Coronavirus

Students and Parents Grapple with Online Learning

Counselors say families shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help

Calabasas Elementary School fourth-grader Rosi Resendez holds a plastic bag of schoolwork from her teacher Laura Arnow. PHOTO: LAURA ARNOW

When Calabasas Elementary School fourth-grader Rosinely Resendez isn’t doing schoolwork in her small house in Watsonville or teaching herself algebra online, she helps her mother care for her three siblings, including a 2-month-old sister.

Rosi, as her friends call her, is among scores of young people doing their lessons online, via “distance learning,” after elected officials closed nearly all schools nationwide in an attempt to keep the novel coronavirus pandemic at bay.

In addition to her siblings and parents, Rosi lives with an uncle and his 2-year-old daughter. She says the bustle in her home makes it difficult to study, and she often suffers from boredom.

“I mostly feel kind of sad because at school I learn a lot,” she says. “And when I’m not at school and I’m at my house I feel so stressed that I don’t know what to do.”

Her teacher Laura Arnow says Rosi is one of the rare students who completes all of her assigned work.

Many students are grappling with doing their schoolwork—which requires internet access and a device to access the lessons—while being quarantined at home. The drastic shift away from the reliable routine of school has made for a difficult transition, says Pajaro Valley Unified School District socio-emotional counselor Julia Reynolds.

“There are a lot of students who express academic stress,” she says. “Learning from a computer is very difficult in comparison with learning from a teacher and being able to ask her questions or hear something explained in multiple ways.”

The students’ stress is often compounded, Reynolds says, by seeing the adults in their lives dealing with the changes wrought by Covid-19.

“There is a global anxiety and stress that everyone is tapped into right now, and obviously the kids pick up on that,” she says. “It’s also not having their support system of friends and teachers and familiar faces every day. It’s isolating for any kid or preteen or teenager to not have their peer group.”

One difficulty for counselors is offering confidentiality to students living in close quarters with their large families as they connect via conference apps such as Zoom, Reynolds says.

Many are opting for text or email correspondence, she says. Perhaps the most challenging aspect for young people was the abrupt and unexpected change brought on by the closures of businesses and schools.

“A lot of students, especially eighth-graders, are feeling anxiety about moving on to high school next year,” she says. “Some are going to different schools than their peers, and they kind of all left without realizing that was going to be it for the school year.”

Reynolds’ advice is to remember that stress—and whatever other emotions crop up during the quarantine—are normal emotions. 

“If you’re feeling stress, that’s OK,” she says. “If you’re feeling overwhelmed, that’s OK.” 

Instead of ignoring these emotions, Reynolds suggests finding a way to help cope with them.

“Whether it’s spending time with your family or drawing or listening to music or getting exercise, cooking. Whatever it might be, just allowing yourself the time to do those things to take care of yourself,” she says.

The Santa Cruz County Office of Education released a list of recommendations and services to help parents weather the pandemic, available at santacruzcoe.org.

Roscelia Madrigal, Behavioral Health Director of Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance (PVPSA), says her organization has seen a huge increase in student and parent referrals, all from families struggling under the stay-at-home order.

Parents—many out of work because of the epidemic and facing their own troubles—are calling to ask advice after becoming de facto teachers.

“A lot of what we hear is, ‘We just don’t know what to do right now,’” she says. “They feel like they should be able to know how to handle being a teacher and a parent, and that’s a lot of stress to put on anybody.”

Madrigal says one of the best ways parents can help their families cope with the stress of home learning is to set a schedule and stick with it, from bed time to waking up to meals to homework.

“Kids do their best when they know what’s coming,” she says. “It helps them, and it helps the parent.”

She also says both parents and kids should find alone time for themselves.

Parents should also not be afraid to reach out for assistance, Madrigal says, adding that PVPSA and organizations throughout the county are available to help.

Three Cesar Chavez Middle School students we spoke with all say they miss seeing their friends as they navigate their way through an entirely new way of attending school.

Ariana Jimenez, 12, says she stays in touch with her friends largely through email. 

“Even though I have a lot of family, I don’t like not being able to see my friends,” she says. 

She says her workload is mostly doable, although math can be challenging. “It’s hard because I don’t have a teacher to guide me,” she says. 

Eri Estrada, 12, says being with his family all day can be stressful and has caused “a lot of arguments.”

Still, he’s found a way to complete his work, and says he enjoys the opportunity to take more “freedom breaks” when he chooses to do so.

Tonalli Meza, 11, enjoys dancing, making videos and growing tomatoes, chilies and onions in her garden, all of which she says help lessen the stress of working from home.

Watsonville High School senior Omar Casillas says he adapted to the home-based routine after the initial shock of having the rest of his final year cancelled.

“Going from that to not seeing each other at all has been tough for us,” he says. 

Additionally, the loss of senior-year rituals such as prom, grad night and graduation have been bitter pills to swallow, he says. 

“I am going to be the first one in my family to ever graduate from high school,” he says. “That was something I was very much looking forward to, not just for me but for my parents.”

In the fall, Casillas will attend UCLA, where he’ll study biology. He’s waiting to hear from university officials about whether his first year of college will also be done via distance learning.

No University of California campus has announced whether school will continue in the fall as scheduled. UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason tells GT, via email, that discussions are underway. 

The University of California Office of the President has issued a statement that “it’s likely none of our campuses will fully reopen in fall.” 

“We will be exploring a mixed approach,” the statement reads, “with some material delivered in classroom and labs settings while other classes will continue to be online.”

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