Milena Soto isn’t going to sugar coat it: She is not above bribing her 5-year-old son to do his virtual schoolwork with a payoff of vanilla ice cream.
Kenneth attends first grade two days a week in Central Islip. "The other three days, we have virtual school. He absolutely refuses to do it," says Soto, 27, a stay-at-home mother. She’s even busted Kenneth hiding under the desk she put in his bedroom to separate him from his toys and keep him focused.
"On a scale of one to 10, I’m going to go with two to three," Soto says of the return to school so far. So sweetening the deal for Kenneth — literally — helps.
"Whatever works" seems to be the mantra of parents struggling with this new brand of education. School this fall is different from spring semester. Now, it’s more structured, with remote schooling often being live at specific times of the day. Here are some tips from Long Island families for coping with the new demands:
1. Gather in the "home classroom": Ebony Guerrier, 37, is a teacher’s assistant in the Uniondale School District. She’s also got three kids in the district, Ryana, an eighth-grader, Madison, a first grader and Destin, a preschooler. When it’s time for remote instruction, all of them are in the room together, even Ryana. "She’ll go on TikTok if she’s not in the room," Guerrier says.
"I have three desks for the kids in the room, little snack tables," Guerrier says. Each child has a different color headset, and they use a cart she purchased on Amazon with divided sections for their schoolwork.
2. Planning ahead is key: Each child's schedule for the day is on a whiteboard on the wall, Guerrier says. "I’m trying to teach them to be self-sufficient." To keep the day running smoothly, Guerrier uses her lunch hour to make dinner so that it’s ready to heat up later. "Today, I made a beef casserole," she says. She started a Facebook page called "The Recipe Swap for the Quarantine," she says, so parents could share easy meals. She also makes sure the kids hand over their devices at 8 p.m. to charge overnight. "That’s a must," she says.
3. Know your way around the tech: Crystal Polis, 37, a stay-at-home mom from Massapequa, opted for full-time remote schooling for her daughter, Adriana, 11, a sixth-grader, because Polis is high-risk. Adriana logs in from home to a classroom where other students are learning in person. "It’s definitely an adjustment," Polis says of her daughter joining using technology. "We’ve had little bumps. We’ve had moments she couldn’t get in."
"At first I didn’t like it. I said, ‘This seems very complicated,’" Adriana says. "Sometimes I will have bad connections and the teacher can’t hear me." But now she says she likes going to school from her living room couch. She "bookmarked" her class logins and just clicks on them to get to each one. "Just like you would have to know your way around school, I have to know my way around websites," she says.
In one class where Adriana is the only student who is remote, the teacher had some of the students in the classroom sign in online as well, so that Adriana wouldn't be the only one whose face was on the screen. Adriana says her attitude helps the school-on-screen situation. "It's better if you understand there will be some problems in the journey of online school."
4. Appreciate the flex schedules: There are positives, Polis and her daughter say. "If she wants to get up 15 minutes before her day starts, she can," Polis says. And, unlike Adriana’s middle school classmates who are traveling from class to class through hallways on foot, "she’s not racing from one class to the next class in four minutes."
5. Adjust your work schedule, if possible: Mara Nadler, 41, a lawyer from Huntington Station, has a second-grader and a kindergartner in the South Huntington school district. She’s been working from home; her husband is a police officer. Andrew, 37, doesn’t leave until 11:30 a.m., so Mara tries to get her work done in the morning and also while her kids are in virtual or in-person school, and then she works again after they go to sleep. Her second grader sticks to a structured schedule, she says, even while at home. Her day starts at 8:45 a.m. "She comes down for lunch and she goes back up. My second grader is pretty self-sufficient," Nadler says.
6. keep them busy when you're busy: Nadler has already experienced glitches in her work plan — the elementary school had to go full virtual for two weeks after there was a positive COVID case. When at home, her kindergartner needs guidance, so she sets her computer and his computer up at the kitchen table so she can work and half listen to what’s going on. She also asked his teacher for extra work for him to do to keep him busier than just the few hours he’s in virtual class. "I printed out a lot of practice with letter and numbers he could do," she says. "I was very anxious going into it, but I'm pleasantly surprised and I'm actually getting more work done while they're home."
7. Lean on extracurriculars, even at home: Tanya De Leon of Amityville has three children in the Copiague School District — a ninth grader, a fifth-grader and a first-grader. The high school is 100% remote, but the younger children are on a hybrid schedule. She says she feels fortunate that some extracurricular activities have opened up again. Her younger children, for instance, have resumed soccer clinics and dance.
For kids like Adriana, who have parents who are at high risk, their extracurriculars may include enrichment at home. "Me and my mom, we’re doing projects at home," Adriana says. "I’ve been dancing constantly, just not in class with other people."
8. Consider child care: Several YMCAs and JCC organizations are offering full-day options for children who are attending school virtually or in a hybrid plan. Parents can drop the children off and have their remote obligation supervised; the children also get the opportunity to have socially distanced physical activities and social interaction.
"We wanted to start something like this because we know there’s a need. Not everyone is working from home anymore," says Kendra Morley, youth services director at the Friedberg JCC in Oceanside. Children bring their Chromebooks or iPads and headphones, and parents provide the child’s school schedule for the day, Morley says.
9. Aim to maintain structure: Brian Wright, 51, a lawyer with three children in the Island Park School District, says he sends the children to the JCC program because he feels it’s important that they have a structured environment and be with other kids who are also learning. The JCC charges $50 a day per child for a 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift; staying until 6 p.m. is an additional $10. The YMCA of Long Island, which is offering programs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Glen Cove, Patchogue, Bay Shore and Huntington, charges $845 monthly per child to attend three days per week and $565 monthly for two days a week. Parents can also drop children off at 7 a.m. for an additional fee, says Tamar Simpson, director of marketing and communications for the YMCA of Long Island.
10. Weigh all options: Kelliann Maiorino, 29, of Lindenhurst, had toyed with the idea of home schooling her daughter, Siena, even before the coronavirus era but sent her to public kindergarten last year. COVID pushed her over the edge. She now uses curriculum programs such as Time For Learning, joined a Long Island Home School online group, and takes her daughter on field trips, bringing brother Danny, 2, along. At Old Westbury Gardens, for instance, Maiorino had Siena point out "abiotic" and "biotic" — nonliving and living — organisms, and Maiorino showed her how bees were pollinating the flowers. "Fortunately, she is younger, Maiorino says. "I don’t know how I would do it if she was in eighth grade or high school."