SOUTH ORANGE/MAPLEWOOD, NJ — As children, parents, and teachers face the new challenge of distance learning while socially distancing to avoid coronavirus, the first day of school at home seemed to leave everyone in smiles.
“The lessons and the day went pretty well for the kids,” said Kasia Jensen of Maplewood. She was grateful for the organization of her daughter Molly’s first grade teacher. She set up “an amazing daily schedule for us, in half hour increments. It’s honestly keeping me sane,” Jensen said. She made a chart on a white board for the family based on it, to include her third grader as well. “I am adjusting Emme’s schedule to follow that as well.”
The third-grader’s work is a little more involved, Jensen said, and the instructions asked her to space out the work over the two weeks of home learning. “That makes it a little tougher,” she added. “But all in all I think the teachers have done a good job and are really being supportive - even offering to have FaceTime calls with the kids if they need reinforcement,” said, and joked, “I’m like, I need reinforcement!”
For Andrea Olitzky of South Orange, one of the challenges of school from home is getting her kindergartner to pace himself. When the Golda Och Academy student was given a packet of worksheets to complete over time, he did them all in one sitting. “That’s just who he is,” Olitzky laughed. “He’s like, I’m going to get this done so I can watch tv the rest of my life.”
And trying to keep her three year old on a schedule when she was not interested in any of the video links or resources her teacher provided was also challenging. “It’s so hard! It’s hard regularly to link everyone up when their ages are so different,” she said. Her older children are nine and six.
The other challenge was getting in her work calls. “I literally went and sat in my car in the driveway” to get a quiet spot to speak uninterrupted, she said.
Jake Ezzo, who teaches music and choir at South Orange Middle School, said the first day “went off without a hitch.” He was already familiar with Google Classroom, and “all of our teachers have done a really good job familiarizing our kids and utilizing it” before the crisis arrived, so the shift over to using it for remote learning “was pretty much seamless.” He also had praise for the district’s handling of the situation. “We’re very aware of what we need to do to make it equitable for everyone across the board. They’ve been very good about providing the information” to both teachers and parents, he said.
In addition to posting an assignment and answering questions about it, he held a class by video with 20-22 students. Although some students didn’t have webcams, and others didn’t have speakers, largely, he said, “they were able to see each other, talk to each other, ask questions, do a wellness check. For them, that was huge.”
Stephanie Hoeler of Maplewood is also proud of the instruction her kids are receiving. “We have loved being the recipients of so much attention from Ray's second grade teachers and team at Clinton, and Paden's sixth grade teachers at SOMS.” And, like everyone, she is trying to find humor in the situation. “The funniest thing is that the kids say one of the best parts of home school is eating whenever they want.”
The family also loved seeing the video of the school-from-home song Ezzo performed with a SOMS English teacher, Brandon Hillman. Hoeler said her family would love to see more songs.
Hoeler, the primary earner in the household, said that as a bonus in this stressful situation, “I've come to appreciate my husband even more." She said Keefe is "an excellent stay at home father and I would be so overwhelmed with emails and Google classroom codes for two kids if doing it alone.”