Families transition at home as schools move to distance learning because of coronavirus

A group lesson is held on Zoom for transitional kindergartners from St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Huntington Beach whose class is being conducted online amid the coronavirus crisis.
(Courtesy of St. Bonaventure Catholic School)

Natalie Tran and her children wake up early every morning.

They brush their teeth and eat breakfast. By 8:30 a.m., Tran and the three kids — one kindergartner at Plavan Elementary School, one preschooler and an infant — go for a walk at a park just down the street from their home in Fountain Valley.

Then school starts for the older ones.

But this isn’t a typical school day. Most parents are working from home, and local public and private schools have closed their campuses to the public for the rest of the school year to fight the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The Newport-Mesa Unified, Huntington Beach City and Fountain Valley school districts Thursday joined the Ocean View, Huntington Beach Union High School and Laguna Beach Unified districts in calling off in-person classes indefinitely.

That means schools have moved to distance learning, providing online classwork and other materials for students as they stay at home.

In Tran’s case, classes start between 9 and 10 a.m., followed by recess, arts and crafts, meditation, lunch, naptime and Vietnamese lessons.

David Truong’s three children — a second-grader, fourth-grader and sixth-grader — get up at 10 a.m., have breakfast and then start hitting the books. After two hours, they take a break, followed by an additional hour of schoolwork. Then there’s lunch, chores and outdoor activity.

“Every family’s different and they come up with their own schedule,” said Tran, a professor of secondary education and a department chairwoman at Cal State Fullerton.

Distance learning has become the going model.

“As we enter a new phase in our understanding of the [coronavirus] threat, it is time to address the reality that our efforts to [curb the spread] and keep students safe cannot be accomplished in the span of a few weeks or even a month,” Al Mijares, Orange County superintendent of schools, said in a statement Wednesday, echoing statements by Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

A student from St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Huntington Beach participates in online classwork at her home.
(Courtesy of St. Bonaventure Catholic School)

Alina Newton, a parent of a third-grader and a sixth-grader in the Fountain Valley School District, said she felt "as comfortable as I can be as a parent,” given the circumstances.

“I’m so lucky and blessed that I have a home that I can just hunker down with my family in,” said Newton, a member of the PTA at Courreges Elementary School. “That was the priority of our district — that the kids were being taken care of first.”

Newton said her two sons are adjusting to the school closures.

“My kids are kind of ‘This is how things are,’” she said.

Truong said he and his wife, Pauline, have tried to keep an open dialogue with their children, asking them how they feel about the situation and trying to answer their questions.

Their sixth-grader, Ryan, 12, a student at Fulton Middle School in Fountain Valley, said he’s doing OK but is kind of bored around the house. His teacher keeps in contact with the class through Zoom, a remote conferencing service.

His brother, Ethan, 10, who attends Courreges Elementary, said he has been doing three hours of work a day on lessons. He said he misses his friends.

The boys’ sister, Megan, 8, who also attends Courreges, said: “At home, I do all the stuff on the ... computer first and then I do my writing and then I do some math, and then after lunch we read and then after we do all our chores, we have some fresh air.

“And we go on long walks or do training for football and soccer and sometimes golf.”

She likes playing football with her brothers, she said.

“I think children in general need a sense of security, and that sense of security comes from knowing what to expect,” Tran said. “When I say that, it’s not saying that everything should be structured. We should give the kids the opportunity to play and do those wonderful things that kids do, but they need to have consistency. They need to know they can rely on you. They need to know that when they wake up in the morning that XYZ will happen and that it is within their control.”

Natalie Burgess, an English professor at Long Beach City College and mother of a first-grader and a preschooler at Sts. Simon & Jude Catholic School in Huntington Beach, said the biggest challenge for her as a working parent has been keeping both her children focused.

“Though the routine location has changed, the more I can simulate some kind of a schoolish routine or some kind of structure, they’ll be accepting of it,” Burgess said.

She said her children’s teachers have been recording their instructions and observing the Pledge of Allegiance and morning prayer.

Students from St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Huntington Beach say the Pledge of Allegiance in their kitchen before starting their off-campus school day.
(Courtesy of St. Bonaventure Catholic School)

Melissa Hunnicutt, a parent whose kids attend St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Huntington Beach, said the transition to distance learning “may have been messy behind the scenes, but my kids didn’t see that.”

“My kids saw their teachers confident and calm and requiring them to do as much before and holding them to high standards of education,” said Hunnicutt, who teaches for a public school independent study program but was a classroom teacher for more than a decade before that. “And my kids are doing it because the teachers are making them feel confident and comfortable and capable.”

While the roll-out in several private and public schools has generally gotten a positive response, some parents with students in the Huntington Beach Union High School District are frustrated with the lead-up to distance learning.

“When this all started, I was under the impression, like most parents, that the high schools would have been adapting to this new way of learning fairly easy,” said Chad Heit, father of a sophomore at Fountain Valley High, which is in the Huntington Beach Union district.

Heit said he and his daughter thought everything would continue as usual. But then the first week went by with little communication.

“Luckily our kids are old enough. I said, ‘You have to figure it out. You can’t just be sitting gaming, TikTok that and all this. You take the bull by the horns,’” Heit said. “That was kind of my mentality last week because there was no direction ... as far as what the teachers were doing.”

“It was, ‘Here’s some resources to figure stuff out. Here’s a schedule we recommend.’ My wife and I, we’re not teachers,” Heit added.

“Finally we’re starting to see pieces coming through, but leading up to it, it’s been frustrating.”

Representatives of Huntington Beach Union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The district shuttered its six comprehensive high schools and three alternative education schools in March and announced Thursday that its campuses would remain closed the rest of the school year. A district statement said teachers are transitioning online and advised students to check their emails and the Canvas online platform for daily announcements and assignments.

“My daughter is on Zoom with other players in her [soccer] club and a lot of them live in south Orange County [and are] telling her, ‘I have homework this and that’ and they seem to be online and getting info from their districts a lot faster than we are.

“My daughter’s a sophomore. I can’t imagine if I had a junior getting ready for the SAT.”

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