I have a new pen pal, and she’s obsessed with cheetahs
November 8, 2020
The first letter showed up on my keyboard Wednesday.
“Do you want to be pen pals, Dad?” my third grader wrote in red ink. “That’s when I write a letter to you before school and you write one back.”
How could I say no? Parlie’s been talking about participating in a pen pal program at school. She’ll partner with a peer at another school and they’ll exchange letters regularly.
I was glad she wanted to test the water with me. Plus, it’s been a tough year for her and her two younger sisters — school disruptions during COVID-19, a baby’s on the way and we’re moving to a new town in December.
“Let’s do this,” I wrote back. “Question: Can it involve chocolate?”
A mini KitKat bar taped to an orange sticky note graced my keyboard the next morning.
“Yes Dad, we can do treats.”
Not having to sneak her Halloween candy this year has been nice. So has learning more about each other.
I have “fantastic cursive,” she writes, I should be nicer to our dog when she runs away and my hair totally looks better short.
Parlie’s hoping for a little brother we can name Cal, basketball — not volleyball — is her favorite sport and she earned lunch with her teacher for doing the right things in class last week.
She’s also obsessed with cheetahs. I can’t pin down when it happened, but it’s helping her learn.
“Do you want to see the cheetah slideshow I’m working on for class?” she wrote in a letter Friday.
How could I say no?
For 20 minutes, she scrolled through Google Slides she’s been creating in class.
“Did you know about this?” I asked my wife, who shook her head.
I didn’t even know she could create a Google Slide. And hers were jammed with information:
Cheetahs can accelerate from zero to 45 miles an hour in 2.5 seconds.
Top speed: 60-70 miles an hour.
Their bones are “very light” and they have special padding on their paws.
A single cheetah has 2,000 to 3,000 spots.
That last one didn’t seem right, so I fact checked her. It checked out.
“Any questions?” she asked after the presentation.
Tears filled her eyes as our third grader contemplated moving to a new town.
New school, new peers, new teacher. Another big changeup for Parlie during a pandemic.
My wife, Nicki, and I have only hinted at a possible move. We haven’t told Parlie or her two younger sisters that we’re purchasing a home in a nearby town. Estimated closing date: Dec. 14.
Parlie gave me the death glare when I first floated the prospect of a move months ago. It’s understandable. The school year has been hard enough for the girls, from “homeschooling” with Mom and Dad to back-and-forths between in-person, remote and hybrid learning … to less time with friends.
“It’s all your fault,” she told me through tears after a rough day.
As if things weren’t already complicated enough, we sold our house in August and moved into a temporary place across town to peruse a seller’s market. The girls miss the old neighborhood, but we’ve been driving them almost 10 miles everyday so they didn’t have to change schools. Nicki insisted on driving them when we sold the house. She knew we may find a permanent place out of town, and switching schools once in a school year would be hard enough.
Things have gotten better, but Parlie’s tears over adjusting to a new school during a pandemic struck me.
I wanted to know more about how she was holding up. We sat down together Friday and I learned a few things:
Her teacher’s been a big help.
She thrives on routine and needs her friends.
She’s still bent up about the prospect of moving.
What’s been different this school year?
They kept changing the schedule. It was hard knowing what day we were going. One day we’d get up early and the next sleep in. One week you’d have a five-day weekend, then a normal weekend.
Are you doing OK in class?
Things haven’t been that different in class. We only have to wear masks if we’re close together. Now that we’re on high risk, we wear them more, except for things like PE, music and keyboarding. Oh, and in the library.
I’m not that scared of getting corona(virus), Dad. It’s more adults and old people who get it. I think if I got it it would be more body aches and a cough. I think. Right?
What’s been the hardest part about the past few months?
Social distancing at PE, we have to separate. So nothing’s been that difficult.
We also have to get up way early because we live further away from the school now. When we lived at our old house, we could walk to school and sleep longer. Now, Nayvie (our kindergartner) goes too, so it’s more work for Mom to get everyone ready.
