EDUCATION

Up close with local families

Glimpse into their lives as they juggle work and online schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic

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ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

The Michael ‘Taz’ and Sakiko Nilan family has a global perspective on things as they’ve lived in both Japan (where Sakiko is front) and Minnesota (where Taz grew up) during their marriage. Taz works full-time from home as a consultant in the medical/technology industry. Sakiko is a stay-at-home mom. Together they juggle three Northrop Elementary students. Ten-year-old Kenzo is in fourth grade; 7-year-old Yumika is in second grade, and 5-year-old Yuzo is in kindergarten.
What’s the biggest change for you this school year?
Taz: With our 5-year-old starting kindergarten this autumn, our biggest change is to have all three children learning online at home and the parents need to supervise what they are doing and teach as needed on a daily basis.
What’s the hardest part as a student?
Taz: There are not many people who would disagree with the statement that elementary children should not be learning on an electronic tablet all day. I wish that my wife and I could throw away the tablets and become full-time home-school teachers for our children, but we don’t have the time and abilities to take on those roles right now.
The fact that we have three elementary school age children all online at the same time offers its own challenges as we are completely out-manned. Friends with just one or two children, or older children seem to be faring better.
Sakiko: I think the hardest thing for them is not being able to feel connected to the class and the teacher as they can’t build the real relationship through the screen.
What’s the best part?
Taz: When I asked our children what they liked about learning online they all responded in unison “nothing.”
Sakiko: If I try to find any positivity out of this difficult situation, for us parents, it’s been nice to be able to see what and how the kids are actually doing at school and get more involved in their daily learning.
What’s going right for you this year?
Taz: It would be difficult to find something that has gone right this year.
Sakiko: I have to say that the bond between siblings has been strengthened. I am so glad they have each other to entertain each other and get through this lonely time together.
What are you and your family doing for your mental health?
Taz: This has been a very trying year for my wife and I. My wife has been thrown into the very difficult job of trying to manage the online education of three relatively young children while I manage my consulting job and our income. Along with millions of others, we have had to face a level of stress this year that we have not had to face in the past.
It’s been extremely difficult to find time for ourselves, but we try to get outside and enjoy family time.
What tips do you have for families?
Taz: In terms of online education, raising a family, or holding down a job, do what you can this year and do not beat yourself up for not meeting your expectations of what you think “normal” is or should be. It is important to reach out for help when needed.
How do you think this will change you for the long-term?
Taz: Most children seem to have a face and set of behaviors for the home with the family, and a different face and set of behaviors for the outside world. It is the loss of the outside world socialization with teachers and classmates that worries me for the general development of young children moving ahead.
Hopefully we will get the children back into school soon enough to recover from 2020.
Germany, France, the U.K, Korea, Japan, Canada and many other developed countries have found safe ways to keep their children in school while fighting COVID-19.We need to get our children back into school ASAP where they belong. I am aware of a number of private schools in Minneapolis that have maintained in-classroom learning while effectively managing any COVID-19 cases for students and remain confused on why the same city has multiple forms of school going on at the same time.

HIGH SCHOOL
& MIDDLE SCHOOL

Meet the Jennifer Clough and Mike McMahon family. Twelve-year-old Liam attends sixth grade at Sanford Middle School while 16-year-old Gwendolyn is a junior at South High. The kids are doing online school while their parents are working from home.
Mom Jennifer said, “It’s been so cute to see them have fun together as siblings again. They played well together when they were younger, but Gwen hit that point where little brother was just kind of annoying. Now that he is in middle school and 12.5, he is ‘catching up’ and this ‘forced time’ together has been great to bring them closer! And yes, the family game time has been great! I have also enjoyed when we do family walks - we did that more in the first few months of the pandemic.
“In general, I think having a middle schooler and high schooler sounds like it’s much easier – since they are pretty independent - than elementary age kiddos. Poor elementary parents seem to have a tough time from the ones I’ve heard from. I’m feeling grateful as I know many are struggling through these tough times on many levels.”
What’s the biggest change for you this school year?
Gwen: For me, the biggest change is probably the lack of interaction with other students. When we were in person, I was able to see my friends and just people in general every day and now I see them over Zoom or not at all!
Liam: School being online and not seeing people.
What’s the hardest part as a student?
Gwen: Personally, the hardest part has been balancing school with other activities. I always have schoolwork to do, and If I let it take up all my time, it will. I have to remember to take breaks and focus on other things (exercise, drawing, etc.).
Liam: Being at meets for hours a day at screen is tiring.
What’s the best part?
Liam: Having your own pace to do things and having the whole day instead of just a class period.
Gwen: The best part about online school is having more time to work independently as opposed to listening to the teacher talk for extended periods of time. I prefer to work on my own, so having more time to ourselves is ideal.
What’s going right for you this year?
Gwen: This might sound a little strange but I think my sleep schedule is a lot better this year. I prefer to stay up later and then wake up later, and when I don’t have to catch a bus at 7:15 a.m. I get a lot more sleep.
Liam: The school work is not too much.
What are you and your family doing for your mental health?
Liam: We are playing games together.
Gwen: My parents encourage me to prioritize my mental health by consistently getting outside, even for a short walk. As the days get shorter, it’s hard to get out before it gets dark, but I never regret it when I do.
What tips do you have for families?
Liam: Do things together and do what makes you happy.
Gwen: I don’t have a ton of tips for other families because I don’t really have things figured out myself. But one thing I would say is make a schedule or to-do list for yourself. It’s easy to forget things when you aren’t seeing people in person, so any reminders you can give yourself will help.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

At Hiawatha-Howe PTO President Michelle Trumpy’s house, there are two adults working from home, one third-grader in full-time distance learning, and two cats who love having their humans around.
What’s the biggest change for you this school year?
There are so many, it’s hard to choose! One of the biggest things is that we have not needed after school child care. When school and work are over, we can start our family time.
What’s the hardest part as a student?
My daughter says it’s really hard to make friends during distance learning. There are few opportunities to talk with classmates like you might if you were in person.
What’s the best part?
Having lunch together :) And not having the hustle/bustle of getting out the door, catching the bus and driving to work.
What’s going right for you this year?
Our daughter is self-sufficient in her work and is able to manage her own schedule. These are skills will serve her well throughout her life.
What are you and your family doing for your mental health?
We try to do a variety of things, such as going outside on a regular basis and FaceTiming with friends. We also stick to the basics of good self care – getting enough sleep, exercise and eating a balanced diet.
What tips do you have for families?
Find a routine that works for your family. Sometimes kids need a break from school/screen and it’s okay! Make the students work area their own – have all their items accessible, hang the schedule on the wall, make sure the space is straightened up at the end of the day – it’s nice to start fresh in the morning.
How do you think this will change you for the long-term?
I don’t think we will go back to the office full time. I think we will find a balance with a hybrid situation.
There are so many silver linings to appreciate during this really hard time. I never would have been able to have this time all together in our usual world and I greatly appreciate it. I’m excited to see what we keep as we move into our “new normal.”

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