CAMDEN, NJ — No one could have fully prepared Tiffany Edmonds, a Camden mother, to handle a newborn, maintain a household, and help three children learn from home during a global pandemic.
“It’s been a little bit stressful trying to keep the baby asleep while helping my son with his school work, but we’ve made it work,” Edmonds told TAPinto Camden, while doing chores. “Ms. Banks has helped out a lot. I FaceTime her if I need to and she’s been good. Haneef is doing an [individual education plan] but overall I'd say he’s been doing better.”
Haneef, 7, likes mathematics the most and has taken to home instruction in stride, his mother said.
His teacher, Ms. Leah Banks from Yorkship Family School, is not the only one making the transition easier this week.
Ms. Rakia Ford from Cooper’s Poynt Family School read from “Mama Llama Mess Mess Mess” via video.
And special education teacher, Ms. Brenda Negroni from Thomas H. Dudley Family School donned a Wonder Woman get-up encouraging others to get into the superhero theme as well.
Edmonds also has a 16-year-old, Egypt Vanderhurst at Freedom Prep High School and Deja Peterson, 20, whose school Montclair University recently closed as well.
“With my oldest around I’ll get more help,” Edmonds said. “It’s been great so far with Haneef but it’s a much different experience. He loves going to school, likes being around his friends and you could tell he misses it.”
Ruth Jackson, another Camden mother, says she’s uniquely situated to opine on how schools throughout the state are handling “school from home.”
She has two sixth graders — George, 13, and Renate, 12 — that attend KIPP Lanning Square Middle School, a 19-year-old sophomore, Arianna, at Stockton University, and she herself works at a Mastery renaissance school in the city.
“I think that having older children makes it a little more difficult. They want to balance out their own schedules, since they want to sleep in more and are in their comfort zone,” Jackson said over the phone.
While she understands parents wanting to maintain a routine in the household, Jackson said every parent has their own style.
“I did see some backlash on social media parents were receiving from others in terms of not sticking to a certain schedule,” she said. “It’s important we understand that every family is dealing with this in their own way. Some parents have one child, others have 3 or 4. It’s good to promote how you’re doing things but not to feel like others have to do it that way too.”
Closures for them more than 15,000 that make up Camden schools currently ranges from the end of March to the third week of April — with the Camden City School District (CCSD) providing additional resources for students to learn from home including remote learning packets.
Jackson said dealing with the health crisis has been harder emotionally too, with the added factor of not having as much time to process outside the purview of your children.
“It’s not easy as a parent with them around since you have your own emotions. There’s the financial burden that may come out from all of this,” Jackson said. “So even if your children aren’t seeing you emotionally react, they could feel it. They know mom and dad have their up and down days.”
Jackson does count herself lucky for having kids that have always been “germophobes.”
"They grew up that way, so I haven’t had to push any sort of habits onto them or anything,” she said, laughing.
In addition to educational resources, the school district has made meals available to students at over a dozen locations throughout the city — regardless of the school type the student belongs to.
The CCSD announced Friday that meals will now be distributed on Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon.
As they've worked to improve access to food, Ward 2 Councilman Victor Carstarphen helped add the Uncommon Camden Prep Bonsall campus site.
"It came down to looking at the spectrum and realizing we could add another one there where it was needed," Carstarphen said. "This is a new normal no one is used to and it takes pulling together. The city and the school district are working hand in hand to make sure we keep pushing forward."
Also working in partnership with schools is Camden Enrollment, a Kroc Center-based non-profit, which mapped out meal distribution sites online with an added search function.
Tameeka Mason, Camden Enrollment's executive director, said it is working to pool all school resources into one online location to better facilitate learning at home.
“We want to build a virtual classroom to have sessions on such topics as practicing mindfulness and 'How To’s' for making snacks at home. A lot of what we’re hearing from parents is that because they’re working at home too, it’s difficult to balance everything...we want to take some of that pressure off,” Mason said.
Camden Enrollment is working with non-profits LUCY Outreach, Hopeworks as well as Rutgers Future Scholars to add additional online tools like one-on-one coding classes and college preparation.
Mason said she as a mother understands parents feeling overwhelmed at home but is confident, with what she’s seen in regard to partnerships on all levels that, “Camden will get through this.”