So probably moving was the hardest.
Dad, we aren’t moving again, are we?
How’s your schoolwork going?
It’s different because our teacher would work very fast getting four days of work into two days. It hasn’t been harder, just faster. Some kids would have to stay in for recess to do their work when we only had two days at school. Mom makes sure we do our homework, so I still got to play outside.
How are things with your friends?
Good. It hasn’t been too bad because most of my friends were in my group (when their class split).
What’s helped you the most?
My teacher, Ms. Folsom, because she’s patient and not one of those mean teachers. She’s funny and lets us have brain breaks when we have long math lessons.
Unexpectedly, I was invited to breakfast — at school
October 25, 2020
My wife and I can’t pin down exactly when it happened.
For her, it was when our 6-year-old stumbled out of her bedroom at 7 a.m. last Tuesday, rubbed the sleep from her eyes and told us she wanted to go to school.
For me, it was our sassy kindergartener’s unexpected invitation for me to join her and her sisters for breakfast at school.
More on the cuisine later.
Sometime over the last two weeks, our three elementary-aged daughters slipped into a routine for school.
It took months, but I don’t blame them. Since September, the girls have navigated the most uncertain school year of our lives: “homeschooling” with Mom and Dad; all-out mutinies; back-and-forths between in-person, remote and hybrid learning.
I’m pretty sure our kindergartener, Nayvie, thinks masks are a normal part of school.
“You don’t have to wear it in the car,” I told her on a morning drive last week.
“I like it, Dad.”
Consistency is crucial with the little ones, Nicki and I have learned. Or relearned. We’re coming off three straight weeks of fully in-person learning at their school.
They’re finally getting more out of it, including some of the weird stuff.
“Did you know wombat poop is square?” my third grader, Parlie, asked me randomly the other day.
She gathered the tidbit from National Geographic — something she enjoys reading at school.
“Stop right there — I hate math,” said Nayvie, who’s learning to add numbers for the first time.
School breakfast is apparently another hit. Last Monday’s 8 a.m. menu: fruit cocktail, apple sauce, breakfast pizza, milk.
White gravy in place of tomato sauce wasn’t half bad. Chocolate milk’s always a hit. I helped Emerie finish her applesauce, and I’m pretty sure no one touched their fruit.
Next time, it’s Nicki’s turn.
We’re grateful to have school these days. We watched last week as a teacher “sickout” kept thousands of West Ada students home for two days.
As a former teacher, I empathize with educators hesitant to get sick as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Idaho. As a parent, I feel for families who have to juggle jobs and kids who are stuck at home.
Saturday night lights, stadium half empty at kickoff
October 18, 2020
Football fans filed into the stadium at Shelley High School this week for some Friday night lights.
Except it was Saturday, and about half of the seats for the Shelley Russets varsity game against the visiting Blackfoot Broncos were still empty at kickoff.
The delayed game and spotty attendance were byproducts of high school football season fraught with limited crowds, travel and opponents.
Blackfoot missed its last game after a coach tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, seven of the team’s offensive linemen had to quarantine after possible exposure to the virus. No practices. No games.
Shelley’s coaches agreed to push the game to Saturday, so the players could meet their two-week quarantine requirement and suit up for the matchup.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s waning attendance was actually up from past games, Shelley Superintendent Chad Williams told me just before half time. “We’ve been at about 40 percent capacity.”
Both Blackfoot and Shelley have capped ticket sales for past games to keep crowd sizes down during the pandemic.
Blackfoot athletic director Cody Shelley estimated an attendance drop of some 700 people per game from last year’s Friday nights at his home field.
Lifting restrictions for Saturday’s game helped the crowds swell to well over half capacity on both sides of the field by the third quarter.
“The goal tonight is to keep attendance low enough that if everyone separated they’d have at least six feet between them,” said Williams.
The district missed that target, and some fans showed up with added precautions of their own. One couple cheered through face masks on lawn chairs on the track.
