More than 15,000 second-grade students and their parents struggle with virtual home-schooling amid closure of Suffolk County schools

Through Google Chrome, students are able to access the library of programs needed to complete virtual assignments.

By Stephanie Melo
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“I don’t get this,” Leila Quintanilla, my 8-year-old daughter, said after five consecutive hours in front of our shared computer screen. Our kitchen table has become her new school desk. She switches back and forth from her pencil to a computer mouse to complete her virtual assignments. Since stay-at-home orders began, my role has expanded. I am now a college student, a second-grade teacher, and a mother, with all the duties and responsibilities those three jobs entail.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Leila’s school, as well as all others in New York, will remain closed until at least May 15. Distance learning requires students to complete their assigned work through unconventional means. Teachers have been mandated to conduct lessons over platforms like Zoom, Google Meets and Google Classroom while parents are now obligated to help their children with hours of schoolwork.

“If I wanted to become a teacher, I would’ve gone to school for it,” Gianna Nicotra, whose son’s kindergarten year was cut short, said. “It was [Mason’s] first year having a full day of school. He was transitioning fine and now he can’t continue.”

To help prevent further stress on the healthcare system while minimizing the disruption to the school year, home has become the new classroom for 15,934 Suffolk County second-graders.

“Parents may understand the material they are asked to teach their child, but it does not mean they can effectively convey the concepts and foundations for their child to effectively learn,” Daniel Wesley, an educational psychology graduate student at SUNY Oneonta, said. “Most parents are unfit to educate their children due to their lack of teaching experience and limited pedagogical knowledge.”

As they struggle to manage their new responsibilities, most parents lack the teaching skills mastered in higher level educational institutions, Wesley said.

“It was rough in the beginning, especially with two kids,” Sabrina Gilmer, another Longwood mother, said. “It was very confusing, figuring out all the different assignments from all the different teachers.”

For school districts like Longwood, Google Classroom will serve as the primary point of communication with teachers, according to the district website. A computer and school-issued email are required to access teachers’ lessons and assignments. For students without access to a computer at home, the district provided Google Chromebooks when in-person classes were suspended. Some Longwood parents had more trouble than others getting a handle on the technology.

“One of the issues I’ve noticed and heard about during distance learning is the accessibility of technology for the parents,” Michele Formichelli, a teacher at Longwood Middle School, said. “Sometimes parents aren’t familiar with the technology and navigating the websites.”

The applications Longwood’s elementary schools use, such as IXL, iReady, Raz Kids and Think Central, are already familiar to students. Although they may need help with some questions, instruction isn’t needed to access the program, which allows them to work slightly more independently.

“I grew up with pay phones. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 34,” Liz Trusas, a Longwood mom of twin 13-year-old boys, said.“So let’s just say navigating Google was interesting.”

Like Trusas, others also struggle with technology, But their children, with exposure from school, can often manage electronics better than them.

“My middle schooler was a big help since she knew how to manage the apps,” Karen Baez, a Longwood parent and essential worker at Long Island Community Hospital, said. “This at least made it easier for my second-grader and myself.”

In a class setting, students are around peers at the same level, and the teacher is able to address the class as a whole with further explanation. But for parents with more than one child, home-schooling requires double the work and double the time.

“I feel like I don’t have enough time,” Baez said. “I really appreciate the teachers now because their techniques might be easier for the students. Home-schooling is not the same.”

The transition to distance learning was abrupt for students and their families. Not only did parents have to figure out childcare arrangements, as guidelines for COVID-19 caused changes in regular routines — they also were expected to provide some semblance of a regular school day.

“As far as difficulties for parents of public-school children, they were thrust into schooling their children at home with little notice,” Janie Melo, my sister-in-law and a certified homeschooling teacher, said. “Most home-schoolers were well researched and solid in their decision by the time they decided to home-school.”

And for students who require more attention in school, some parents are not satisfied with the results of distance learning.

“[My son] has a speech disorder and was put in an inclusive classroom with two teachers,” Jackie Sabella, a mom of a first-grader, said. “He improved immensely in such a short time. As soon as he started not going to school, he showed regression almost immediately. Me teaching him is nowhere near the same.”

Businesses are shut down and the public is practicing social distancing, but essential workers continue working. For many students, distance learning with an essential worker parent means their new teacher isn’t around to assist.

“After waking up at 6 p.m. last night and working 12 hours, you’ll find me still awake with my kids doing their work,” Elizabeth Gutierrez, a mother and nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital, said. “[My son] hates it. I hate it.”

And when parents do get the chance to help, sometimes the workload has increased immensely.

“I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing by going to work to pay my bills and now my daughter is weeks behind on her schoolwork,” Elizabeth Azzara, another Longwood mother, said.

As for myself and my second-grader, Leila — although I have the luxury of staying home with her, I am a college student. Trying to balance my own assignments with the amount of homework given to her is our biggest issue. Since distance learning tries to recreate the school day and emphasize each subject taught in class, even libraries and gyms require material to be completed. Not being familiar with teaching techniques is another matter of contention. I am unsure of how hands-on or hands-off I should be.

“Parents are dealing with outside expectations from school district guidelines and expectations of their children’s teachers,” Melo said.

As a mother, it is difficult to hold the role of teacher, friend and parent. Although we are all braving the same storm, each of us are in different boats.

“I miss my friends,” Quintanilla said. “I like being home, but I miss school too.”

In addition to life stressors from parents, students struggle with poor time management and a lack of focus studying at home. As COVID-19 continues to spread, the return date for students is still uncertain.

About Stephanie Melo 5 Articles
While maneuvering through life on Long Island, I am also a student journalist at Stony Brook University. My interests when it comes to reporting is in crime and sports. I also enjoy opinion writing and hope to have my own column one day. After graduation I plan to attend dental school and become a dentist. Being a young mom has allowed me a different perspective on life as well. I try to find a connection between young adulthood, young motherhood and student life.