This graduation will not be forgotten
After almost three months of quarantine and online school, my son finally graduated. It wasn’t what we were expecting, but it was very meaningful.
The graduation began in the morning, when our family sat together to watch the ceremony online. The principal congratulated the seniors, the valedictorians shared jokes and memories of their four years, then each graduating senior’s photo and future plans were listed on the screen. It was fun to listen to my son talk about his friends and the wide variety of schools the students planned to attend.
A few hours later, we loaded the family into the car and headed to the school. We were told to drive a loop around the school anytime during a two-hour window. We made the mistake of thinking the line would be shorter, if we showed up later. After three and a half hours of inching along in our car, we finally made it to the front of the high school and the graduation entrance.
The long wait wasn’t too bad, with staff members, teachers, coaches and student council members spaced out around the high school, cheering and saying farewell. The seniors were handed gift bags with T-shirts, handmade face masks and other small presents. The walls of the school were decorated with posters of congratulations and encouragement. Because we moved so slowly, my son took the opportunity to get out of the car and take a few pictures with seniors in nearby cars.
At the front of the school, we were ushered out of our car and through the halls of the school into the gymnasium. As my son walked to the stage, a member of the administration greeted him with a warm elbow bump and sent him up the stairs. Dressed in his cap and gown, he received his diploma and we took pictures from a safe distance, well over six feet away.
A few months ago, I didn’t think a graduation ceremony would be possible. My son didn’t think it would happen either. He wouldn’t even go to the school in April to pick up his cap and gown. I’m glad we were both wrong (and I picked it up for him).
I am so grateful the high school made this graduation happen and helped our family celebrate this important educational milestone. This was a graduation that will not be forgotten.
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Spring AP testing experiences have been stressful for teens
Today was very stressful for my daughter. She took an AP biology test, in her bedroom.
Normally, she would have taken the test at school, after two semesters of in-class instruction and practice tests. Instead, she spent the past two months reading, highlighting, studying and learning biology from an AP study guide book purchased online, at home, by herself. There were no study groups for her to attend or classroom discussions about the material she struggled to understand.
My daughter is not unique. Students everywhere have been dealing with similar challenges surrounding learning and studying for AP tests.
Thankfully, the College Board adjusted expectations and testing protocol as schools across the country shut down. By the second week of April, students were emailed information about the new testing format.
The new AP testing procedures include;
- Spring AP tests dates from May 11-22.
- Each subject test is administered at the same time, all around the world.
- Most tests only have 1-2 essay questions (with a few exams using a different format).
- All exams are open book/open notes.
- Students have 45 minutes to complete the exam.
- Students have 5 minutes to submit their answers after each section.
Fortunately for my daughter, her “take-at-home” AP test wasn’t until the second week of testing. Three of her friends took their AP tests before her, with bad results.
Two of her friends had the exact same bad experience. They each finished their test in under 45 minutes, but when they tried to turn in their answers, the system was overloaded and wouldn’t process. They both continued attempting to submit their answers, until the time ran out. Within minutes of their failed test submissions, they were informed that they would need to retest in June.
Her other friend took his AP test this morning. In an apparent attempt to fix the problem of numerous students submitting test answers simultaneously, students were told they could submit their answers via email. When he attempted to copy and paste his answers to the College Board test submission box, he was unable to attach his entire answer. With time running out, he was only able to submit a portion of his answers, all because of a software glitch.
These stories left my daughter extremely worried.
When she finished her test this afternoon, she walked into the kitchen with a smile on her face. She was able to take the test and submit her answers, without a problem. Now she just has to wait for her score. I’m glad her test didn’t end in tears over a software glitch.
Isn’t this pandemic fun?
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My family’s struggles during stay-home orders
Most days, I try to focus on the good moments; the sleeping in, the hours of free time to cook, the numerous driveway basketball games and the occasional family walk.
But today, no one happened to be using the computer, so I decided to be real and raw and share what my family is struggling with.
I’ll begin with my college boys:
My oldest is trying to complete 16 credit hours at Boise State, all online. Some teachers have reduced the workload, while other teachers expect their students to learn at the same capacity. His American Sign Language class has been especially challenging, without the classroom environment. His weekdays are filled with stressful online learning and on the weekends he works part-time at the hospital, knowing that every shift significantly increases his health risk.
My next oldest is struggling financially. When his college campus closed, he moved home. He was working a minimum wage job, until a fellow employee’s family member tested positive. Two weeks later, his brother (my oldest) was sent home from work for being symptomatic. Due to his proximity to potential cases, he has not been able to work. Unfortunately, he still owes three more months of rent, for an apartment he does not and will not live in. His landlord is constantly calling and asking if he has received his stimulus money, so he can pay rent. Unfortunately, my college kids have not gotten any stimulus money and there’s a good chance college students won’t get any money.
