Single Working Parents Struggle as Kids Learn Online at Home

The remote learning models adopted by many Michigan school districts this year are creating challenges for parents, particularly if they are single parents with jobs that don’t allow them to work from home.

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Shutterstock/Anatoly Vartanov
(TNS) — Shalana Spellman is a nurse who works from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. while also trying to help her five children navigate through remote classes in the Saginaw Public School District due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a struggle because I have two high-school students, a middle schooler, a fifth-grader and a kindergartner,” Spellman, a divorced single parent, said. “It’s going to be a struggle to keep up with them.”

The remote learning models adopted by many Michigan school districts this year are creating challenges for parents, particularly if they are single parents with jobs that don’t allow them to work from home.

“My children are very independent, but what if they have tech difficulties and can’t navigate through that?" Spellman asks. "Who will be there for them?”

Technology is one of the biggest concerns for parents, Spellman said. Most schools within the Saginaw Intermediate School District have provided laptops for students, but there are households that don’t have internet access, creating another obstacle.

“Not all parents are tech-savvy,” Spellman said. “Parents are leaving their children with grandparents, but my mother don’t know how to work a Chromebook. What about kids who don’t want other kids to see how they live. What about those whose escape from home was school?”

To get through this unique school year, Spellman is partnering with another parent to help each other work with their kids.

“We are really utilizing the village that we have,” she said.

Spellman is not alone. As the first week of school for students working remotely in many districts is in the books, other parents share her concerns and more, including supervision of their children while they’re “in school.”

“Kids were getting up from the screen and picking up toys to play with,” said a mother who wished not to be identified about her 5-year-old Saginaw kindergartner’s experience with remote school this week. “I mean, they are kindergarteners. What do you expect?”

Shatoya Laster, also a single parent, has three kids in the Saginaw district and two in Bridgeport-Spaulding Community Schools. She’s currently laid off from her job but is expected to be called back in a few weeks, which will make it difficult to monitor her kids' schoolwork.

“My biggest concern is truancy,” Laster said. “My thing is if I’m not here they need supervision. They have us signing truancy papers. I don’t want to be in trouble because I won’t be able to supervise and make sure they are doing what they should be doing when I’m at work.”

Laster has a daughter who’s a senior in Bridgeport Spaulding schools, which implemented face-to-face in-school learning, as well as offering an online option. Laster is keeping her children at home as her daughter has asthma and she said she worries she could be more susceptible to illness.

“My kids are not going to be guinea pigs,” she said. “I want to see how this works out.”

Tasha Jackson’s daughter attends third grade at Saginaw Preparatory Academy, which offers online classes but also gives students the option of attending classes in person three days a week. Jackson chose the online option.

“I want to wait until I feel safe,” said Jackson, a divorced single parent. “We can reevaluate in November.”

Jackson, of Saginaw, works in Midland during regular school hours and drops her daughter off at her parent’s home after 6 a.m. each morning.

“It’s an inconvenience,” Jackson said. “My parents are older and are not able to teach that curriculum.”

Community resources

Saginaw schools are working with parents who face these obstacles, Superintendent Ramont Roberts said.

For households that don’t have internet access, the district is providing access to learning labs where they bus students to school cafeterias and gyms. The district also is offering recorded lessons “so parents can be off work and discuss them with their kids,” Roberts said.

“In our plan we built in a four-week evaluation cycle,” he said. “We will ask what’s working and what’s not working. We are going to have to reevaluate the plan and readjust to make the necessary adjustments.”

Providing options to families in this situation is important, Bridgeport Spaulding Superintendent Mark Whelton said. Teachers will reach out to families to make sure students are logging in and participating, and fitting online lessons in with parents’ schedules is also OK, he said.

“I would say for those parents all is not lost,” Whelton said. “The time of the day you learn is not as important as being a part of the process. If your learning starts at three in the afternoon instead of early in the morning, it’s better than not learning at all."

Services and organizations, such as First Ward Community Services in Saginaw, are also stepping up to help parents in a variety of communities.

“I think everybody is in this boat together and trying to figure out how this is going to work," Firs Ward Director Michelle McGregor said.

McGregor’s plan is to open First Ward for children while their parents are at work and provide retired teachers and volunteers to help with schoolwork. Mask and social distancing will be practiced.

Jackson believes community resources can take a lot of weight off of parents -- especially single parents.

“That would be wonderful,” Jackson said. “We are parents but we are not teachers. That would be a way of making sure the kids are doing what they need to be doing.”

Working together amid all the struggles families are going through during the pandemic and this new style of teaching and learning is important, Spellman said.

“People need to understand that this is new to all of us,” she said. "We have to exercise patience and empathy and be kind to one another.”

©2020, Walker, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.