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Demands of online learning raise stress levels for parents

Ivy Sunderland says she has never been spread so thin as during this period of remote learning as she tries to manage work and normal responsibilities along with extra involvement in her kids’ schooling. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

After clocking out from a long shift, nurse practitioner Melissa Ortiz will go home to what has become her second job: pseudo-educator.

“I’ve never been able to drop my hours throughout this whole (pandemic). So now, I’m leaving after working all day, and I have to go home and try to figure out why we’re missing four assignments and why we can’t figure out some of the steps to complete an assignment,” Ortiz said.

That’s because her sons, like students across the state and country, are having to learn online due to COVID-19.

She has three boys at home: a senior, a freshman and a sixth grader. Rayden Smith,18, and Brycen Smith, 15, go to charter school East Mountain High, and Tygue Smith, 11, is enrolled in an online school.

“We’re barely hanging on,” Ortiz says with a mixture of a laugh and a sigh of exhaustion.

She said remote learning has been among the most trying experiences she’s ever had with her family because she has to balance her work with assisting the kids and filling in for any hands-on instruction. Somewhere in between those tasks, Ortiz is also trying to find time for normal tasks like fixing dinner.

There’s very little of the day left for anything else, making for high stress levels.

“It is very difficult,” she said.

Brycen used to be an average student, but his grades have fallen this school year, she said.

Ivy Sunderland, mother of two, says remote learning has saddled parents with a mammoth juggling act. She says she and the kids have felt overwhelmed. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Ortiz attributes the drop to multiple factors, such as the numerous steps that are required to access assignments.

“It’s not just click on it and there’s an assignment and submit. It’s, like, click on it, go to this website that takes you to another website, and then you fill that out, and then you’re supposed to email your results back,” she said.

It falls on Ortiz to troubleshoot.

“I know teachers are doing their best. … But it’s still not sufficient,” she said. “I almost feel like we’re doing a lot of the teaching but not getting paid to be the teacher.”

East Mountain High School principal Trey Smith said he has received mixed reactions from parents about remote learning.

“My biggest takeaway is that the students who were kind of struggling in a normal class setting are seeing the same struggles. … This setting might amplify them for some, but as a whole, I’m not really seeing students who were thriving and doing well in an in-person setting who are not doing well now,” Smith said.

For parents who are overwhelmed, Smith said, the school is trying to be flexible.

“Everyone’s in the same boat. We’re all experiencing the same sense of stress and overwhelming, but at our school, at least, I have confidence that our staff are very accommodating of that, and they’re being flexible,” he said.

Remote learning is shaping up to be a part of Ortiz’s life for longer than she would have liked. Elementary school students are allowed back on some campuses, but the state Public Education Department hasn’t announced a target date for most middle and high school students to return. The department said Friday that some small districts will be able to bring back the older students in small groups with a combination of online and in-person learning.

Meanwhile, a number of districts are planning to continue online learning for extended periods, including Albuquerque Public Schools, which is scheduled to continue remote learning through the first semester.

While Ortiz often feels isolated, what she is experiencing is something her friend Ivy Sunderland can relate to.

Sunderland, who has two students at North Star Elementary School, says she has to be technology support, teacher, lunch lady and more – on top of her duties as a full-time director of operations for an insurance business.

“I’ve never been spread so thin,” she said.

She says she loses patience under the pressure.

“Both (of the kids) have been on the floor crying at least once this week. One has run away – twice,” she said in late August.

The mothers want the option of in-person classes. And they’re not alone.

An online petition with nearly 3,000 signatures is also calling for the APS Board of Education to reinstate its original reentry plan rather than extend remote learning.

APS spokeswoman Johanna King said people with concerns can reach out to the board or speak publicly at its meetings. She said that petitions aren’t unusual and that there was resistance to the plan for hybrid in-person and online schooling, as well.

APS officials directed parents to reach out to the school, including school counselors, for support and check APS.edu for online resources.

Smith said success in remote learning varies by household. Some parents have praised the new model.

Shelbi Stoerner, a mother of two, thinks remote learning is going really well for her eldest son.

Having flexible hours as a fitness instructor and personal trainer, Stoerner is able to stay home with 15-year-old Noah, who has autism, and help him with his work. Her seventh grader attends in-person classes at a private school.

Noah is enrolled part-time at East Mountain, taking English and world history.

“They are being very flexible, and they’re also giving Noah the opportunity to have some one-on-one time,” she said.

Stoerner gave kudos to Noah’s teachers, saying they allow breaks and are creative with lessons so classes are not continuous online lectures. She also enjoys the schedule of remote learning, especially office hours with teachers in the mornings.

Still, like Ortiz and Sunderland, Stoerner said the positives of remote learning have come with some “ups and downs.”

“The challenge for me is just maintaining my patience with Noah and not really wanting to have to be his teacher,” she said.

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