Staff Columnist

Now that Iowa schools are closed for the school year, families are struggling

Clare Allou, 12, (left) and Kayla Cariens, 12, run holding a tape measure enforcing social distancing in their neighborh
Clare Allou, 12, (left) and Kayla Cariens, 12, run holding a tape measure enforcing social distancing in their neighborhood while waiting for the teacher parade to come down their street in Coralville on Monday, March 30, 2020. Allou attended Wickham Elementary School and Cariens is a current student. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

On the second day of home schooling with my kids, my nine-year-old looked at her long division work sheet and began sobbing. “Are we going to cry about math every day?” I asked.

“Yes!” She yelled and stormed up stairs. Meanwhile, my six-year-old wanted to Zoom with his classmates, no wait he’s hungry, no wait now he’s crying too.

The first week of distance learning, my kids’ school sent 40 emails, plus daily text message alerts to let me know that they had school. Thanks. The PE teacher sent a slideshow of helpful tips for staying active which included suggestions like “walking” and “going outside.” There were online discussions, three work sheets were due and a quiz this week. Handling this with Zoom meetings, Google Hangouts, math coaching, video watching, assignments and children who want to know what the hell is going on in the world, while working full time as a single mom is unsustainable.

Here is what just half a day in our lives looks like:

6:30: I wake up and answer email and shower and make coffee.

7:30 Make breakfast and eat and read the news.

8:30: I have kids clean up and empty the dishwasher, while I take a call about the new kids page I’m editing. A task I had to take on during the pandemic. The kids argue about where cups go. One breaks. I have to hang up and clean it up with them.

9: Everyone sits down at the table to begin working.

9:15: My daughter is frustrated with math. She throws her pencil. Zoom doesn’t work on her computer, she needs my help. My son has finished three work sheets and demands to know how to spell diarrhea. I spell it out then, tell them to go play. I have a conference call. We will get to this after the conference call. During the conference call they ask me 40 different questions. Holding them up on pieces of paper like ransom notes. The signs request cookies and that I pay attention to this cool thing they made in Minecraft.

10: Conference call is over. We sit down again and I help the kids.

10:30: My daughter is frustrated again, My son needs the computer for work, My daughter has the computer we only have one family computer in our home. I have only answered four emails and been on one conference call and I have a deadline and a page I need to lay out by noon. I give us all cookies.

11:30: I am able to lay out the page, but not write my article. I stop work to help my daughter. I’ve given up with my son, I tell him to go read a book.

11:45: My daughter is able to finally finish her math sheet. I have missed my deadline for my article and get an email asking where it is. It’s not even lunchtime.

As overwhelming as this is, I know it would be even more overwhelming if I couldn’t afford internet, if we didn’t have the computers we have, if we were facing homelessness, if my children weren’t able to be independent, if we were struggling to afford groceries and our water bill. If I was an essential worker and couldn’t find child care. Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools called the closure of American schools an “educational catastrophe.”

In Iowa, 1 in 7 children struggled with hunger. Additionally, according to the 2018 census, only 87.6 percent of Iowans have a computer in their home and 78.8 percent have broadband. But what that computer access and broadband access looks like is varied and doesn’t always mean a computer is available for school work.

And just like access isn’t equal. No household is equal. When I asked my friends to hear how their home schooling was going some just replied with images of a dumpster on fire. Others provided detailed schedules and teaching philosophies. Some replied that they felt grateful and blessed to have the time with their kids. Others said it felt relentless, like there was no escape. The balance between emotional care and educational care is particularly tricky. Maria Sanchez-Masi said her kids emotional needs right now outweighed their education.

Schools are handling the crisis differently as well. The private school my kids go to has continued to operate as if there wasn’t an unprecedented global crisis, leaving us sobbing over long division. While the elementary school in our neighborhood has had no required assignments and has focused mostly on caring for children’s mental health and providing parents with resources.

This week, Iowa’s 327 public and 179 accredited non-public schools submitted plans for the rest of the school year. The plans are just as varied as the schools themselves — offering a combination of online learning and educational enrichment opportunities. But what that actually means, we will discover as this quarantine continues.

With schools in Iowa closed for the rest of the year. Parents are struggling to care for their children, work and cope with the crisis of the pandemic. Like so many of us, schools are doing the best they can. But even their best and our best isn’t enough to overcome the overwhelming inequality that has been compounded by the pandemic.

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Across the nation schools are struggling to understand what the cost of this pandemic will mean not just to their budgets but to the individual lives of the kids in their care. Should we have a nationwide summer school? Should kids be held back? How do we ensure that children everywhere have access to their constitutional right — education.

In the next round of stimulus funding, schools are seeking an additional $200 billion, citing those state budgets.

But for now, we have no answers. So parents are coping the best we can. Some days school is cooking and crafts and work sheets. Some days its playing games and making sure we don’t lose it on each other. I emailed the school to let them know it was a pandemic, work sheets were not our top priority. We will do the best we can, but right now we were just trying not to sob over long division.

lyz.lenz@thegazette.com; (319) 450-0547

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