By Brandon Martin
One major hurdle for parents during the coronavirus pandemic has been learning how to juggle working from home while still ensuring their children receive a proper education in their new virtual setting.
To help parents struggling to maintain the balancing act, panelists discussed some of the most common issues during a free, virtual workshop hosted Feb. 26 by Patrick Henry Community College.
At the workshop titled, “Telework Plus Virtual School.Oh My!,” Monica Hatchett, director of communications for Henry County Public Schools, suggested parents remember their available resources.
“The strongest resource is the classroom teacher,” she said. “While it feels like a lot of the time that teacher isn’t there, the teacher is absolutely 100 percent there. Our teachers are essentially on-call” 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Hatchett said instructors are available to answer emails, talk with families, and share videos of lessons with parents.
“There are a lot of teachers that get questions from parents” who then “create videos to show the parent how to help their child learn something,” Hatchett said. “The school counselor is also there to support students and their families. It’s important for them to check in with kids on a more formal basis.”
While it can be difficult at times, Hatchett stressed the importance of remembering the basics.
“It’s important to check your child’s grades on a regular basis,” she said. “Log into Canvas and see what they are doing. Ask them questions about the work they are doing or the video they should have watched.”
The around-the-clock schedule of virtual learning comes at a cost for parents, according to Ashley Raynor, supervisor of school-based services at Piedmont Community Services in Franklin County.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with parents who are burnt out,” Raynor said. “I’ve really focused with people on making goals that are small and reasonable goals. Getting people to dial back on high expectations and make small reasonable goals has been helpful.”
Raynor said it’s important to understand there are multiple ways to learn that aren’t strictly school-related.
“My goal is to make sure that kids have learned more than just academic stuff this year,” she said. “What have they learned from this experience and what have they taken away from it? I hope that it has made some of our kids stronger. We learned how to reach out for help when we need it and how to support each other. My hope is that it made us all better as a community to work together during a time that is really hard.”
Beth Deatherage, a parent and the chief operating officer of Momenta, said she has found a couple of ways to remain resilient throughout the pandemic.
“One is how important your workspace is,” she said. “There are five people in my house all day. We didn’t have separate workspaces for all of us prior to, so setting up a desk in one space for my fiancé, one space for me, one space for my son was important. I also got a mobile desk along the way and that really helped. I can work in a chair, on the treadmill, so I don’t feel like I’m in that same spot every day.”
Deatherage also noted the importance of maintaining a normal balance between work and home life.
“Typically, when you work in an office you are done at 5 (p.m.) but now I’m more likely to check in and work at 6 (p.m.) because I’m not going anywhere,” Deatherage said. “My son said at one point ‘mommy, why do you work so much?’”
Deatherage said this helped her notice that she needed to “stop working so much and focus on the standard hours so I’m making sure that I’m spending more time with him. Being in the same house with him is not the same as spending time with him.”
Jessica Butler, licensed professional counselor at Piedmont Community Services, also discussed the importance of downtime.
“Be flexible and pick your battles. One thing that I wish I knew before was to be able to take a break,” Butler said. “Figure out what has to be done and break it down to a more manageable schedule or manageable structure. This has taught me how to be flexible with how I interact with my children and even my job.”
Hatchett said a little empathy goes a long way.
“It’s really important for us all to show each other some grace,” she said. “Typically, we don’t reach out until we are already frustrated. I think it is important that we remember that about each other.”
Deatherage said there has been an increase in parental critics during the pandemic, “a lot of mom-shaming about technology for children. Because all of this virtual learning is technology-based, you feel this extra pressure to limit their technology. I’ve had to kind of let that go completely.”
She said that has helped her find some balance as well.
“My son is not allowed to have his technology before he finishes his schoolwork for the day, but once he does finish it, so that I can finish my working day, he is allowed to have that tablet and that Nintendo,” she said. “That’s a lot of different screen time that we wouldn’t normally allow our children, but I just have to let myself not feel guilty about it.”
She added that each parenting style is different.
“There are some less supportive moms that are judge-y,” Deatherage said. “You just have to ignore that and do what works for you to get you through the situation. There is no right way.”
Through it all, Deatherage said parents should remember they aren’t alone.
“It’s okay to say that you are struggling,” she said. “I think relying on your friends to help you through these difficult times” will be beneficial. “Just remember that you can do it.”
Butler said other resources may be available.
“Check with your company or HR (human resources) department to see what your company provides for support,” she said. “For instance, I know at Piedmont, we offer an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) plan which is essentially where they will pay for us to get counseling ourselves.”
Butler said taking on different responsibilities can be rejuvenating.
“If there is another role that you can possibly switch to for a while, maybe talk to your employer about that,” she said. “Maintain a healthy sleep schedule, try to remain active, get as much vitamin D and sunlight as possible.”
According to Butler, doing these things will help parents focus on their child’s mental health.
“Anytime there is some mood instability, that’s what you want to use as a red sign for you,” Butler said. “Your teenager is going to be different as they continue to grow so there will be some changes in their moods and behaviors but if you have a happy-go-lucky kid and they are typically an extravert then all of a sudden they are isolated and want to stay in their room, this should be a warning sign for you.”
Butler added that high-risk behavior, excess sleeping or eating, being withdrawn, complaints of pain, and difficulty concentrating, can be other warning signs.
Piedmont Community Services offers a variety of services to assist families.
“In the Martinsville office, we offer psychotherapy, which is individual counseling for adults and youth as well,” Butler said. “We offer psychiatric services where you can see a psychiatrist for medication management, case management services which are geared towards helping consumers with resources in the community,” substance-abuse services and peer support.
Raynor said PCS has developed new ways to reach adolescents.
“One of our newest programs is Youth Mobile Crisis. It is designed for kids that need more intensive treatment than outpatient therapy which is maybe weekly or bi-weekly,” she said.
Raynor said it helps reach “kids that are maybe having some active self-harm like cutting behavior” or “kids that are having that kind or risky behavior and aren’t meeting that criteria they would need to get an inpatient stay at a hospital.”
She said Youth Mobile Crisis allows for daily check-ins with struggling youngsters.
“Someone sees them every day,” Raynor said. “It can be in the community, school or their home. What I like about this program is it is really good for kids who don’t do well in traditional office-based settings. The idea is you meet the kid where they are and help stabilize them in their own setting.”
As schools start to return to hybrid instruction, Butler said PCS is adjusting to meet the emotional needs of students.
“We are trying to hire and staff more counselors because we know there is going to be a need from the schools,” Butler said. “We know we are going to get tons of referrals, so Piedmont is considering all these changes as well and trying to make sure we are staffed to provide those services whether it is in the school, as they allow us to, or if it’s from a telehealth perspective to make sure they have that support.”