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How South Jersey Brought School Home
Surviving the toughest school year ever

Usually when you mention a difficult school year, you’re talking about one too many exams or a teacher/student relationship that wasn’t a good fit. But not today. Parents are trying to guide their children through an incredibly challenging year. And understandably, many are having a really tough time. We asked parents to share what they’ve been doing to try to make it work. None of them said it was easy. Many said there were times when they thought it couldn’t get any worse. But of course, they all said they’ll keep going. They’ll figure it out. Pass the test. And eventually, move on to next year.

Our son was having a hard time listening during teacher read-alouds on Zoom. He had some Silly Putty and started playing with that while he listened. Really helped his focus.
Rachel Payne, Delran

We started noticing that my son and daughter were being kicked off Google Meet because we were overloading our WiFi – 4 of us were using it. We got an adapter for my daughter’s computer and used an ethernet cable to hardwire her to the Internet. Luckily, our house was already hardwired so we just needed to plug her in.
Erin Simone, Cinnaminson

The hardest part for my kids is not having their classmates around them to provide that extra motivation. With no herd, they become overwhelmed by their list of assignments. So I started Motivation Thursdays. Every Thursday if they’ve turned in all their assignments, they get a lunch of their choosing. It’s worked pretty well.
Mary Sheldon, Hainesport

I definitely lost my marbles more than I care to admit, but what worked for us was having my kids write out their own daily routines and to-do lists. This keeps them accountable.
Crista Bluegold, Moorestown

What’s helping my son is having a designated work space, a structured schedule that includes what to do when he’s not engaged with the teacher, and putting as much age-appropriate responsibility on him as possible. My son is 8, and he wears headphones to keep distractions to a minimum. I also try to keep my distance while he is live with the teacher.
Janelle Post, Audubon

Every day at 4:30 pm, we take a 10-minute walk to talk about whatever my son wants to talk about. It does us both good to get out of the house and take a few deep breaths.
John Rithes, Cape May

I find that, just like any other situation involving children, a consistent routine is a lifesaver. We get up as if we are leaving the house to go to school in-person. That means eating breakfast, brushing teeth and getting dressed (although I am very lenient on that “getting dressed” bit). It is helpful for me, as a working mom, to set alarms on my phone so that we can stay on top of when they need to log on and when they have their breaks throughout the school day. They can feel overwhelmed some days but with the help of a consistent daily schedule, writing things down in their agendas to stay on track and “brain breaks” throughout the day, we usually make it through without major meltdowns.
Lauren Maley, Gibbsboro

There was a moment when I almost broke, and I decided it was crazy that household chores were still falling on me – even though everyone was home all the time. So everyone got assigned a job. They now make their own breakfast, they learned to do laundry, etc. Probably things I would’ve continued to do myself if I didn’t have that moment where I really just lost it.
Stephanie Greenleaf, Moorestown

Getting dressed in the morning, as if he’s actually going somewhere, helps my 7th grader take school more seriously. It may seem like a minor thing, since no one else can even see that he’s wearing real pants and not PJs, but it helps him concentrate. The simple routine of getting ready brings a sense of normalcy.
Duey Green, Cherry Hill

When I was too overwhelmed with my own work to help my kids with homework, my sister thankfully stepped in. Now she regularly “hangs out” with them via FaceTime to look over their assignments, answer questions and make them laugh (during breaks of course). She is as happy with the aunt-time arrangement as I am and has said repeatedly that she loves getting a glimpse into how their minds work and learn.
Janet Flannery, Sicklerville

My husband and I both work from home, so he gets the office, I get the dining room table, and my daughters have made their own spaces. My 8th-grader has a desk in her bedroom and my high schooler likes to move around, so she uses a TV tray table. She’ll sit on the edge of her bed or sometimes goes to other areas of the house for a change of scenery. I would prefer them out of their rooms, but they actually prefer being in there because it’s personalized to their taste.
Denise Soto, Hamilton

I’ve encouraged my kids to stay in close contact with their teachers and use every opportunity to talk with them and ask questions. Those side conversations with teachers aren’t possible anymore, but they can really boost a child’s learning. It’s the last thing my kids want to do, but I push them to do the unthinkable – talk to an adult!
Joanne Connor, Haddonfield

Kids need to know they aren’t alone. Even though they can see their teacher and classmates, they still feel lonely in their workspace alone at home. I make a point of checking in multiple times a day to remind my daughter that she is doing a fabulous job “at school” during a very difficult time.
Rachel Lipoff, Cherry Hill

My son was behind in almost everything until I signed up for his school’s daily alerts that flag when he’s late turning in homework assignments. I’m also now in close contact with his team of teachers. A couple were very understanding about his circumstances, since he has ADHD, and they allowed him to submit work after deadlines without a penalty. They have also scheduled extra help sessions with him via video to make sure he understands everything. I’m grateful they are comfortable approaching me when my son is behind and have been so receptive when I’ve reached out to them.
Jeff Fisher, Barrington

Sixth-grade remote learning was a total nightmare in the fall. My daughter’s grades plunged, taking with them her self esteem, because she was having such a hard time concentrating. I am forever grateful to my teacher friend who suggested we start using captions on the screen. While it isn’t perfect, she’s doing so much better. it helps her concentrate better than just listening.
Jeanne Kim, Burlington

My son is in first grade, and he loves playing chess online. We try to make sure he has an understanding of the day ahead: If you finish your 5 Math worksheets, you can play chess. It’s important he understands that every day he has a combination of things he has to do for school and things he can choose to do. We want him to know he has some control. We’re also trying to not focus so much on academic skills, but more on soft skills: kindness, resilience, perseverance. We talk about these things every day. These are skills that will help him function as a human for the rest of his life.
Mary Foukleva, Lumberton

February 2021
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