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When educating your kids comes home

Dolores Gonzales Elementary School principal Lori Stuit gives books to Joseph Moraga, 11, and his mother, Kelly Moraga, with their lunches on Friday. Kelly Moraga wants to makes sure Joseph and his brother Isaiah, 9, keep up with their math and reading. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Dolores Gonzales Elementary School principal Lori Stuit gives books to Joseph Moraga, 11, and his mother, Kelly Moraga, with their lunches on Friday. Kelly Moraga wants to makes sure Joseph and his brother Isaiah, 9, keep up with their math and reading. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Kelly Moraga admits that keeping her two boys educated while schools are shut down is rough.

“We’re trying to keep afloat,” Moraga told the Journal, letting out a mix of a sigh and a laugh.

It’s a juggling act making sure 11-year-old Joseph and 9-year-old Isaiah live as normally as possible and keep up with their learning.

Moraga is in the same position as parents across the state after public preschools and K-12 schools were shut down in New Mexico for three weeks due to COVID-19 – a closure that started on March 16 and could be extended.

While the state Public Education Department said schools will not be required to make up the time out of the classroom at the end of the year, parents are taking on what feels like the mammoth task of at-home supplemental learning during the closure.

On Friday, Moraga pulled up to Dolores Gonzales Elementary School across from the ABQ BioPark to grab food packs and some books for Joseph and Isaiah.

Driver Marl Herron unloads food at Dolores Gonzales Elementary School for the breakfasts and lunches being supplied to students while schools are closed.

Driver Marl Herron unloads food at Dolores Gonzales Elementary School for the breakfasts and lunches being supplied to students while schools are closed.

Moraga said her family relies on the free meals Albuquerque Public Schools is providing, which are available at multiple grab-and-go sites in the district such as Dolores Gonzales.

And the free books are essential, since Moraga is making sure the boys are practicing math and reading skills.

“We’re trying to keep up with the core,” she said.

But she worries the kids are missing out on elective classes, or that they need more time on social studies and science, which she tries to fit in when they can. She’s also making it a point to set up FaceTime calls so the children get social interactions.

It’s a full load other parents can empathize with during this unprecedented time.

Child psychiatrist weighs in

Kristina Sowar, a child psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of New Mexico, said parents shouldn’t try to do it all.

“Try to not to put so much pressure on yourself to become a teacher or become a home-schooler. …You don’t have to generate your child into a perfect SAT student, of course, during this time,” Sowar said.

Sowar said the important thing is to get by while maintaining a good outlook.

She emphasized that there is no gold standard, but offered some guidance for parents like Moraga who are suddenly taking on the role of temporary educator.

“I think a lot of families are trying to do – and what was recommended – is trying do some amount anywhere between three and five hours a day of academic-related time,” Sowar said, adding that’s the recommendation for grades K-8.

She suggested creating a designated schedule and environment for learning to help kids gear up and focus.

“People have more success when they have at least a designated space for studying, something that isn’t in close proximity and competition with toys or video games,” Sowar said.

Having an outlined schedule will also set expectations and cue to children when they should be learning versus playing.

“Part of the change right now is we’re going from having so much structure in our lives in ways, to not a lot of structure. Kids also generally do well when they know what to expect,” Sowar said.

Moraga said scheduling has been an issue with Isaiah and Joseph, but she’s working on creating a daily routine.

Sowar suggested writing out a general agenda on a whiteboard or in another visible area and getting children involved in making it.

Creating a schedule has also been one of the hardest parts about having children out of school for Abby Otoski, a parent of a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old.

As a full-time nursing student who works part time, Otoski said maintaining a routine has been an adjustment. So far, she is setting aside time for playtime and digital learning during the day and she does her nursing school work after the kids go to bed.

For parents working from home, Sowar recommends setting up activities or lessons students can do independently and consecutively, ideally allowing parents to get some work done at the same time.

Dolores Gonzales Elementary principal Lori Stuit, left, talks with Megan Work after she and her daughters, Audrey, 7, Heidi, 4, and Maggie, 9, got books with their lunches Friday afternoon.

Dolores Gonzales Elementary principal Lori Stuit, left, talks with Megan Work after she and her daughters, Audrey, 7, Heidi, 4, and Maggie, 9, got books with their lunches Friday afternoon.

APS offers at-home resources

From cellphone applications and online educational games to books and paper worksheets, there are many resources out there, and Sowar says take advantage.

Amelia Milazzo, the executive director of curriculum and instruction for APS, says the district will offer school supplies, any surplus textbooks and other printed resources to families who don’t have access to computers.

“We are developing … educational packets K-8 that have a number of suggestions, resources and activities that families can do at home,” she said.

She said APS will print out the packets – including educational games and worksheets that don’t require intensive amounts of instruction – and make them available at schools that are offering meals to students during the closure, starting this week. The goal is to eventually get resources to all the grab-and-go meal sites in Spanish and English.

Some of the sites are already passing out books in addition to meals, such as Dolores Gonzales Elementary where Moraga went.

The executive director of APS’ curriculum and instruction said, right now, there are a couple thousand books and activity workbooks that are going out.

APS also has a host of online resources identified at aps.edu broken down by grade and subject, including lesson plans and educational online games.

Otoski says she has relied on some of the online tools for her kindergartener during the first week of closure.

“I just want to make sure my daughter is ready for first grade in the fall,” Otoski said.

And the state Early Childhood Education and Care Department announced it will provide temporary free accounts to Parentivity, an online platform for parents with kids up to age 5. There are games, videos and other resources.

Milazzo noted that the closure will inevitably result in loss of instruction and those types of resources are meant to be supplemental rather than a replacement. The district is looking at how to mitigate the shutdown’s effects on learning moving forward.

Sowar, the child psychiatrist, said parents can also lean on one another, swapping ideas and advice.

“Reach out to other parents to see if there’s strategies they’re finding helpful. There’s not a one-size-fits-all right now,” Sowar said.

That’s what local parent Lola Abeyta says she has been doing. She turns to Facebook to see what other parents are doing and get ideas daily.

Sowar added that parents can also embrace cooking or playing outside for nontraditional, hands-on learning.

Even with all the resources and tips, Sowar ultimately said that parents should have patience with themselves and recognize they’re in uncharted territory.

“This is a new experience. People haven’t had their kids at home for weeks on end, trying to juggle work and teach them simultaneously,” Sowar said.

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