Students and parents alike are making adjustments as they wrap their heads around distance learning under Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s March 12 order to close schools for an “extended spring break.”

With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, Gov. DeWine closed schools to help prevent the spread of the virus from the end of the day March 16 through April 3. He now hints at possibly extending this further, though nothing official had been ordered as of Wednesday morning.

For Chagrin Falls schools, spring break officially started on March 23 after the district had its trial run of continuing education from home March 18 through Friday, but the now-online schools will be back in session Monday. So far, parents and students are still getting used to the changes. They, however, commend the district’s ability to manage the online learning and are looking at the situation’s silver linings.

Adjusting to change

“It’s been a fundamental change for our family,” said Jessica Allen of South Russell. The mom of three said that as a fundraising consultant, she works from home anyway, “but it’s different to have a house full of kids all day who are also needing to have some guidance on their own school work.”

She added, however, that the family is “rolling with” the changes, noting that they agree with the governor’s decision to close the schools and that the district has done well to manage the changes.

Ashley Weingart of Moreland Hills agreed that despite the uncertainty surrounding constant changes on the coronavirus mandates, “I feel that Chagrin Falls [schools] has done an exceptional job of communicating with all the parents.”

With running her own business in the food industry, Perfectly Imperfect Produce, running a household and making sure that her three kids are adjusting to the online platform, “I was feeling pretty overwhelmed,” Mrs. Weingart said. “But from the very beginning, [the district] was very good at communicating what they were going to be providing.”

Mrs. Weingart said that she is able to work from home most days of the week and her husband works from home on days she cannot, noting that the change is running “better than I expected.”

She said the biggest challenge with the change is ensuring her kids are getting the most out of the online learning, especially since she is working at the same time they are doing school work during a busy time for her business.

“I just want to make sure that they’re giving it their best effort and that I’m giving them the attention and the assistance that they need to not just get it accomplished, but do it well,” she said. “I would say my concern is that they’re going to not get as much out of this year as they would if they were in the classroom.”

Chantel Michalek of Chagrin Falls, also a mom of three and a preschool teacher, said she is grateful for how quickly the district adapted to the order.

“I think that [the district] saw that this was a potential coming down the line,” she said, “and had enough things in place that it wasn’t a huge feat for the teachers and administrators to get on board.” She added that she looks forward to what the district will have in place next week, noting that the first few days of online learning was mostly review for her kids to adjust to the changes.

For the students, the biggest challenge comes from socializing with friends and connecting with their teachers, as well as navigating their coursework in a new setting.

Sisters Kate and Emily Allen, both 9, agreed that they miss the interaction with their peers and teachers.

“The hardest part, I think, is being able to connect either with teachers or going to the right website,” Kate said. “[And] connecting with your friends is kind of hard.”

Emily said she misses hanging out with one of her best friends and agreed with her mom that interacting over FaceTime or Google Hangouts with friends has been a harder adjustment for her.

“The friends that you don’t see all the time, but you see throughout the school day, those are the people they’re missing,” Mrs. Allen said.

For the Weingarts, John, 7, Caroline, 10, and Elizabeth, 12, agreed that while the workload seems easier because they can go at their own pace, it’s also easier to get distracted at home.

Caroline added that while she likes the relaxed atmosphere of working at home in her pajamas, “I also don’t like it because I don’t get to see my friends as much.”

Brothers Matthias Michalek, 10, and Jacob, 8, said that while they like getting work done at home, they also miss the social aspects of school.

Keeping routine

While the setting is different, the families have found different ways to help stay on track.

Mrs. Allen said her family has a “no pajamas” rule, and the kids try to start the day at the same time to keep consistency. She said that the family is mostly made up of morning people, so they “do most of the heavy lifting during the morning hours.” Everyone has a designated workspace in the house where they can stay focused and get their work done, she added.

For the Weingarts, pajamas are OK, but a set schedule is in the works for the upcoming week to keep everyone on the same page.

“I think right now there’s just so much uncertainty,” Mrs. Weingart said, noting that structure will help her kids focus and understand what their day will look like, “because that’s what they’re so used to with their school day.”

Mrs. Michalek said her kids also figured out their own workspaces throughout the house.

“As soon as we found out what the arrangement was going to be, we immediately started talking about what would be their desk to work at,” she said. With three kids at different levels of the house, she said it was a bit chaotic at first trying to get everyone set up and used to the online connections like Google Classroom or Zoom. By the second day, however, she said it was much more manageable.

She added that they are also working on finding a schedule and structure for the house to keep focused, like maintaining their morning routines from school, minus the out-the-door-by-7:50-a.m. step.

Not too shabby

While the rapid changes in mandates, adjustments to new work settings and distance from friends and teachers can be overwhelming for both students and their parents, the families all agree there are many positives to working from home.

While Kate and Emily, as well as their older brother, Will, 12, can’t stay in their pajamas, they have taken advantage of being able to get up and grab a blanket or take mental breaks with a quick snack.

Mrs. Allen said that this has also given her the opportunity to be more hands-on in her children’s education.

“Typically, as a parent, I only help them with homework if they need it or if it’s a special project. But seeing the work that they’re doing all day long in every single class, including their health class and their music class, that’s actually been really cool,” she said.

For John, Caroline and Elizabeth, relaxed rules on device usage to encourage interactions with friends has been a perk.

“Normally we’re pretty strict about phone usage and time spent on devices, but I want to make sure that we’re not too strict with that right now,” Mrs. Weingart said. “While I don’t want them sitting on their devices all day, I do want to allow them to have those interactions so they feel like they can see their friends and talk.”

Matthias and Jacob point out that they, along with their older sister, Anna, 12, can get their work done faster at home and get some more free time.

The families all note that this has given them more opportunities to spend time together and even understand each other better.

The Allens note that with online classes and no commute, there is more time for activities together, like making homemade ice cream sandwiches or going on a hike.

Mrs. Weingart said this has given the family a chance to slow down.

“We’re all spending more time together [as a family] and connecting more and talking more instead of rushing to the next activity and rushing onto the school bus,” she said.

Mrs. Michalek said the family time that has come of this has been “amazing,” noting that her kids are playing with each other more and learning how to better manage themselves and disagreements.

And as for practicing social distancing, Emily Allen said, “Stay safe, stay indoors and have a good day.”

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