Shelley High School vice principal Courtney Markham acknowledged the hurt COVID-19 has put on fall sports, but she stressed that “kids are resilient.”
“They are still finding ways to have fun,” she said.
Moments earlier, Shelley’s cheerleaders finished a COVID-themed cheer: “Quarantine, q-q-q-quarantine, back up, back up.”
A banner below the student section ruffled in the wind: “We searched Google and still couldn’t find any competition.”
Shelley’s athletes and coaches have been fortunate to avoid a potential outbreak, Williams said. “We’ve dodged a bullet.”
He wondered what challenges indoor sports would bring in the coming months.
‘There’s been nothing like it’: Our kid’s teacher talks about COVID’s impacts
October 11, 2020
The muffled chants of first graders filled the air in Melissa Hunt’s classroom Wednesday afternoon.
Seated on color-coded dots on the floor to ensure social distancing, the 24 masked 6-year-olds followed Hunt through a sing along about the sounds of nature: owls hooting, wolves howling, waterfalls falling.
Despite the masks and strategic spacing, the activity provided some normalcy to a teacher immersed in the most abnormal school year of her 32-year career.
“There’s been nothing like it,” Hunt said of COVID-19 after the bell rang.
Last week marked the second time in nearly two months Hunt had all of her students in class for a full week, including my daughter, Emerie. Other weeks, kids have attended in cohorts — or not at all.
The back-and-forth between remote and in-person learning threw my family into a vertiginous spell of tears, fears and force in recent weeks. From “homeschooling” to all-out mutinies, the mashup has crushed our hopes for a routine during a global pandemic.
As a former teacher, I’ve thought about the plight of educators grappling with the same state of affairs.
So have some of you.
“I feel your pain,” EdNews reader Barbie Elleson wrote in response to my kindergartener’s reluctance to go to school in recent weeks. “Teachers are doing their best.”
“(It’s) such a hard time to be a student, a parent, or an educator,” wrote teacher and EdNews reader Valorie Atkins.
Points well taken. I wanted to know more, so I sat down with Hunt last week to gauge the impacts back-to-school 2020 has had on one of my own kid’s teachers.
The struggle has been mutual, she assured me. “Teachers are known for being flexible, but this has been a lot.”
Those frustrations stemming from a lack of routine? They pop up at school, too, Hunt said.
She recalled one students’ recent bout with misplacing his mask.
“I hate COVID!” he blurted after a fruitless search of the classroom.
Other challenges stem from efforts to adjust to a pandemic fraught with uncertainty. Hunt recalled spending hours installing a robotic camera capable of following her around the classrooms during remote lessons — only to be told by the district that it threatened students’ privacy and not to use it.
Then there’s the array of scheduling changes accompanying the first weeks of school.
Increased local cases of COVID-19 prompted our district to start school with remote learning. Two weeks in, the kids were back in school — for one week, before shifting to a hybrid model. Students are now back full-time for who knows how long.
Ensuring that her schedule aligns with things like PE and music time is an ongoing challenge, Hunt said.
But hybrid learning’s impact has been a bigger disruption. Under the district’s hybrid model, Hunt and her colleagues aren’t allowed to cover new material when kids are at home. That means students learn new things two days a week and review that same material with their parents the other two days.
“It’s like getting half a year of learning,” said Hunt.
That challenge has yielded some positive outcomes — and a sense of urgency.
“There’s just no room to waste time now,” said Hunt.
This week, she cracked into lessons on counting money and reading clocks — things she wouldn’t normally get to for months.
Another unexpected plus: finding more humor in difficult situations.
She recalled another student who recently “lost” her mask, which was fastened securely around her neck.
“Sometimes you just have to laugh,” Hunt said.
Teachers, how has back to school been for you? I’d love to hear from you at [email protected]
School starts in 30 minutes and our kindergartener won’t eat her eggs, or brush her teeth, or let my wife comb her hair.
