The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Michele Smith
the Times 

School closures have parents and children juggling home and school


Courtesy photo

Left: Christian Leonard playing a sight word game. Right: Justin Jaech and his son Isaac take time out to read together.

DAYTON-Quality time together, learning from each other, the need for flexibility, and the importance of staying positive are common themes for parents and children as they navigate the new normal of virtual school instruction.

Allicia Stapleton normally has her hands full during the school year as a full time cook in the Dayton School District cafeteria.

Since schools closed on March 16, she finds her hands are still full helping run the District's food pick-up and delivery program, serving breakfast and lunch to around 200 students.

"Thankfully, I have been able to continue working," she said.

The work-day for Stapleton and her husband Sterling begins at 6 a.m. with his job at Seneca Foods, Inc., and her job in the school kitchen.

She said their children, seven-year-old Phoenix, and thirteen-year old Brooklynn, are assisted by Stapleton's sister, Echo Smith, in the morning.

They begin their day with breakfast and chores until Stapleton gets home from work around 11 a.m. when they have lunch and head upstairs for three hours of study.

Stapleton said Dayton teachers provided a sample schedule for a week of home learning, which they modified to fit a regular work and sleep schedule for their household.

Both children have Google Chromebooks and learning packets their teachers have sent home.

Parents and children are learning from each other.

Stapleton said math has had her scratching her head.

"I admit I have had a hard time jumping on the Common Core bandwagon. I was a pretty good student in school but this new way they teach math has been difficult for me," she said.

She has taught Phoenix a math trick for checking subtraction sums. He can now check his math the "easy way", from the "olden times" as he refers to the method his mother has taught him.

Stapleton said the assistance she is able to provide Brooklynn varies, greatly. They are enjoying history and English, and they have ventured out on their own with some advanced math.

She said Brooklynn has helped close a gap in her mother's knowledge about some of the newer technology.

Teachers have gone above and beyond to help, she said. Every email or phone call she has made has been answered right away.

She said, "After a rocky start, we are starting to fall into a routine."

The children miss their classmates and friends.

Brooklynn is very social and misses her friends and teachers. Online meetings and face time with classmates and teachers are important to her.

Phoenix loves school and thrives on routine and is having difficulty adjusting to the changes.

Stapleton said it is scary not to be able to provide answers to the children's many questions about what the future holds.

They have concerns about the health of family and friends and whether school will resume in the fall, or if they can visit their friends.

"My daughter constantly asks me about what will be open this summer, swimming, camping, fishing? It's very bizarre to feel so limited. Even a trip to the grocery store is an event, anymore," she said. "My son worries that the fair will be cancelled and he won't be able to enter his paintings or veggies we are growing."

Stapleton said the family is in the process of planting a vegetable garden, and the children have taken an interest in that for the first time ever.

"They have really dug in, and we have had a blast," she said.

In spite of the difficulties, Stapleton said having quality time together has been good.

She said, "We have been trying to remain positive and use this as a time to learn and grow together."

Stapleton, who grew up in Dayton, said seeing the community spring into action the way it has, is helping her feel closer to her neighbors, coworkers, and others in the community, more than she ever has before, and that gives her hope.

While the Stapleton family adheres to a regular school day and sleep schedule, there is more flexibility in the Justin Jaech and Roger Tumbocon household because they are both retired.

Jaech and Tumbocon are the parents of fifteen-year-old Justin II, twelve-year-old Isaac, and eight- year-old Nina.

"We certainly get up later, now. At breakfast the family discusses what the plans are for the day. If the weather is bad, homework moves up to the top of the list. Weather permitting, work moves outdoors. After dinner the kids are required to watch a Smithsonian documentary with us and Isaac and I read a book out loud," Jaech said.

"It has become difficult to work on our individual projects since anything we do around the house, nowadays, is designed to include the children, as well. Anything we do at home has to be able to withstand the constant interruptions," he said. "Instead of working on projects I might have been doing otherwise, we are now working in the garden, building a fence and things like that."

Jaech serves on the Dayton School District Board of Directors.

He said the initial roll out of the learn at home program was troubled because it was largely invented by each teacher, with essentially no notice.

"It has been a little hard to determine what homework is due and whether our kids have completed their work to the teacher's satisfaction," he said. "Things seem to be getting better and I must applaud the teachers and staff at the Dayton Schools for all the difficult work they have done in these confusing and trying times."

