As distance learning is imminent with the impending school year, parents around the region are already bracing themselves for what could prove to be a challenging start. But in true Truckee/Tahoe fashion, many of their concerns extend beyond themselves and their own children to other parents and students in the community at large. I’m Moonshine Ink Arts & Culture editor Juliana Demarest, bringing you the latest Moonshine Minutes.
By mid-July, as COVID case numbers started an upward climb, the prospect of starting school with distance learning looked more like a reality — whether it be full time or some kind of hybrid combination of in-class and distance learning. With that, parents took to social media with concerns ranging from homeschooling not being the best learning method for some children to wondering how it will affect working parents to what resources will be available for disadvantaged children.
Enter, the learning pod. A pod is when a small group of students get together for socialization and learning. They’re often led by a parent, teacher, retired educator, or tutor. On the local level, after seeing numerous individuals express interest in learning pods, Bethany Eisinger and Jenn Koblick decided to create Truckee-Tahoe Remote Learning Resources, a Facebook page for pod-seeking parents to connect and join together.
In a recent email, Eisinger told Moonshine Ink, “I saw our community’s need for remote learning support and created a space for that to happen. As a parent with a teaching background, I’m concerned about the impact distance learning has on our children’s social and emotional well-being, not to mention the added complications for single and working parents, students with IEPs, ESL learners, etc.”
Recognizing that there are many different types of both parenting and learning styles, Truckee-Tahoe Remote Learning Resources is there for moms (and dads!) to find like-minded individuals with kids in the same grade and age range as their own.
Koblick and Eisinger created a few polls and a survey to help connect families as a starting point. How the parents collaborate beyond that is up to them, Eisinger said, noting that may look different for each family based on their financial status, work commitments, and comfort levels.
One Incline Village mom, who asked not to be identified, is working to put together a micro-school in her community in which students could learn without having to wear masks. She is setting up the micro-school in a spacious setting to allow for proper social distancing and adequate air circulation when indoors, with outdoor time when possible.
She noted there are differences between the various concepts, explaining her belief that a learning pod is closer to a co-op, in which parents share the responsibility of monitoring the children while the children do digital learning with an online platform/school. A micro-school, she said, is where a group of like-minded families share the cost of hiring a teacher to lead cross-grade curriculum and projects and is probably the closest model to the historic one-room schoolhouse.
Should the Incline Village micro-school come to fruition, the woman said the cost would be in the range of $3,500 to $7,000 per child for the school year, depending upon the teacher’s experience, number of students, and whether the teacher is full or part time.
As social media discussions on learning pods and micro-schools evolved, however, there was a common concern that the creation of such groups could inadvertently deepen the educational divide between students with means and those who are disadvantaged.
In a message to Moonshine, Kings Beach mom Audrey Vaughan reflected on her feelings on both sides of this new learning concept, saying, “I’m so thankful families are coming together to form pods because many moms are depressed, struggling, and broke, and won’t be able to be a parent and teacher. I hope the schools have thought about how to handle this because I know [my son’s] teacher was worried about the gap getting bigger with just the spring distance [learning]. If we do this for a year, the gap may become insurmountable.”
Vaughan said she had heard reports of some of students at her son’s school going back to Mexico to stay with relatives so parents could workonce schools made the pivot to online learning in March, although Moonshine Ink was unable to confirm this.
Local mom April Cole also expressed a desire to see that all members of the community are represented and taken into consideration during any decision-making process.
On one local social media page, Cole commented, “I’d like to see our community actively seek, and listen to, stakeholders in all aspects of our community. I feel the very important concept of ensuring all those without the means to support their kids through distance learning has been brought up, but has the district reached out and ensured they have spoken to those families [affected] and asked them how the district can best serve them … rather than the district simply noting strategies they feel would work[?]”
The district has done just that, according to Tahoe Truckee Unified School District coordinator of district communications, Kelli Twomey.
TTUSD announced at the Aug. 5 board meeting its strategy for the coming school year, which had been in the works since the spring.
Of the sudden school closures thrust upon teachers, administrators, students, and parents alike when the announcement came on March 13, Twomey noted, “In March, we had three days to pivot. No one expected this to still be going on … Since May we’ve been planning on next school year.”
There are 41 pages of comments from a parent survey conducted by TTUSD this past spring in the heat of forced distance learning spurred by the coronavirus pandemic — and Twomey wants parents to know that each and every comment, concern, and suggestion has been reviewed and taken into consideration for the coming school year.
Open from May 18 to 22, the district received a total of 1,923 survey responses from parents, 237 of which were Latino parents, and which included 632 responses to the open-ended question welcoming feedback.
Twomey said there are teams for any and every possible angle that may have to be addressed, with teams geared toward addressing the needs of specific groups of learners like English as a second language and special education needs.
She reassured, “We’re not going to let any population not be addressed and fall through the cracks.”
Those students who don’t have access to adequate internet connections to allow for smooth online learning also have advocates working on their behalf, Twomey said, with options available from the three internet provider companies servicing the district area — Suddenlink, AT&T, and Spectrum.
Twomey encourages families to review the district’s comprehensive distance learning guidebook, now available for parents in both online and hardcopy versions, to help ease the process. She acknowledged, “We have to be fluid and we have to be adaptable. It’s a lot for everyone. It’s a lot for parents.”
Find this story, Mothers of Innovation, and others about TTUSD’s pivot to online learning to start the school year at moonshineink.com.