Despite some strides in helping Nayvie learn at home in recent weeks, she relapsed Tuesday with an all-out rebellion over going to school.
I don’t blame her. Increased cases of COVID-19 prompted our school district to recently adopt a partially at-home learning model. For the last two weeks, Nayvie and her two older sisters have been on schedules to attend school Monday and Tuesday and learn at home with two working parents the rest of the week.
The back-and-forth has pulverized any sense of routine for the girls and complicated an already hectic back-to-school season.
We’re a month into the school year and still struggling — and could be for some time as the coronavirus pandemic ravages our hope for normalcy.
And now it’s my “turn” to convince Nayvie to get ready and in the car, my wife, Nicki, tells me.
I start with a softer approach.
“It’s like pulling a tooth,” I tell Nayvie, who lost her first one weeks ago. “A little scary at first but you’re glad when it’s over.”
I could tell the comparison fell flat when she crawled under the table, insisting that she wouldn’t be going.
We’re not above the occasional use of force in our home. I snatched her from under the table and held her tight while Nicki finished getting her ready.
Fifteen minutes later, the girls were off to school. They barely arrived on time.
Our frenetic schedule augments the struggle. And we learned Friday that Nicki’s grandmother had died. Nayvie spent Monday — a school day — at a funeral with her sisters and not with a friend she made at school last week.
Fortunately, their teachers agreed to let them attend class with a different cohort on Wednesday — something Nicki and I kept from Nayvie but slipped to Emerie, who exploded Wednesday morning at the news.
She screamed. She kicked. She wept during breakfast.
She went to school.
She was mostly calm by the time I walked her to class. Then, a hiccup.
“I’m scared,” she whispered at her classroom door, fighting tears.
I hugged her, nudged her into the classroom and walked away.
Like pulling a tooth.
We’re not the only ones grappling with the back-and-forth of remote and in-person learning. At least two other Idaho school districts — Idaho Falls and Ririe — last week temporarily moved students from in-person to remote learning.
Other schedules are more complex than ours.
“We are preparing for two days a week in school, one day virtual and two days of ‘half virtual,'” EdNews reader Alex Sloan wrote in response to our struggle to get the girls learning at home last week.
Our district is set to bring students back full-time this week. With cases of COVID-19 climbing across East Idaho, who knows how long that will last.
How’s it going in your household? Keep your thoughts and suggestions coming on Facebook or by emailing me at [email protected]
Last week, increased cases of COVID-19 prompted our school district to adopt a partially at-home learning model — after just one week of a full return to the classroom. For at least another week, our girls will be in school Monday and Tuesday and at home with two working parents Wednesday through Friday.
Who knows what happens after that.
The back-and-forth is just one more disruption to our 5-year-old’s introduction to public education. Aside from a global pandemic, we’re expecting a baby in December. And we recently moved out of our home of five years and into a rental.
But we have learned things since then. So have their teachers.
The learning packets we received Tuesday were much clearer and more concise. Our third-grader did nearly all of her online reading assignments on her own in the bedroom Wednesday.
Then there’s Nicki, who is by far better at making time to help the girls than I am. As I write this, she’s sounding out words with Nayvie on the couch.
It was Nicki’s idea to let the girls venture out to other parts of the house to do some of their work — a game changer for our 6-year-old, Emerie, who’s endless energy makes her a tough wrangle for at-home learning. (Her favorite subject at school is recess, she declared Monday.)
On Wednesday, she worked diligently through a timed math exercise on our bed.
I checked her forehead, then let her catch grasshoppers outside for an hour.
So we’re surviving all the uncertainty, thanks largely to Nicki — and jobs that allow us to work from home.
The situation is more dire for others.
For my day job at Idaho Education News, I met a family Wednesday with a first grader and kindergartener at home.
When I knocked on the door, the little ones were watching TV with Grandma. The effects of COVID-19 prompted the family to keep the kids home for the year, she told me. But “not much” learning was happening with both parents working outside the home to keep up on bills.
