Homework…Help! Some Parents Hope the Schools Can Focus More on Student/Parent Experience

Whether it’s wrong classroom links, faulty internet, too much dead time, or any other of the challenges Everett parents are facing with their kids in remote learning – many of them are calling for the schools to have a better understanding of the experience on the other side of the computer screen.

As remote schooling in Everett Public Schools (EPS) hits the one-month mark, many parents report that they are as drained physically and emotionally as they were last spring during emergency remote learning – and as an overwhelming majority of families have their kids learning at home, some say there are things the school could do better to help.

First thing:  trying a little understand.

“I’m not saying shame on them or anything,” said Malikka Jones, a parent of three EPS students, two in high school and one in fourth grade. “Everyone is trying to adjust to this. As a parent I am saying to help us out a bit…I know there is more that I could do as a parent with this, but I’m overwhelmed and I’m exhausted. It’s draining to contact all the teachers for all three kids. It’s so draining.”

Jones said there have been so many glitches with at-home learning – some that are on her kids, some that are structural to the program and much of it to do with Everett’s sub-standard Internet infrastructure citywide. Many of those considerations aren’t understood or don’t exist on the teacher or school side of the computer – but as she tries to work as a social worker full time from home, Jones said each and every one of these glitches fall on her.

And she said she’s not alone as a number of other parents she knows in the district have shared they feel the same way.

“We’re struggling,” she said. “I didn’t sign up to be a teacher, a mom and all in one. It’s hard because I work from home and they work from home. It’s affecting my job and my job performance. I think the School Committee is so focused on staying remote or not. There is so much else that’s happening right now and we should focus on the problems that children and parents are facing right now. If we’re all honest, we know that this situation could go on until next September.”

Some of the challenges for Jones include being on a Zoom call in an important court hearing for her job as a social worker, and her 9-year-old coming in constantly with questions about school work. Jones said she tells her to get in touch with the teacher, but that’s not always happening and teachers aren’t always getting back.

Then there’s the dead time.

Jones said her kids’ teachers often let class out early, so if there’s an 8:10 a.m. class, some teachers let them out at 8:20 a.m. and they are expected to independently work until the 8:45 a.m. class.

“The 8:45 a.m. class starts and lets out early and there’s another break,” she said. “In between things, my children are falling asleep or taking naps and they might miss a class. I’m working full-time here and it’s hard to keep on top of them and my job.”

Yet another struggle has been technology.

Jones said they have had a hard time getting or repairing the ChromeBooks, and her son never got a replacement for his since April after repeated requests through the proper channels. He ended up doing his work for some time on his iPhone because he didn’t have a working ChromeBook. That situation only changed because Jones’s older daughter got a laptop for her birthday, which allowed her to pass on her ChromeBook to her brother.

“As a single mother, I can’t afford to go out and buy laptops for my 16-year-old twins,” she said. “Two weeks ago, my son still didn’t have a replacement so he decided to do most of his work on his iPhone instead of the ChromeBook.”

And a big factor that challenges parents in remote learning has been the inadequacy of the overall Internet infrastructure in Everett – which cannot keep up with the bandwidth necessary for thousands of kids and adults to work online. Everett’s Internet infrastructure was described by one Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) study as being on the low-end of the spectrum and frequently City Council decisions thwart companies trying to upgrade the network. That, along with an inability by some teachers to understand the situation, has led parents like Jones to have to worry about their kids failing school because the Internet doesn’t work well.

“A lot of it is Everett’s internet in general,” she said. “There’s just an overload of everyone trying to access the internet at the same time…My kids can’t log into their classes without getting kicked off by the network. This is a daily occurrence and not just sporadic. It’s every day. There are so many barriers I want the schools to understand and ask for input from the kids on and help parents deal with.”

Those issues are wrapped up in the mental health aspect of the children and the parents. Jones said her kids, and other kids they know, are sad and confused. It’s hard for them to deal with what’s happening, and she hopes the schools can do more to understand it’s not just business as usual here.

“The instruction needs a lot of work,” she said. “The schools need to do a better job evaluating what teachers are expertly teaching their classes and what teachers are not. Is my fourth grader learning? I don’t know. Are my high-schoolers learning? I don’t know. I have my concerns. I definitely feel they aren’t getting the education they need to get.”

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