Next, my high school kids:
My senior has been going through a wave of emotions. He hasn’t been able to make a decision about college in the fall (will it all be online, should he stay close to home, will he be able to get a job to pay for tuition? etc.). His senior prom was canceled and he knows the chances of having a real graduation are slim to none. He spends hours every day working on his remaining concurrent credit classes, knowing he can choose a pass/fail grade at the end of the semester. Some days he smiles and jokes with everyone, and other days he wants to stay in his room all day.
My sophomore spent the last few weeks redoing assignments to bring her grades up to a 4.0 GPA. Now that her grades are all A’s, she has no reason to do any more school work. Nothing she does can improve her grades, or worsen them. She has an upcoming AP biology test, so she spends a few hours everyday studying for that. She already set up Zoom meetings with school and college counselors to map out her remaining high school classes. Her self motivation has been crucial because I’m not capable of keeping up with each one of my kids’ educational needs (I’m focusing on their physical and emotional needs).
My middle school kids:
My eighth grader is so … Very. Bored. Every Monday we walk to the nearby school to pick up his packet of school work and come home and organize the papers by subject. He prefers to work on one subject a day and complete the week’s assignments. I try to block off two hours a day for school, but it usually doesn’t take him that long. His work isn’t stellar, but he knows it doesn’t matter. Most of his teachers don’t require, or even ask for, the assignments to be submitted. I would love it if he spent 20 minutes a day reading, but we don’t have any books at his level or access to a public library.
My sixth grader loves school. She loves being social, talking to her friends and playing sports. This quarantine is driving her (and by association, the whole family) crazy. She wants to understand every lesson and complete every assignment, but no one in our house happens to know a lot about the history of Athens or how the ocean currents affect climate. Her two hours of school almost always require an available teacher/tutor. I do my best and sometimes her older siblings try to help, but most of the time they ask her why she even cares about school.
And finally, my second grader:
Her school packet is beautifully detailed. There is a suggested schedule that mirrors the schedule the school used, but we haven’t even tried to follow it. Most days we pick a few papers for her to work on, but she gets burnt out quickly. Her little mind is constantly trying to grasp what is happening in the world and focusing on learning has been overwhelming.
When I tucked her into bed last night, she looked up and said, “I really miss my teacher and all my friends. When will this be over?”
I wish I knew.
Someone needs my computer, so I guess I’ll go make a lasagna.
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We recognized the need for structure and education
After four weeks of school closures, the Idaho School Board voted to keep schools closed for the remainder of the school year. This was difficult, but expected news.
The first two weeks without school felt like an odd vacation. We relaxed, slept in, played outside, read a lot of news, baked, watched movies, played board games, cooked together and talked about the future.
By the start of the third week, our family (mostly me and my husband), recognized the need for some structure and education. Each one of my kids’ schools (elementary, middle and high school) has been regularly sending me emails about remote learning plans, but they are not scheduled to begin until week five.
We couldn’t wait another two weeks for the school to send out assignments, so we crafted a family schedule:
9-11 a.m.: wake up (this ‘early’ wake up time is a real struggle for my teenagers), eat breakfast, complete morning chores and get ready for the day.
11-1 p.m.: school work *without phones: Work on unfinished school assignments, write and color a Covid Time Capsule packet (perfect for my 2nd grader), reading (This is especially difficult because the libraries are all closed. Fortunately, we happen to have The Princess Bride, Animal Farm, poems by Shel Silverstein and Harry Potter on our bookshelf) and writing projects (book reports, poems, and journal prompts- not very popular).
1-2 p.m.: lunchtime and clean up.
2-4 p.m.: family projects: yard work, house cleaning, coloring the girls hair pink and purple, badminton/basketball/croquet tournaments, planting flowers/garden, long walks, sewing face masks, etc.
4-6 p.m.: alone time (everyone’s favorite time).
6-7 p.m.: dinner. We have been trying lots of new recipes and I’ve been teaching my kids how to cook and bake foods like; no-knead bread, chicken pillows, cajun shrimp and corn, Texas sheet cake and Swiss steak (a family recipe, let me know if you want it).
7-8 p.m.: family educational show/movie (including episodes of Explained, documentaries like RBG and WWII in color, Planet Earth, How it’s Made and historical movies like Hidden Figures).
10-midnight: bedtime (I know we should all go to bed earlier, but this leaves plenty of time for snuggles, late night talks, snacks, Xbox gaming and stress free bed times).
Some days everything flows perfectly and other days no one seems to be happy.