I met the kids’ mom later that day. She admitted things are “rough” but didn’t want to talk more because “I’m afraid people will judge us if they knew.”
Everyone’s experience is different. Feel free to share yours with me at [email protected]
Our kids’ school was in full swing last week. We weren’t.
September 20, 2020
We pulled up to our daughters’ elementary school at 8:17 a.m. on Wednesday.
“We’re seven minutes late, Dad,” my 9-year-old, Parlie, informed me, as if seven minutes were two hours and as if my wife and I hadn’t spent 20 minutes fighting our 6-year-old to get dressed and in the car an hour earlier.
Last week, our kindergartener threw fits about going to school. On Wednesday, our first grader revolted for reasons of her own.
Boy issues, of all things.
Apparently, one likes her and doesn’t care who knows it. By midweek, Emerie, who shuns attention, was over Little Peppé Le Pew’s enticements.
“Boys sometimes say funny things,” my wife, Nicki, told her Wednesday morning, promising to talk to her teacher. “You just have to ignore it.”
“Or kick them in the kneecap,” I muttered from the next room.
“What was that?” Nicki said.
School in our East Idaho district was back in full swing last week. But with the uncertainty of a global pandemic, our recent move to a rental and a baby on the way, we weren’t.
Our three daughters’ first day back was mostly normal. But three weeks in, we’re struggling to establish the type of routine that nearly eight hours of school per day demands.
We solicited advice from EdNews readers last week. Some feedback helped:
“Don’t send her off to face it alone,” Cynthia Stretch wrote in response to our kindergartener’s struggle. “Stick with her, get ready and get out the door.”
“Stop negotiating. You don’t negotiate with a 5-year-old,” wrote Brandi Griggs, after reading that I used the prospect of an afternoon milkshake, among other things, to incentivize our kindergartener to get out of bed after a long week of moving all our stuff.
Other feedback didn’t fit our parenting style or family situation:
“I once took my son to school with no shoes because he left them at the neighbors,” Griggs also wrote. “He faced the consequences of no recess all day.”
“Keep them home and read to them, cook with them, make collections of rocks and bugs, jump in puddles, name the plants on a walk, watch the Magic School Bus snuggled on the couch together, learn letters by making them out of spaghetti … ,” wrote Jane Emery.
We’re still feeling out our situation. In addition to taking turns walking our two little ones to class each day last week, Nicki and I firmed up our approach to bedtime.
The routine we’re beating into their heads starting at 7:30 p.m.: Brush your teeth, get a drink, go to the bathroom, get in bed and don’t get out unless the house is on fire.
No ifs, ands or milkshakes.
One thing we’re telling ourselves: School in the age of coronavirus is different from district to district, school to school, student to student. Kids are coming and going at different times, learning through different means. And while one approach might help one student or family adjust, it might not work for another.
Finding out what does work during a pandemic can be tricky. As 2020 would have it, our district on Thursday moved to a partially at-home learning model — after just one week of a full return to the classroom. For the next two weeks, the girls will be in school Monday and Tuesday and at home with two working parents for the rest of the week.
Homeschooling — if you could call it that — was a struggle for us last spring. We’ll see what next week brings.
How do you get a kindergartener to like school during a pandemic?
September 13, 2020
It’s 7:20 a.m. on a Thursday, and our kindergartener, Nayvie, won’t get out of bed.
“Your turn,” my visibly frustrated wife, Nicki, tells me after 10 minutes of negotiating with the most stubborn of our three little girls.
I start in with the bribes: a milkshake, a trip to the candy store, a pony.
She doesn’t flinch, insisting for the umpteenth time that she’s not going.
Then, some movement. She gets out of bed! She walks through the hallway … and crawls right into her sister’s bed.
An irregular start to the school year during a global pandemic has made getting our 5-year-old off to school the day’s most challenging task.
