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Ready Or Not, North Texas Parents, Teachers Face Learning Curve With Distance Education

Fort Worth ISD school bus
Tony Gutierrez
Associated Press
Fort Worth ISD school bus

Across North Texas, online learning has begun full-time — ready or not — now that spring break’s over. 

Some districts tried getting ready before the break, hoping to cut down on confusion. But the most confused may be the parents, who wonder how districts and students will cope in the age of COVID-19.

Big school systems, like the Dallas Independent School District, saw this coming and started getting ready. The district’s Deputy Chief of Academics Shannon Trejo, who oversees online learning, said at least 36 Dallas schools have been using web courses for years. Before spring break, her department sent parents a link explaining the online approach.

“This website gives you almost a step-by-step on how to log in and access the online classroom materials," Trejo said. "We’ve got a call number for technical difficulties, and a ticket system available that’s running right now."

Even with all that support in place, Trejo understands that not every parent is logging on — and some of the parents who are don't necessarily understand the software.

“This is going to be an exercise in patience and flexibility," Trejo said. "Everybody’s at a different level of learning. We’ve got to continue our support with those not familiar. And have the beginner classes continue… and then as we do that, help everyone become a little more sophisticated in their participation in the online environment."

A lot of Mark Harrington’s students are familiar with that online environment because the Seagoville High School history teacher has used web tools for years. He can only hope however, that learning online approximates the classroom experience. He can’t be sure.

"A lot of times, through Edmodo, which is the platform I use, they do reach out to each other," Harrington said. "They do say, 'Hey I don’t get this, I don‘t get that.' And then somebody else in the group will come back in and say, 'Try this,' or 'Here’s what I understood.'"

Mark Harrington in classroom
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
File photo of Seagoville High School history teacher Mark Harrington in his classroom several years ago.

He understands something else about the Seagoville community. Many families have no internet access, and that really worries him.

"It’s possible to lose the kids right now," Harrington said. "It’s possible to lose the connection that they have with us as their teachers with their classmates, you know, with their campus. I don’t want them to lose sight of the fact that we’re still in this together, we’re still one community, we’re still looking out for them.”

Parents say they are always looking out for their kids. This emergency has thrown them all new problems. Emily Youree, mom to a 5- and a 9-year-old, said many parents feel paralyzed.

“Like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ We don’t want our kids to lack in their education," Youree said. "We don’t want this to have long-term effects but we aren’t sure what it is we need to be doing."

Emily Youree, with her daughters and husband.
Credit Courtesy of Emily Youree
Emily Youree, with her daughters and husband. Youree is now navigating her home business while trying to teach her 5- and 9 year-old at home. Dad's job is out of the house.

Youree owns the online magazine and resource guide Fort Worth Moms, and her readers say educating their kids is their top priority. She said some parents are trying to homeschool now. Others lack the skills, struggle to grasp digital learning, are now working full-time inside the home, or are still expected to work outside the home.

“You know what’s going to work for your kids, it also has to work for you," Youree said. "It has to work for everyone that’s part of the home. That can look very different from house to house.”

As confused as she may feel, Youree said she doesn’t want to sound too negative.

"Because I know what an upheaval these last days have been for me as a working mom,” she said.

She knows teachers in all the different school districts are going through the same thing.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.