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With schools closed, CCSD parents mix family time with learning

With schools closed, grocery shelves stripped bare and a social distancing mandate in place, parent Ashley Brady gets her kids’ day started in a rather appropriate way — with a dance party to R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine).”

“Just to let it out and keep things light-hearted,” she said.

Brady is one of thousands of parents around the Las Vegas Valley whose kids are unexpectedly at home for at least the next three weeks while schools close to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Given no mandatory homework, or much immediate guidance regarding online learning from officials, families are finding their own ways to keep their kids educated, entertained and out of public spaces.

Schools will need to be ready to provide a distance learning curriculum by March 23, Nevada Department of Education spokesman Gregory Bortolin said Monday, with Gov. Steve Sisolak expected to sign an executive order that will waive any laws that would have prohibited schools from offering such an option. Down the line, should the missed time extend beyond contingency days, a longer school year or longer school days might be needed, he said.

Just how far down the line that might occur remains unclear. CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara said in a message to parents on Wednesday that the district is continuing to plan for a school reopening on April 14. But in light of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s call on Tuesday for nonessential businesses to shut down for 30 days, preparations are being done “with an understanding that the rapidly evolving response to the pandemic could lead to an extended closure,” he said.

In the meantime, the Clark County School District has distributed sheets of suggested learning activities for K-8 students, and directed high school students to Khan Academy’s online learning resources. Dozens of other online platforms are offering free trials or subscriptions, and locally, YouTuber and CCSD mom Jenny Ballif is offering a livestream of science activities on her Science Mom channel.

Brady said she’s also prioritizing lessons in self-sufficiency, like making breakfast and lunch, and doing the dishes and laundry. She made a schedule for her 5- and 7-year-olds to refer to, in order to stave off the “what are we going to do next?” questions that many parents will recognize.

“I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for years, so quite honestly this is a true ‘hold my beer’ moment for me,” Brady said. “I just feel like I finally have something to offer my family and potentially my community that usually goes so unrecognized.”

Her children understand the importance of staying inside, she said, in part because of a family trip to Utah to visit a relative fighting cancer. After they returned, they stayed out of school for a week as a precautionary measure.

“We told them if for our safety and for the safety of people like grandpa that we stay inside and keep our bodies strong,” Brady said. “They get it and are all-in.”

Crafts, hikes, squabbles

On day two of the new paradigm on Tuesday, parent Maria Gagliano-Doleshal did not intend to let the social distancing guidelines spoil St. Patrick’s Day. Though the parade was canceled, she dressed 3-year-old Angie and 6-year-old Alex in their best holiday greenery to participate in a shamrock hunt set up by the neighborhood — only instead of going with their friends, each family went individually to spot the shamrock decorations put out by neighbors.

At home, the siblings worked out of two workbooks they received for Christmas that they’d been saving for summer break. Alex’s teacher at Walker Elementary School also provided learning packets, including sheets of sight words that the kindergartner aced.

“Can you find an A-plus sticker, because I got all of them right,” Alex said as his mom searched for the right sticker.

“I’ll put it on — I’m your teacher for now,” Gagliano-Doleshal told him.

Apart from school work, the family has done crafts and gone on hikes — still a sanctioned outdoor activity even in communities like San Francisco that have imposed “shelter in place” isolation measures.

Gagliano-Doleshal said while she initially hoped schools would stay open, she fully supports the social distancing guidelines and intends to stick to them until schools reopen.

“I’m not going to lock us in a bubble, but there’s a reason they’re out of school,” Gagliano-Doleshal said.

She said she worries about a long disruption in the school year for Alex, who says he misses P.E. and the library at Walker, where he can check out books every Wednesday.

When the kids headed out to play kickball in the backyard, a small squabble broke out: Alex wanted to set up cones for an obstacle course, but Angie wanted to arrange them in a line. Their mom played the part of experienced referee, engaging both kids in a running game.

Later, she swore the siblings’ fight wasn’t due to cabin fever — just business as usual between an older brother and his younger sister.

Gagliano-Doleshal said she was able to change her hours at work to supervise her kids and is now working three days a week from 7 to 11 a.m., when she switches places with her husband before his noon shift. She added that she doesn’t think the family will feel too much stress due to the school closures or social distancing mandates, even as the weeks stretch on.

“Maybe if we get locked in, like in our house and backyard, it’ll be different,” she said.

Older kids

Parents of older children, particularly high school seniors, say they’re also managing their students’ anxieties about missed activities, field trips and maybe even graduations.

Andrea Flory Quest said she worries her 18-year-old will give up on his goals given all the cancellations. And while her youngest has completed the work given out by his teacher, she’s trying to persuade her two high schoolers to do homework that’s not required for their grades. She added that so far, the family has enjoyed time together but that she’ll soon begin enforcing reading and journaling.

“They all have instruments, so they are going to try to teach the 8-year-old chords and stuff. They want to learn a song to play together,” she said. “Maybe it will strengthen their bond, or cause fights.”

Venti Chelle, parent to children ranging from 2 to 18, said she’s taking one day at a time but won’t allow sleeping in and watching TV or playing games all day.

“Unlike others who are treating this as a vacation and going to malls, parks, etc., we’ll be staying inside or on our property unless absolutely necessary until this all settles down,” she said.

Parent Zurii D’Ambra said the closures have completely disrupted her work-from-home schedule but that she’s been able to find online learning resources for her school-aged children, while she and her husband work with their toddler on play-based learning. The older kids listen to educational podcasts or read about current events while the little ones nap, she said.

As a parenting coach, she said she’d encourage other families to take the time to engage with their children.

“I am trying to look at this whole quarantine thing as an opportunity to slow down, to reconnect and to spend quality time with my loved ones,” she said.

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at 702-383-0218 or aappleton@reviewjournal.com. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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