Local parents adapt as remote schooling upends routines

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Courtesy of Ania Mitros
Local families are finding ways for students to learn from home. Ania Mitros’ three children, above, take part in an art lesson she created for them.

Between working part time at El Camino Hospital, teaching at Mission College, parenting a 7-year-old and being pregnant with her second child, Noori Khadem already had her hands full. Then COVID-19 came.

Now, her workplace is on the front lines of the pandemic, both Mission College and her daughter’s elementary school have moved online and her birth plans are in flux.

“I’m teaching Zoom classes, I’m going into the hospital, I’m navigating my daughter’s Zoom classes,” Khadem said. “So, it’s quite hectic.”

Khadem, who works in pharmacy operations, grew up in Los Altos and now lives with her husband and daughter about five minutes from the house she grew up in.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a wholesale change to the way she and her family live their lives. There have been ups and downs. Some days, Khadem said she feels lucky to have her home and garden, live near work and be able to teach online. But other days feel daunting, filled with unrelenting work at home.

That’s a position many parents are finding themselves in. With schools and child care providers closed for over two months, parents are having to fill more roles than ever before.

Pivoting parents

For Ania Mitros and her husband, teaching their three children from home has meant both scaling back to working half-time. Her husband works for Waymo and was able to take advantage of a policy allowing parents of young children to reduce their hours. Mitros works at a small startup that agreed to accommodate her moving to part-time work.

“It’s hard. I think if we were trying to work full time, somebody would be going crazy,” Mitros said. “It would be either the child being neglected or it would be the parent getting no sleep, but I think something would be on the verge of breaking.”

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Courtesy of Ania Mitros
Ania Mitros' children work on a science lesson. Mitros found science lessons originally intended for homeschoolers that she used with her kids at home.

Instead, she and her husband are juggling teaching their kids while working part time from home. Her two older children attend Landels Elementary School in the Mountain View Whisman School District, with her youngest preparing to start kindergarten in the fall.

When schools first closed, the district sent home packets of work for students to do. Mitros said it seemed “more like something that was thrown together to keep kids occupied than an actual, thoughtful curriculum,” adding that she understands schools didn’t have much advance notice of the closures or opportunity to prepare.

Faced with three children stuck at home, Mitros and her husband decided to create their own curriculum and routine. They found science lessons originally intended for homeschoolers and are using Khan Academy for math. An aunt who is a computer science professor is teaching the kids programming virtually and Mitros is conducting art lessons. Her kids are also doing music lessons over Zoom.

As time went on, the district rolled out its own virtual lessons and online classes. However, Mitros’ family was already in a routine and decided not to fully switch over, though her two older kids are taking part in certain activities, including Zoom classes with their teachers.

Particular obstacles

For Laryssa Polika-Engle, the school closures have posed a particular challenge because her son, a sixth-grader at Crittenden Middle School in Mountain View, has ADHD and is struggling with remote learning.

Many of the online tools move too slowly for her son, and classes over Zoom don’t work for him. Instead, he thrives in an in-person classroom setting with a teacher and paper textbook.

Although Polika-Engle said the teachers are doing their best and have been willing to work with her family, the resources available have been limited as the district tries to implement distance learning.

“I understand that there’s an order of operations, but I don’t want my kid to fall through the cracks either,” Polika-Engle said.

She’s been aiming to do short 20-minute bursts of work with her son, focusing on math and English language arts.

“As long as he’s doing some reading, as long as he’s doing some writing, I’m not going to push him in a way that he can’t win at,” Polika-Engle said.

Both she and her husband had been working full time, but she was recently laid off. Trying to juggle everything has sometimes left Polika-Engle experiencing a sense of grief and guilt, feeling like she can’t give anything 100%.

Khadem has also felt internal pressure to ensure her daughter is getting her personal and academic needs met.

“It puts a lot of pressure on me mentally,” Khadem said. “Am I fulfilling her the way her friends were, the way her teacher was, the way the after-school program was?”

Her daughter attends the French American School of Silicon Valley, which Khadem said has done a “wonderful” job of switching online. Her teachers conduct classes virtually, with her art teacher posting prerecorded tutorials. Even so, the school closure has meant she and her husband are balancing work and school.

Rolling out a routine

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Courtesy of Barb Scanlon
Barb Scanlon’s fourth-grader Kellon practices music from home.

For Barb Scanlon, who has a fourth-grader at Springer School and a fifth-grader at Los Altos Christian Schools, the first couple of weeks were a little chaotic, but now they have settled into a routine. Her family has created a daily schedule they try to stick to, including a morning walk before getting on the computer.

Fellow Springer parent Brandon Stroy agreed that finding time to both do school work and get exercise outside has been important. He’s also used a whiteboard to record the tasks his two children are working on.

“The hardest part for them, I think, is not seeing their friends, more so than the school work,” Stroy said.

Similarly, Scanlon said her kids have found ways to stay connected, chatting with friends over Zoom and playing an online game. In the evenings, her family also takes walks and can wave to neighbors from across the street.

Both Scanlon and Stroy said the Los Altos School District has done a good job setting up distance learning, with online classes beginning shortly after the closure. Scanlon said her son’s fourth-grade teacher has been particularly good, finding fun activities to shake things up and keep kids engaged.

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Courtesy of Hollie Halpin
Hollie Halpin's four children have been completing their schoolwork from home.

“She just has really gone the extra mile,” Scanlon said. “I’m not sure if she’s sleeping, but she’s really keeping them engaged.”

Bullis Charter School mom Hollie Halpin similarly said she’s been impressed with how her school has pivoted to online learning. Her four children are still getting instruction from all of their teachers, including in PE, art, music and drama.

Having four kids and two adults all in the house at once can still be hard, though. According to Halpin, finding a quiet place for everyone to work is a perennial challenge. And though she is working to support each of her kids, Halpin said she knows it isn’t the same as being in the classroom.

“I’m trying my best, but I’m not their teacher,” she said. “It’s not the same.”

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