone’s embraced this opportunity to play board games and card games and to generally connect with one another in ways that they couldn’t before.
“I like having them home, honestly. I really do. I’m selfishly just loving having them here,” Jennifer said.