Jaech said his children seem to understand what's going on, but they don't like the sense of confinement and not being able to visit with friends.

"We are fortunate to neither have lost our jobs, and source of income, nor do we have to go to essential jobs, without a clear and affordable plan for child care, now the schools have closed," he said. "Those with relatives who are able to step in and take over the role of adult supervision must also feel blessed."

"I think those who have lost their jobs, on top of everything else, must be under almost unimaginable pressure," he said.

Melissa McCowan is a hairstylist and co-owner of EmBee Hair Space in Dayton has been unable to provide face to face services with her clients since March 17.

However, she is able to offer hair care and styling products through sales and porch delivery by way of her online store. She also provides online access and discounts to her affiliated product companies.

Her husband, Jeffrey, is still able to work, but living on a percentage of their normal household income has been challenging, said McCowen.

"While having the salon doors closed seems to be the right answer at this time, I miss the relationships and community," she said. "While the memes of hair stylists working behind an umbrella through cut arm holes and hair drying being performed through a mail slot are outlandish, and definitely keep things light-hearted, there is truth in them. Social distancing is impossible in our industry."

She said the salon atmosphere will be different when returning to work. There will be new guidelines, restrictions and protocols, which will take some time to implement.

The McCowens have two children, eleven-year-old Jordan, and nine-year-old McKenna, and flexibility is a key word for this family.

McCowen said a good day is when the family wakes up "smoothly" and manages to get their school work done by 1 or 2 p.m.

A more difficult day might feature some tantrums, and meltdowns.

"On those more challenging days our school work may not be completed until 8 o'clock at night and I may not have my daily tasks completed until midnight," she said. "We've learned a lot about flexibility and making it work."

McCowen said the children have been tolerant while she navigates new methods of instruction.

The children are also navigating new methods of learning, one of which involves communication. They have been writing letters to relatives and friends and sending them in the mail.

"Ultimately we take our days in stride. It is really all we can do," she said.

McCowen said her heart goes out to those who are having to deal with all of this under more difficult circumstances.

Jan Leonard is a parent who is dealing with more difficult circumstances.

She and her husband have two children, twelve-year-old LeAnn, and seven- year-old Christian. Christian is on the Autism spectrum, a full-time job in itself.

The Leonard children begin their studies at 9:30 in the morning and Leonard works one-on-one with Christian.

She has supplemented the packets his teachers have provided for him with skills she knows he needs to work on. She is also using his Individualized Educational Plan with feedback from his therapists for guidance.

"Raising a son on the Autism Spectrum in normal times is challenging. Add a pandemic to that and it can be downright overwhelming," Leonard said.

Christian doesn't cope well with change and thrives on routine.

"I wish I could share with you a glimpse into our morning," Leonard said. "Every morning starts the same way. His eyes are barely open when he asks, "What is happening on this day?" So, I go through what is happening in detail. Then he says, "Then what happens the next day?" And I go through what happens the next day, and this continues, on and on, until we've gone through the whole week, and then he keeps saying "What's next?"

"He normally has an event he wants me to get to," Leonard said.

On some days she feels like a hostage negotiator trying to get him to start on his school work.

Christian also has Zoom appointments with his speech therapist, his occupational therapist, and his Paraprofessional, Shannon Griffen, to be worked into the day.

Luckily, LeeAnn is able to work independently, and checks in about her school work with her mother, at the end of the day.

Leonard said she initially supplemented LeAnn's learning at home with lessons based on Sixth Grade Washington State Learning Standards, online resources, and through chats with her core teachers.

She is now getting regular weekly assignments.

The Leonard children end their school day around 2:45 p.m. freeing Leonard up to tutor two of her friend's children in math.

The Leonard children aren't the only ones attending school.

Leonard, herself, is a college student studying for an online degree in Special Education with dual certification in Special Education/Elementary Education.

She begins her day at 4 a.m. and studies until the children wake up. She resumes her studies in the evening when her husband gets home from work and can be with the children.

Leonard said she is supposed to graduate with her certification in December 2020, but that is contingent on the ability to do her student teaching in the Fall of 2020. That may not be possible if school doesn't reopen on time.

"It's a lot to cope with daily and it can be downright mentally and emotionally exhausting," Leonard said.

The family has been careful to stay informed but not consumed by the news, she said she is trying keep her worries from affecting the children.

"I put on a mask, stay positive and we continue on with our learning," she said.


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