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Class is in session: How 3 Long Island families juggle work and school at home 

Natasha Ramjit, 38, of Dix Hills, holds “class” for her children Sonia, 6, and Sachin, 4. Credit: Natasha Ramjit

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Families have been immersed in Long Island’s "new normal" for several weeks now. We checked in with three families to see how it’s going, what their coping techniques are  and whether being homebound 24/7 is as horrible as they may have imagined.  

‘They call me Miss Natasha’

Meet the family: Natasha Ramjit, 38, of Dix Hills, her husband, Ravi, 40, and their children, Sonia, 6, a first-grader, and Sachin, 4, a preschooler. The Ramjits own a medical supply business in Bayport. Ravi still goes to work; Natasha, who normally does the company’s marketing and business development, is home trying to work in between keeping the children busy.

Schedule: Ramjit holds “class” from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. “I’m not militant about it. You can’t completely recreate school. I set up two little desks in our little back den. They call me Miss Natasha.” The children will trace letters, do an art project and discuss the day’s weather. In the afternoon, they’ll do an activity, or they’ll go outside to their backyard "playground." Ramjit says she’s shocked at how fast an art project can get done. She’ll think a project will take a half-hour, "and it lasts 10 minutes. They’re like, ‘What now?’ " 
Work: “I check emails constantly throughout the day,” Ramjit says. “I’ll tell them to play together. As soon as their father walks through the door, I’m like, ‘They’re yours!’” And she works after they go to sleep.

What’s helped her cope? On March 15, Ramjit invited 20 mom friends with school-aged kids to a Facebook group she dubbed Kids At Home. It now has more than 2,000 followers who share worksheets, online activities they’ve tried, art projects and more. “It’s been very helpful just to help me get through the day,” Ramjit says.

What’s gone by the wayside? “My laundry. There is no laundry done.”  

‘I thought it was going to be horrible’

Meet the family: Karen Marotta, 42, of Port Washington, who usually commutes to Manhattan for her job handling public relations for a real estate company, and her husband, James, also 42, who normally commutes to Manhattan where he works in finance. Both are now working from home in between watching their children, Dylan, 7, a second-grader, and Elena, 4.

Schedule: “From the first day, I planned a schedule for them to keep everybody sane,” Karen says. It doesn’t always go smoothly, though — sometimes the kids melt down, and when the parents work, “there are constant interruptions all day,” Karen adds. Says James: “The 4-year-old is tough. She can’t concentrate the whole day in the house. Every activity we give her, she needs help with. She gets bored after coloring for 20 minutes.”

Work “He’s upstairs in the bedroom office where it’s quiet, and I’m downstairs in the middle of the madness,” Karen says. Her work gets done, just “at a slower rate.” Her husband will come down and give her some blocks of time in the upstairs office so she can focus, and she’s been doing work on the weekends. They also use the extra room in their house when they have conference calls; they’ve nicknamed it the "Zoom Room," James says.

What’s tough: “The hardest part of being home with the family is splitting up responsibilities,” Karen says. “I feel like I’m taking on more of the home schooling burden. I spend a couple of hours every night planning out the next day.”

What’s helped them cope? GoNoodle on YouTube. “It basically saved us,” she says. She can queue up two to three-minute exercise videos from her laptop and the kids can be in the other room watching on their TV and doing the activities such as running in place, jumping and ducking. She also is using a website called Tlsbooks.com, where she gets free worksheets for her son. “He has an insatiable appetite for math. I’m teaching him long division the way I learned, which is probably the wrong way,” she jokes.

The upside: “I’m really noting a difference with bonding with my kids and being able to see them learn and watch them grow,” Karen says. Says James: “I thought it was going to be horrible and boring, but the day flies by.” And their dog, Kaya, is ecstatic because they walk him several times a day and take family hikes with him on the weekends, James says. “It’s a good time to be a dog, that’s for sure,” he says.

‘This is really hard’

Meet the family: Dorothy Santana, 50, of North Babylon, a graduate student in social work at Stony Brook University, her husband, Ken, 52, a New York City Transit train operator who is still reporting to work, and their four children, Lucas, 18, who was working as a lifeguard at a gym until he was laid off due to the COVID-19 restrictions, Nathan, 16, a high school sophomore, Caleb, 13, an eighth-grader, and Amelia, 11, who is in fifth grade.

Schedule: There isn't one. “I’m not going crazy with this whole home-school schedule. It’s too overwhelming for me,” Santana says. When she tried to be stricter, “I raise my voice, we go back and forth, it gets stressful and I give up.” She’s letting the kids accomplish their work the way that works for them; some of them are working a little in the morning and then going back to do more work at night, she says.

What’s tough “Getting used to having everybody in the house under the same roof at the same time for days at a time is really hard,” Santana says. “I’m trying to navigate work and supervising the kids and cooking meals.” In between that is the kids’ horseplay and squabbling, she adds.

Amelia says she finds being at home "boring." “I want to go back to school,” she explains. There’s one up side. “I get to stay up later.” Her bedtime used to be 9 p.m.; now it’s 11.
What helps Santana cope? She’s grateful for little things that make life easier. “I let the kids sleep late so I can have coffee, check email, go on social media, do meal prepping.” The kids get up between 8 and 10. “I don’t have to set my alarm clock for 6-o'clock in the morning, so that’s a plus.”

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