One thing is for sure, I really miss my kids’ teachers!
What does your new daily schedule look like? What is your family doing for education?
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My new normal as a mom
It has been over a week since coronavirus changed our lives — dramatically.
Our new normal means no school, no sports, no entertainment, no birthday parties, and no date nights. It means staying at home with lots of boredom, sibling fights, constant media updates, confusion and frustration.
As a mom, my new normal also includes concerns about food supply, my kids’ lack of formal education and potential sickness with inadequate healthcare. I’m concerned about my college son who works at the hospital, my high school senior’s graduation, and the long term effects this shut down will have on the economy.
Those are my fears. That is the ugly side of living in a pandemic.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining.
I have never had more uninterrupted family time. My kids spend hours playing and building with Legos. Our family goes on hikes and walks together. We organize, plan and cook meals together. We bake together. We deep clean the house together (not my kids favorite).
I finally have time for my daughters’ to french braid my hair, apply face masks, paint nails, practice yoga moves and learn Tik Tok dances (still working on the last one).
We all miss social interaction, so we set up virtual play dates. My elementary daughter spent one hour coloring with a friend via FaceTime today. My son texts his friends to schedule times to play online video games together. We use apps, like Marco Polo, to video chat with friends and family. I call my parents more frequently.
We sleep in. We watch movies.
I don’t know when life will return to normal, but for now, I’m trying to balance the negativity with the perks of living a new unstructured life.
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Are you sending your child to school?
Update: The West Ada School District closed schools a few hours after this was published.
I have spent more time reading the news this past week, than ever before. I regularly check CNN, the Idaho Statesman, Apple News, Google News, IdahoEdNews.org, CDC and the World Health Organization. I listened to Gov. Brad Little’s press conference on Friday and have listened to multiple podcasts interviewing infectious disease specialists. I am trying to learn all I can, so I can make informed decisions for my children and my family in the wake of at least five coronavirus cases confirmed in Idaho.
Some Idaho districts and charter schools are choosing to cancel classes for the coming weeks. Today, we learned the West Ada School District will still be holding school on Monday.
I was surprised.
My kids asked me why school wasn’t cancelled. They argued, “if everyone is supposed to avoid large crowds, not attend church, and Idaho colleges have moved online, then why are we still going to school?”
Two of my kids attend a high school with over 2,000 students. Two of my kids attend a middle school with over 1,000 students. My youngest attends an elementary school with over 400 students. Each school is a large crowd.
The CDC recommends that no one attends gatherings of 50 people or more.
We’ve decided my kids will not be going to school.
Most of my kids’ friends will not be going to school.
We want to avoid exposure. We don’t want to get the virus or spread the virus (some spread might be possible before you show symptoms).
My kids are worried about the virus, but now they also are worried about missing school. They have assignments due and tests to take (including an AP test and a senior project). They are worried about high school graduation.
I hope schools make a plan for alternate types of education.
There are lots of ways for our kids to keep learning. Elementary schools could create daily packets of worksheets and reading assignments, to be picked up by the parents and returned to the schools at the end of each week. Teachers could find alternate learning methods that utilize online educational tools. Teachers could send students and parents links to the assignments. I recognize it would be a lot of work, but it is possible.
If families choose to keep their children home during this pandemic, I hope schools create plans for helping parents continue to educate their children when they are home.
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What are the struggles and benefits of a four-day school week?
Small schools across the state tend to struggle with a limited budget and teacher retention. One way to alleviate this struggle, is to shift to a four-day school week. Three schools in Eastern Idaho are planning on moving to a four-day school week this fall. Currently, there are 45 school districts and 15 charter schools already operating on a four-day week, or approximately 11 percent of Idaho students.
My kids have been part of that 11 percent.
For over nine years, my children attended school in a small district. Much to my surprise, the district switched to a four-day week when I had three kids in elementary school and one in middle school. It took all of us, the students, parents, teachers and community, a while to adjust to the four-day week. I was fortunate to have the ability to stay home with my kids, while some parents complained of the struggle to find affordable daycare.
In order to get enough classroom hours with a shorter week, the K-12 schools began at 8 a.m. and ended at 3:47 p.m. It doesn’t seem like much, but an extra hour of education every day requires a lot of brain work (for students and teachers). For my younger kids, the school days seemed especially long and they came home exhausted. Aside from the suggested 20 minutes of reading a day, the teachers tried to avoid sending homework home, so when the students finished their day, they could go home and just be kids.
My older kids who were involved in sports seemed to spend the entire day at school. So, Monday through Thursday, my kids were either totally worn out and grouchy, or not home.
