After an extra long spring break, school districts across El Paso asked their students to return to class. The buildings are still closed, but educators mobilized quickly to launch virtual classrooms and online learning.

I have one child in high school and the other in middle. On March 30 they logged into EPISD@HOME.

I was as unexcited as them. The online memes say it all: “Homeschool day 3. Graduation. #Done.” Or how about the invitation to the new group “MFQS: Mother’s Failing at Quarantine School.”

As I write this, we’re closing in on two weeks of school@home. So how is it?

Actually, not too bad. Sure there are glitches. Confusion about where to be when. Zoom sessions – a videoconference platform – were crashed by pranksters. (There was a brief discussion about how funny it’d be to log in to one another’s classes until fun-hating Mom intervened.)

Then there’s the dreaded parent lurking in the background checking up on them. (“Mom, you’re in the screen!”) And the dogs’ loud barking interrupted discussions. (You know who loves this stay at home order? Pets everywhere!)

But all said, it was better than I expected.

So how does the virtual school work?

At EPISD, middle and high schoolers were given new schedules. There’s a main online portal with an arsenal of tools. Too many I think, which accounts for a bit of confusion. It’s challenging to keep up with each teacher’s individual preferences and just when we think we’ve got it, they change to address a kink.

Generally, students are expected to be in an online class at a set time. It may include a videoconference that’s live or an expectation to log into an app or a website. They must be present and there are attendance checks. They have additional assignments, which might be done online or submitted by a digital file. At least at EPISD they are supposed to be getting grades.

We had some advantages. The kids already had district-issued laptops and had been using the online portal for a few years. We also have great internet at home. And by this age, we expect them to take responsibility for their schoolwork.

For families with elementary students, it’s been a bigger challenge. I asked some of our staff members with younger kids how it’s going.

They agree it’s a struggle and a lot to handle. On the one hand you’re dealing with fewer teachers per child and fewer directions to keep up with. But they weren’t already set up with devices at home and the kids need constant supervision, guidance and redirection to stick with classwork. If you’re a parent working at home, it’s a huge juggle.

For parents who must leave the house for work, daycares like the YWCA are providing school support for children in their care. YWCA CEO Sylvia Acosta tells me that they’ve heard from parents who need additional help and are piloting a program in the next two weeks to support parents during this crisis. It will be launched on the YWCA After School Facebook page.

I’ve been impressed at our districts’ entrepreneurial efforts. They turned it up fast, and there’s a real get it done attitude. San Diego won’t launch until April 27.

I also appreciate what schools have done to check in on families. I got a personal call from a teacher for each child to make sure we were OK. At another district, a colleague has a weekly videoconference with their child and the teacher.

I have no idea how much work has gone in behind the scenes to make all this happen. I know it wasn’t easy, but I applaud them for it.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised how little resistance my boys put up. They’ll never admit it, but it’s been really good for them. Kind of like eating broccoli.


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