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Parents attending Western navigate the remote quarter

By Macy Adkinson

Student parents at Western say they are looking for ways to entertain their kids and keep up with school amidst an extended stay-at-home order.

While learning how to navigate their at-home schooling, student parents also have the challenge of managing their children’s education and attention spans because childcare entertainment, like parks and schools, are closed.

Azure Burrell, fifth-year Fairhaven interdisciplinary studies major, said she is learning to find a balance between a full course load at Western and two jobs, while spending time with her daughter.

Azure Burrell takes her daughter on an evening walk through a Bellingham neighborhood. // Courtesy of Azure Burrell

“I am slowly adjusting to online school,” Burrel said. “In some ways it’s incredibly helpful when it comes to juggling schedules, but it definitely is no easier when it comes to learning.”

Burrell said it’s harder to pay attention in Zoom classes when discussions aren’t as interesting as in-person classes.

Beth Hawes, who transferred from community college to Western this year to major in biology, has four children at home.

“Right now my main goal for everyone in my house is just to survive the current structure of life and online schooling,” Hawes said.

Before going back to school, Hawes was a business owner working as an esthetician. She wanted to do more with skin care so she went back to school to be a dermatologist, not knowing she’d be forced to move to remote learning.

“I think the biggest life lesson in this is that you have to be willing to go easy on yourself,” Hawes said. “Not everything is going to be done at its best under the current circumstances and that’s okay.”

Azure Burrell helps her daughter build a bookcase for her room. // Courtesy of Azure Burrell

Hawes said she combats cabin fever by sending the kids outside as much as possible. She lets the kids watch television and play video games when she knows she is going to be using the computer for classes.

Burrell said that she and her daughter take bike rides, camp in the backyard, make arts and crafts and read random fact books to stay occupied.

Kayla Varney, a fourth-year studying human services and sociology at Western, has a 7-month-old son at home.

“I am actually thankful that classes are online because then it means I can be more flexible with my time and when I can finish certain work for classes,” Varney said.

Burrell agreed that online classes are helpful and wants Western to offer more mandatory classes in the evening or online for nontraditional students during a normal school quarter.

Western Special Education professor Gail Coulter said she is doing what she can to assist families learning at home. She has created a blog for homeschooling during the pandemic.

“The blog has suggestions and ideas of how to teach these kids at home, what to teach, resources that are free, how to manage education at home, strategies to keep children on task and how to interface with school support,” Coulter said.

Posts like The Reluctant Learner, Outside the Box 1 and 2 and Parallel Play are about strategies that are helpful for families with children of all ages, Coulter said. She said there is a little bit of something in there for all kinds of students and parents, including children with disabilities.

Coulter’s blog has reached 500 people, with some accessing it from Germany, Japan, Peru and beyond, she said.

Western’s Child Development Center manager Keri Krout said the center, which provides care for children of student parents, is staying in contact with families.

The center serves 56 children ages 2-5 each quarter, while the staff works to provide a safe and healthy environment for young children, supporting the social, emotional, physical and intellectual growth of each child, according to its website.

“We are very concerned about how our student families are faring,” Krout said.

“We are still in contact with families, children and Woodring College of Education using Zoom, Teams and an app called Brightwheel. We have hosted parent/teacher conferences, intern projects, circle times, sharing times and cooking projects.”

Programs like Zoom and Teams provide a visual platform for meetings and activities, while Brightwheel is an early education app that lets teachers manage their classrooms and stay in contact with parents, according to its website.

Krout said it’s beneficial for student parents and their families to strategize and create a routine. She suggests taking down time each day to work on schooling, then follow it up with other activities.

“Take time each day to be playful and connect with your child by doing what your child wants to do, like make a tent, read a story, go for a walk,” Krout said. “Then, do self care. This looks different to each individual, but for me, it is reading a book that isn't a textbook and going outside and taking deep breaths while meditating.”

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