With one week of homeschooling under their belts, Tri-Valley families are reporting both successes and struggles as they brace for the uncertain future.
Families were originally set to homeschool March 16 through April 3 for the Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin and Sunol school districts, after area superintendents on March 13 announced that schools would be closing to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students were then scheduled to have a spring break from April 6 to April 10, and expected to return to classes by April 14. But the exact date schools can reopen remains unclear since Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide March 20 statewide stay-at-home order.
Families and districts alike are adjusting to a new rhythm.
Livermore resident Rebecca Makris reported her kids to be resilient and their teachers to be determined.
“Our school messaged us on Monday with a loose plan of what to expect,” Makris said. “But Tuesday and Wednesday, we were getting emails and packets to print at home. They gave us ideas for schedules and told us to give ourselves grace. By Thursday Google Classrooms were in full swing.”
Although supervising the workload for her children, ages 7 and 9, has been a challenge, she noted maintaining a schedule to be the key to her success.
“I think, like anything we tell our kids, this is temporary and we can survive anything together,” Makris added.
Stephanie Johnson, of Livermore, said her seventh-grader has expressed frustration. , and She hopes parents will continue to gain more assistance as the weeks wear on. But for other local families, the struggles are different still.
Single mother Nicole Vargus, also of Livermore, said all of her nearby family and her son’s father are considered essential employees and must report to work. Her 9-year-old is able to stay with a family friend during Vargus’ workday, but the adult at home is also working from home.
“I can’t expect her to stop her workday to make sure my son’s getting online at the right times,” said Vargus, who noted her child’s school day then starts when she’s off work at 5 p.m. “The school has said not to stress over it, and do the best you can, but the thing I'm worried about is this is three weeks; (if this continues,) it will place him further behind, and what are they going to do? I would hate for any child to get held back because of all of this.”
Another struggle for Livermore resident Jessica Guard is the break in routine for her nearly 5-year-old special needs child. He has been enrolled in preschool programs through the district since he was 3 to get the support he needs.
“He has to be on a schedule, and being at home right now, he doesn’t understand why we’re doing schoolwork, because being at home means play time,” Guard said. “So trying to put school work into the day, it’s hard for him to understand why he’s doing schoolwork at home.”
Guard worked at a day care. It’s now closed and she’s without a source of income. She said her son is curious about the changes in his community — why people aren’t out or why they’re wearing masks — but he is also more emotional during this time and especially needy of her.
“We’re doing our best,” she said.
On the district side, officials are working to ease the burden, offering emotional support and hopefully lightening the mood.
“To lift spirits, one of the things I did was I videotaped my own 'at home P.E.' … and I sent it to all the students,” said Sunol Glen Unified School District Superintendent Molly Barnes. “We also have a school (Facebook) page and have it set up to have guest readers read for literacy month on FB LIVE! … The response has been overwhelmingly positive and appreciative from our parents.”
Pleasanton Unified School District Superintendent David Haglund wanted to communicate to parents that they’re not alone.
“Our teachers have been working this week to develop learning resources for students and/or parents to access from home,” Haglund said. “Students will begin to engage with their teachers on Monday and parents are encouraged to email teachers or visit the class website to get answers for any questions… We appreciate the patience of our parents as we transition from what we know and do well in classrooms every day to new teaching methodologies and communication strategies in this new schooling environment. These are largely uncharted waters, and I could not be more proud of our instructional staff for digging in and making this happen for our students.”
In a letter sent home to parents, Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Mike Biondi reminded families of the resources that will continue to be available to them.
“While academics is certainly a priority in any school district, we also recognize the importance of providing for social emotional support for students, especially during uncertain times,” he said.
He further stated the district’s counselors will be available to students in grades 6 through 12 via email. Students may also request a phone call.
“I feel overwhelmed with how amazing our staff has been,” Sunol’s Barnes said. “Our goal was to provide a continuity of instruction, a feeling of calmness, confidence and care for our children and the response from our parents, expressing their gratitude, has been, well overwhelming (I know, I said it twice). What I would like to communicate to our families and students: We are still here! School is still in session — it just looks a bit different right now. We love and miss you and can't wait to get back to our beloved school site and be back together again.”