"We Didn't Know What The Expectations Were Going To Be": Parenting During School Shutdowns

Mar 27, 2020

On Friday, Governor Mark Gordon and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow extended a recommendation for all Wyoming schools to shut down until at least April 17 in hopes of slowing the spread of coronavirus. Some schools have been on Spring Break and the closures just felt like an extra-long vacation…at first.

But lots of parents were left wondering whether they were now responsible to homeschool.

Samira Caamano and her two young kids are making the best of things.

"I've implemented a schedule with long work periods," Caamano said. "And so I'm trying to do my job during that time while they are doing their work."

Caamano teaches chemistry at the Laramie County Community College's Albany County campus. She's a little worried about next week though when her students will be returning virtually.

"Next week is when the community college is actually going back on schedule. So, I'm going to need to be more available for my students. And I don't know what that's going to look like," Caamano said.

Caamano is a single mom and so there's no one to watch her kids while she gets her grading and lesson plans done. She's trying to keep the amount of screen time her kids get down to a minimum. But she's glad to have the technology to stay in close contact with her family back in Argentina where everyone is in full lockdown.

Then there's Alejandra Silva. She's married and she and her husband each have two children. She said the school closure has thrown their life into chaos.

"I work for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. I do their public relations and then my husband's the CEO of their Boys and Girls Club. So, I'm a pretty busy person, especially with all this going on," said Silva.

But Silva said Fremont County schools are offering online classes already, and she has enjoyed the space and time to engage with her five-year old using some of the resources they sent over.

"He's reading out loud and I knew he was reading and learning how to read but when I heard him read out loud for like, so long, I was like, Oh my gosh, I can't believe you're such a good reader! I knew you knew how to, you were learning, but this is kind of showing me like you're really good at this!"

The Park County School District also has kids learning online already. Emily Buckles works full time in the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody. She was impressed with how fast the district got the system up and running. Maybe too fast. She and her husband have two kids, one in elementary, the other in middle school.

"Everything felt very unsettled last week," Buckles said, "because we didn't really know what the expectations were going to be. And I wasn't, you know, you get all this peer pressure through social media that everybody's, you know, got these incredible schedules for their kids, and they're doing math from nine to ten. And they're doing reading from 11 to 12." Buckles laughs. "And you kind of have this anxiety like, oh my god, are we all supposed to be doing this stuff now?"

Heather Rothfuss, mother of four, two teenagers, two little kiddos. She's also married to State Senator Chris Rothfuss AND holds down two part time jobs of her own as a scientist. So…this is a busy family at the best of times.

"You try to work in that little nudge zone you have between, 'I'm not paying attention to you' and burn it all down," said Rothfuss.

She said her teenagers are especially hard to keep on task.

"You get like, three millimeters of influence. And I think I have to deal with that. And if they choose not to learn the material this spring and if they choose to get bad grades, I'm gonna have to just suck it up and be okay with that," said Rothfuss.

But it's not clear if this statewide school shutdown will last through the spring or not. That's partly what makes this so stressful for families, and for the educators themselves.

Jubal Yennie, Albany County's superintendent, said he's telling his teachers to prepare for the long haul.

"We don't know if that's going to look like you know, a Kansas model, which is okay, the rest of the year, or if it's going look like the South Dakota model, which is May 1. We don't know that yet," said Yennie. "And so, from our standpoint, I'm sharing that message: let's prepare for the rest of the year.

Yennie said his district is scrambling to get a virtual learning system in place by early April. But he assures parents there's no pressure, especially since the ACT and all other testing have been cancelled for March with hopes to do some of it online in April.

"We try to lessen the anxiety from folks," he said. "And we also tried to take the pressure off that and say, we're not expecting anybody to be providing academic lessons during this next two weeks."

In the meantime, parents trying to keep their kids occupied could learn a thing or two from a pro. Laramie Homeschool Mom Laurie Homer has five kids, two in college already, a teen and a pair of twin 6-year olds. Her advice to parents trying to establish their authority as teachers? Offer incentives. Save screen time for the end of the day after they have all their schoolwork done.

And…just relax.

"I think the best thing you can do for your kids is bring out some toys that they haven't seen in a long time, put out a bunch of craft supplies, go outside and play. Let your kids play a lot, all ages, teenagers too. Get board games out and let them play," Homer said. "I think right now, people need that play therapy. It's a very stressful time."

Some of the parents in this story passed along activities they are using at home to keep their Wyoming kids active and learning while still maintaining social distancing. Check it out!

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Melodie Edwards, at medward9@uwyo.edu.