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Parents On How They Are Bracing For Another Semester Of Distance Learning

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It is back-to-school time. Of course, in many districts around the country, that does not mean what it usually does. Back to school for a large portion of the country's students will mean staring at a screen at home. And for their parents, it means weeks - maybe months - of trying to be teacher and parent and employee. Well, we wanted to hear directly from parents how they are feeling as the new school year looms, and for that, I am joined by three of them now. Angelena Cramer, Dominique Spencer and Rebecca Garcia, I want to welcome all three of you, and I'll kick off by just allowing each of you to introduce yourselves. Angelena Cramer, let's start with you.

ANGELENA CRAMER: OK. I am in Spokane, Wash., and I am a mother of four. They are first grade, third grade and two going into fifth grade. And I'm currently a full-time student myself, so...

KELLY: Whole lot of remote learning going on at your house. OK. Thank you. Dominique Spencer, how about you?

DOMINIQUE SPENCER: I'm here in Washington, D.C. I'm a mom of two, a rising ninth grader and a second grader. I'm also the director of education services at Jubilee Jumpstart, a child care center in D.C.

KELLY: So high school and second grade - OK. And, Rebecca, how about you?

REBECCA GARCIA: I live in Las Vegas. I have four kids. Three are school-aged. They're going to be in fourth, sixth and eighth grade this coming school year. I'm the president of the Nevada Parent Teachers Association, and I also work part-time from home currently.

KELLY: So you all are already veterans of distance learning. We all got a taste of this at the end of last year. And I wonder if you would each just tell me a little bit about how it went and whether this inspires you with courage or fills you with dread as we contemplate doing it again. Dominique, let's start with you this time.

SPENCER: So for my daughter, who's the oldest, she enjoyed being able to work from home. The part she did not enjoy was not being able to see her friends every day. With my son, it was a struggle. He was very confused as to why he was suddenly home with me every day, why I was trying to give him work. He and I had lots of rounds of tears. And in a way, we kind of dropped out of first grade.

KELLY: What do you mean, kind of dropped out of first grade?

SPENCER: It took a toll on our relationship, and I wanted to maintain our relationship with each other. I knew he would be OK. I knew he was learning every day because we were able to try new things. There were lots of cooking activities. So we dropped a lot of the virtual screen time computer learning in favor of real-time activities with each other.

KELLY: Angelena, how did it go for you in the spring?

CRAMER: The way it came about was that it was going to be an extended spring vacation originally.

KELLY: Yeah, I remember that (laughter). It was sold...

CRAMER: Yeah.

KELLY: ...As a really great, long spring break.

CRAMER: Exactly. They were all excited at first, and then it got to the point where my classes kicked back in after my spring break. There wasn't as much, you know, interaction with the kids because I had to focus on my school. And at that point, they started to get bored. I almost saw, like, a depression kick in with them, you know, not being able to interact with their classmates. And my son who will be going into first grade is also in special ed and speech therapy, so I noticed kind of, like, a decline in his speech. And his, you know, routine getting messed up caused a lot of chaos. And we weren't given any direction. We weren't told, you know, you have to log on online to do this. It was just, now what?

GARCIA: Well, and I know - this is Rebecca. And in Las Vegas, I think we shared a lot of that same confusion because although teachers were providing content and options online, it wasn't consistent. Spring definitely was crisis learning, in my opinion. It wasn't homeschool. It wasn't virtual school. It was crisis.

KELLY: I mean, what you're saying rings so true. And I think for so many of us, it was not ideal in a million ways. But, OK, let's just get through it. We'll get to summer, and then surely things will get better. What goes through your head - each of the three of you - at the prospect of this could be for the long haul? This could - we might be looking at an entire year - who knows? - of this. Angelena?

CRAMER: So my biggest fear when it comes to the longevity of this is as parents, we're taught things differently in school. And not just the style of teaching was different, but the context of what we were learning was also a lot different. It's terrifying. How is it going to affect our children long-term with us being teachers?

KELLY: Dominique, Rebecca, either of you want to chime in here?

SPENCER: I just...

KELLY: Yeah. Please.

SPENCER: I am a teacher sort of by education. I have an early childhood education degree, and even being a trained teacher, projects that would take short times in school turned into these monster sessions at home.

GARCIA: Yeah. This is Rebecca, and I think that that's been a challenge as we look at going back. My husband is working part-time virtually from home. I work virtually from home. And so how do we integrate our kids' now three different schedules? There just aren't enough hours in the day to do all of it. And then you add the fact that we've all been kind of stuck at home for such an extended period of time that it's not traditional family dynamics. You know, people have less patience with each other. Just before I got on this call, I was breaking up an argument between my 9- and my 11-year-old over getting food out of the refrigerator, you know? I mean...

KELLY: I mean, God, it is a lot. Is there any concrete change any of you has been able to make to try to make it a better experience as we head into the fall?

CRAMER: So I can chime in right here. This is Angelena. We were in the process, when COVID first hit, of trying to find a bigger house, and we ended up staying with some family. And most of my finances comes from my financial aid to attend school. What we ended up doing is taking savings and buying a camper, put it on my mom's property. You know, I can't go to work because I got to take care of them during the day. I can't, you know, go to school, so there's a bunch of my finances gone. And now I can just focus on just paying electricity for my camper and focusing on the kids in school.

KELLY: Wow. That's a huge life change. Yeah. Dominique, how about you? What changes are you making to try to make fall a little better?

SPENCER: Well, it really is just a lens shift. We just decided, like, we're just going to go moment by moment. And we're going to get through the moments and not worry about next week and not worry about, like, this whole school semester. We're going to embrace getting through moments together because relationships, really, in our family is what helps us get through anything. And so if school doesn't go well on Monday, OK. School didn't go well on Monday. Let's try for Tuesday. Let's try for these smaller - sort of smaller pieces of success because there's so much that we're not in control of. So we're going to control what we can.

KELLY: Sounds good. I want you to come run remote learning at my house.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: I do think, though...

KELLY: We could use some of that attitude.

GARCIA: I think that our attitude makes such a huge impact, though. I totally agree with you, Dominique. Like, I've been trying to talk to my kids about how we just don't know what this year's going to look like. It's not going to look like what we expected, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be bad. I can't say that they all like the idea of distance, but at least I think they're ready to give it a shot.

KELLY: Rebecca Garcia of Las Vegas, Nev., Angelena Cramer of Spokane Valley, Wash., and Dominique Spencer of Washington, D.C., thanks so much to all three of you. I'll be right there with you trying to figure it out this fall and wishing you all so much luck.

GARCIA: Thank you. Good luck to everyone.

SPENCER: I know. Good luck.

CRAMER: You, too. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF THAO AND THE GET DOWN STAY DOWN SONG, "TROUBLE WAS FOR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.