As Nate and Tori Rios scramble to make digital lessons, worksheets and study guides available to their high school students, they’re also at home schooling their own three children. It may feel like a cacophony of YouTube, Google classroom, paper packets, baking, bedtimes and the occasional kid’s movies, because that’s what it is.

“We went live with digital classes a week ago, and so did our kids’ teachers,” noted Nate, a Flowing Wells High School government and history teacher. “Beyond my regular roles as a parent and teacher, I’m also the department chair, which adds another layer of responsibility.”

How schools are making changes

Schools all over the world are grappling with unprecedented closures. Whether they reopen for the current school year or not, remains to be seen. In the meantime, schools are in overdrive to find ways to ensure that all students can continue to learn, regardless of their abilities, location or family circumstances.

In Tucson, the Flowing Wells Unified School District has given educators wide flexibility on how they deliver learning opportunities. Teachers can choose from a variety of options, depending on what is best for their class. For Tori Rios, that means something different each day of the week.

“Mondays are review, Tuesdays students watch a taped lesson, Thursdays I host a live session to review and help with homework, and Fridays we do a short quiz,” said Tori, a math teacher at Flowing Wells High School. “But that’s just for one class. My other classes need a different approach.”

Teacher are using live and taped instruction, worksheets, Google classroom, instructional texts, and more. All with the understanding that students are getting assignments and videos from 3-6 other teachers. Knowing that many students lack internet or devices in the home, teachers also provide printed packets that are available for pick up.

What can parents do to help continue learning?

Communicate. “Schools are moving fast to adjust to our new normal,” Nate added. “Teachers care deeply about their students and we want to help. If you’re unsure of what you should be doing or how to help your kids, reach out to their teacher and ask!”

Tori notes that communication also needs to flow toward students. Caregivers need to understand that they’re experiencing this with all of us, and it can be especially distressing to juniors and seniors, who are facing additional stress during some of their most important high school years. Many of her students don’t know what to believe and don’t totally understand why they’re out of school.

Parents should speak honestly and clearly with them about the situation, to alleviate uncertainty. “Ask how they’re doing, set clear and realistic expectations, and ease up on the pressure. We’re all in uncharted territory and we’ll figure it out together.”

Encourage, don’t push, learning. Work with your teachers to clarify expectations for work and growth. Each school and classroom will be different, depending on resources and needs. Some districts are moving forward with new content, while others are reviewing and solidifying what students have already learned.“Most teachers aren’t looking for mastery at this point,” Tori noted. “We’re looking for youth to put in effort and at least get exposure to the material. I’ve heard from students who struggle with motivation to learn from home and even wonder whether they can. These feelings are completely understandable, and we just want them to do what they can.”

Identify the resources that are right for your family. “Beyond what your school is providing, there are many resources available online,” Nate noted. “Find sources that interest and engage your child. These can be especially helpful for students prepping for AP exams.”

Find ways to help. Parents who would usually be volunteering in the classroom or helping teachers prepare materials, will have to put that on hold. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.

“Be understanding and patient with school leaders – and yourself – as everyone finds their way,” Tori suggested.

“Each district is operating under unique circumstances and has unique needs,” added Nate.“The best way to help is to ask what they need. Perhaps assisting with classroom cleaning or distributing meals. If you’re able, make financial contributions through tax credit donations or sites like Donors Choose.”

Nate and Tori Rios are parents of three young children and teachers at Flowing Wells High School.

advice for high schoolers COVID-19