Like some other Idaho school districts, ours pushed the first full week of in-person learning back two weeks, compliments of COVID-19. Our three daughters went one day their first week and two days their second week.
Last week marked her first full week back — or it was supposed to, anyway.
We also sold our home of five years and moved into a rental last week.
And we’re expecting a baby in December.
Between visits to the gynecologist, moving all our stuff and house shopping in a seller’s market, Nayvie can’t tell a Saturday from a Tuesday.
Luckily for her, there was no school Monday. And a rowdy windstorm knocked out power across our school district Monday night, prompting local school closures Tuesday. We negotiated and bribed Wednesday, but she’d grown smarter — and more stubborn — by Thursday. (Our district is on a four-day school week, so Fridays are a non-issue.)
We couldn’t get ourselves to force her Thursday, so she didn’t go.
With Nicki and I both working from home, we did what we thought to be the best thing for her: make it the most boring day of her life.
Around noon, we had a brief standoff:
Her: I want to watch a movie.
Me: TV’s not working right now.
Her: I want to play on the computer.
Me: Internet’s down.
Her: I want to go to the park.
Me: You can go outside with the dog.
Hopefully she learned something. I don’t know how many times we heard her say “I’m bored” on Thursday.
After school, our third grader, Parlie, floated an idea to help the situation. “We need to wake her up at 6 a.m. and let her lay in bed for an hour, since she likes it so much.”
Back to school has been mostly normal for us. It hasn’t been for others.
September 7, 2020
Our 8-year-old pulled a surgical-style mask out of her backpack after school Tuesday.
Her “necklace mask,” as she called it, consisted of tiny rubber bands she’d braided together and attached to each end of the mask’s elastic straps.
“So it stays around your neck when you’re not using it,” she said, slipping it over her head and skipping off to her bedroom.
Necklace mask? I thought. Not your typical classroom project.
Then again, 2020’s not a typical year. Like many of you, the coronavirus has reshaped my family’s situation in numerous ways, from toilet paper shortages in March to a six-month summer vacation with the kids — sans the vacation part.
So my wife, Nicki, and I were surprised when our three daughters’ recent return to their elementary school wasn’t as abnormal as we’d anticipated.
I shared our experience last week and watched as reaction on Facebook reinforced how utterly atypical back-to-school 2020-21 has been for so many Idaho families.
“Where are these kids even from?” Courtney Lynch, a fourth grade teacher in the Treasure Valley, asked in reference to our children’s return to school.
Another parent put it more bluntly: “East Idaho’s experience is sooooo dif than the Treasure Valley.”
Point well taken. We’re from Blackfoot, an East Idaho community where fewer confirmed cases of COVID-19 compared to areas like the Treasure Valley have made way for in-person learning, with certain safety precautions in place.
Families throughout the Treasure Valley and other communities have had to weather a global pandemic while trying to tackle remote learning.
“My third grader feels bored and isolated doing online school,” Boise parent Chryssa Rich wrote in response to our daughters’ experience returning to school. “It doesn’t even feel like school to him.”
Uncertainty about the collective effort to slow the virus accompanies the struggle for parents like Rich. “I really hope that Ada County residents can stay on this path of decreasing cases so we can go back to school,” she said.
That could happen in the coming weeks for many families in the Treasure Valley, where the area’s biggest districts are revisiting plans, based on local health district recommendations, that could allow kids back into classrooms.
But uncertainty doesn’t end once kids are back in school.
Since schools in our health district returned in recent weeks, three of eight area counties — Bear Lake, Caribou and Power — have gone from a minimal to a moderate risk level for transmission of COVID-19. Leaders in Butte County last week designated the community a high-risk area.
Our district is still at a minimal risk for spread, local health officials say.
But who knows for how long.
Since allowing four days of in-person instruction in the last two weeks, at least one student has tested positive for COVID-19. Six others are now in quarantine, according to our superintendent.
What happens when kids return full-time starting this week?
With our girls each still learning to read to at least some degree, we’re hopeful they can keep going.