There were some nice perks of a four-day week. The middle and high schools attempted to plan most of the athletic away games on Thursdays. With smaller school districts, this is really important. The athletes travel long distances to compete with other small schools and end up returning to the school around midnight, sometimes even later. With the four-day week, when the bus full of athletes and coaches returned home late on a Thursday, it did not negatively impact the next day.
There were lots of other perks to having a four-day school week, perks like: the ability to plan appointments without having to pull the kids out of school, taking the family to visit the zoo or a museum when everyone else was in school, and sleeping in. I also enjoyed the opportunity to run errands with my kids and having an extra day to get house and yard work done together.
Does your school operate on a four day week? What are the struggles and benefits your family encounters?
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How is your family discussing the coronavirus?
Now that the coronavirus is gripping the globe, it has become a topic of discussion in our home. My family regularly reads the news (Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and other forms of social media) and comes to the dinner table with loads of information and questions.
We have been tracking the outbreaks, the quarantined locations and the death rates. A few of my kids especially love to read up on the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the outbreak (all in the hopes school will be cancelled).
While I’m not too worried about the actual virus, it has brought up a lot of great conversations. We have discussed the importance of coughing into a tissue or sleeve (which seems to be quite a challenge for some of my ‘less than hygienic’ children), the need for food storage in case of a local outbreak, and the things we would do if we were stuck in our house for two weeks.
I really hope we don’t have any local outbreaks or a quarantine. If we do, my family decided we would need to buy long lasting proteins, like peanut butter and beef jerky, carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables.
When we considered being quarantined, we all agreed it would be awful. We have not come up with a good plan to keep from going crazy. Board games and the many different types of media would only be able to hold our attention for so long. We all agreed it would be OK to go outside and play games, as long as we didn’t interact with anyone else.
My youngest has been considerably worried by all of these discussions. So, to ease her fears, we have also talked about what to do in case of a zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately, we have not finalized our plan of action, because we are still in a heated debate about whether or not zombies can be killed.
What kind of discussions is your family having about the Covid-19?
Here’s a picture of some peanut butter Hershey kiss cookies, because that’s what we would be making if we needed to eat a lot of peanut butter while being quarantined in the house (assuming we have all of the other ingredients and the zombies don’t find us).
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My kids’ favorite class … by far
I have an eighth grader taking a careers class. It is by far the most influential and favorite class my kids take in middle school.
The reason this class is so great is the subject matter. Every week, the students learn about real life responsibilities and decisions. The last three projects my son worked on were:
- learning about taxes,
- credit cards and stock investments,
- planning a family vacation for four,
- and purchasing a car.
When my son came home with his investment project, he spent a considerable amount of time with his dad looking up stock prices. My son had to find companies to invest his allotted $5,000. He was required to track his ‘pretend’ earnings or losses, over the course of a month. And just like that, my son had an interest in and understanding of investing in stocks.
After working for several days planning a family vacation, my son came home exhausted and exclaimed, “taking kids on vacation is expensive!” He had planned a two week Hawaiian cruise, including meals and additional costs, right down to the Uber from the house to the airport. Unfortunately, we could not capitalize on his hard work, due to our much larger family size and incompatible trip date.
This week my son told me about the Jeep he has planned to buy. He also informed me of the importance of looking for a car with less than 50,000 miles and the best month to buy a car. (December is the best month because auto dealers are anxious to clear their lots for new inventory.)
My kids enjoy learning about all of these topics and I enjoy the excellent job the teacher does communicating with the parents. She emails regular updates (twice a month) about the topics she is teaching the students. Her emails include suggested discussion topics and questions to ask our child. Last month she sent a link to a TED talk titled, “When Money isn’t Real”, to watch as a family.
How do you talk to your kids about life skills and future planning?
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I am a big fan of community college and trade schools
I am a big fan of community college and trade schools. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the value of a bachelor’s degree, but community college can be a great stepping stone into post secondary education.
Each one of my four oldest kids have taken classes through the local community college. Some have taken concurrent credit classes through the high school and some have taken summer courses. My oldest son was able to become a Certified Nursing Assistant after taking a six-week summer course, and the qualifying exam.
Attending community college and earning his CNA helped my son tremendously. It gave him the ability to find a good paying job to cover his expenses, while he continued to pursue his education. He is still working towards his bachelor’s degree, but has considered going back to community college to earn additional certifications.
My high school daughter is considering a similar path. She is interested in the medical field and wants to complete as many undergraduate classes as she can, before graduation. By taking classes through the community college, her four-year college expenses may be significantly less.
There are a lot of jobs available to people with an associate degree or technical certificate. Here is a brief list of careers for those considering community college or trade school.
If you are trying to help your high school graduate decide what post secondary education to pursue, community college or trade school might be a good start.
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