Orinda Homes Convert To Classrooms With Distance Learning

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(Charleen Earley, Photographer)
Orinda parents Michael and Janey McWhorter said their three sons, Ross (9), CJ (12) and Cameron (7), will miss their friends and teachers this fall during distance learning.

    The bell rings, parking lots jammed with parents dropping students off, the sound of kids’ voices filling the hallways, lockers opening and shutting, teachers straightening desks before their rooms fill with warm bodies – all of which did not happen Aug. 13, amid the continual global pandemic.
    Instead, all sounds were found within the four walls of Orinda homes. This is known as the new normal with distance learning this fall, the ‘20-’21 school year.
    “My kids are very disappointed that they won’t be returning to the classroom this fall. They miss their friends and teachers,” said Janey McWhorter, mom with husband Michael of CJ, seventh grader at Orinda Intermediate School; Ross, fourth grader at Sleepy Hollow Elementary; and Cameron, second grader at Sleepy Hollow.
    With three sons in different grades, distance learning, which began when COVID-19 hit in March, took on new challenges for the McWhorter’s.
    “We definitely were not prepared for distance learning when we were thrust into it this past spring. We had one family computer and a nine-year-old cracked iPad,” said McWhorter. “My children were working in separate areas, one at the dining table, one in my home office and one at the breakfast table, which was not conducive for family meals. It was difficult to keep everyone focused in these settings.”
    In preparation for distance learning this fall, McWhorter took her children back-to-school shopping for school supplies, including buying a large dry-erase board to help with scheduling.
    In addition to parenting, running a household and working full-time, many Orinda parents have now added a new teacher-type role of setting up classrooms in their homes.
    “I have now ensured that each of my children has their dedicated work space,” McWhorter added. “My oldest will continue to work in the home office, but I set up a small craft table for my middle son in the living room, and we pulled out my husband’s childhood student desk, which was collecting dust in the garage, for my youngest son.”
    She said she set up each “classroom” this way so that each child would be responsible for his own workspace, materials and organization, and be in a quiet environment favorable to learning. 
    Beyond study areas, scheduling is yet another hurdle.
    “The challenge for me is managing three different schedules, Zoom class call times and providing support for each of them. It truly feels like a juggling act,” said McWhorter.
    Fortunately, help is on the way for parents with upcoming parent education sessions through the Orinda Union School District.
    In OUSD’s Aug. 10 regular school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Carolyn Seaton talked about ways to help parents in this new learning environment.
    “We are planning to offer several education sessions that focus on helping parents navigate distance learning successfully with their students,” she said. “Sessions will target how to help students with distance learning in early elementary, upper elementary and middle school grades.”
    She said sessions will cover how to support students with special needs in a distance-learning environment, address students’ social and emotional needs during distance learning, help parents address their own social and emotional health, and more.
    Not just kids, but parents now have a learning curve in these unprecedented times.
    “I am trying to network with other families, but with three kids’ school schedules to manage, I need to first better understand what the fall learning schedule will look like in my house,” said McWhorter. “After one to two weeks of distance learning, I hopefully will have better insight into what additional resources I may need to tap into to support my children academically and socially.”
    Her advice to other parents going through the same challenges is to prepare by buying school supplies to help kids get in the back-to-school mind-set and to set-up a quiet and efficient study space for them to learn.
    “This is challenging for all families, but we need to remain positive for ourselves and our kids,” she added. “We will get through this.”

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