In the midst of social distancing precautions and the closure of the town’s schools and playgrounds due to the coronavirus threat, many Hull families, in cooperation with the Hull Public Schools, are finding creative ways to continue their children’s learning experience, enhancing it with fun activities and family time.
As The Hull Times went to press, Gov. Charlie Baker extended the statewide closure of public and private schools and day care facilities until Monday, May 4 – from the earlier April 7 date – a change that presents additional challenges for families with school-age children.
The Kiley family is making the best of the situation. “Our eldest daughter, Grace, came off the bus crying the Friday school was cancelled. My younger daughter, Eleanor, was excited,” their mother, Renee, recalls. “We sat down and made a Monday through Friday schedule and took a walk on the beach, and everyone felt better. We’ve stuck to the schedule. I think it helps that the girls had input in making it.”
Every day in the Kiley household involves some kind of movement. “If we can’t get outside, we like cosmic kids yoga, JPPilates live-streams on Instagram, and The Bar Method (an online boutique fitness program offering barre classes for students of all levels). Renee works at the Hingham studio, which has been closed since March 16.
The Kileys are big on creativity. “One day we went outside and chalked the end of our driveway and started a puzzle. We’ve been shopping local and dropped off cards and treats to grandparents,” Renee reports. “We’re working hard at trying to be kind to one another. My husband and I are lucky that we can do some work from home.”
School Committee member Stephanie Peters finds that, as a working mother, it can be difficult to balance suddenly working from home full-time with having three children home at the same time.
“I work for a bank, so my days have been consumed with conference calls and other tasks, but I also try to make sure my children stay active and do educational things,” she says.
Her older son, Jake, attends UMass Boston; her younger son, Harry, Boston Collge High; and her daughter, Lucy, Hull High School.
Peters’ main concern was not about making it through the first week of school closure but about the upcoming weeks and perhaps months “and what the future holds for all of us. The first week of anything is always filled with anxiety and anticipation, but it’s when the new normal sets in that the hard work begins,” she says.
For Peters, the recurring pleasant weather for the most part allows for a quick walk to get some fresh air and to take a break from school work.
“Social distancing is not a strong suit for our society in general,” she says. “We depend on human contact, so I am super-worried about the elderly in our town along with the children. We have to figure out a way to connect people without direct contact, which will hopefully evolve this week.”
Peters praises the School Department and the town for doing “an amazing job reacting to this crisis in the face of a lack of leadership at other levels. They have made decisions quickly and decisively to keep our residents safe. We will get through this.”
The Whelan family finds that, with the schools closed, they are enjoying more time together, playing games and eating more meals as a family, “which has been nice,” Jennifer says.
Lillian, who attends Hartwick College in New York, is doing online classes, while Graham, a senior at Hull High School, is spending his time doing his work online, completing scholarship applications and working on his online math test for Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla., where he will head in the fall. Caleb, a Hull High School freshman, is completing his driver’s education classes that he was scheduled to take during April vacation online and doing his schoolwork. Jonah, who attends Memorial Middle School, does schoolwork most mornings.
In their free time, the children have been doing artwork; Graham has been fishing, surfing, and skateboarding (his passions); and Caleb and Jonah have been using their scooters around town, keeping social distancing in mind, and playing video games.
“At times, it has been stressful enforcing the social distancing, especially for the older kids,” Jennifer concedes. “We don’t want to jail them and want them to have freedom to go for a drive or take a walk while keeping a social distance. Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been followed, which creates angst in the home at times.”
Those challenges aside, “this has also been a time to slow down and enjoy not having anywhere to run to constantly,” she says.
The Nunes family is “trying to make it all work under one roof,” Molly explains. “At the elementary level, we hear from Jackson’s and Lily’s teachers, via email, on a daily basis. They always include a positive outlook for the day, instruction on schoolwork, and ideas for online or other resources tied into the day’s assignment.”
At the middle school, iPads have been issued, allowing more independent interactions with the teachers. Nonetheless, “managing work and making sure the kids are completing their assignments is a difficult balance,” Molly finds. “I work in marketing for a law firm and have been incredibly busy; there are so many unknowns for businesses in these times and therefore countless questions for lawyers.”
Her husband is a firefighter for the city of Taunton. “His schedule of working 24 hour shifts two days per week allows him to play more of the teacher role,” Molly says. “However, it takes the two of us to keep the kids on track.”
The Nunes family’s weekdays include schoolwork time, video games, some outdoor recreation, “and fortunately a lot of time to sit down together and share a meal … watch a movie, and just try to appreciate the many blessings in our life,” Molly says.
Jacobs School student Charlie Manewal said it has been difficult being away from school. “I’ve been missing my friends and teachers, and I can’t even meet up with my friends or even my grandparents,” he says. “But I’ve loved being with my family for so much more time each day. Ms. King sent home work to do, and it’s been hard to understand without teachers to help, but I’ve been working every weekday and getting the hang of it, and Ms. King has been calling and emailing a lot to help.”
Charlie’s mother, Emily Manewal, who also has a kindergartner and a third-grader, says her experience with homeschooling during the coronavirus crisis “has dramatically improved due to the preparation and continued support we’ve received from Jacobs School.
“All this teacher contact has created connections for the children so they know their teachers care about them and that they want to hear about all the work they’ve been doing at home.”
Allison Peterson normally works from home as a self-employed web designer; her husband, Michael, is a scientist at Biogen, working from home since March 9; and Coral and Calvin attend Jacobs. She describes what is happening in her family’s household while the schools are closed:
“We have a schedule posted on the fridge that we loosely follow each day. The kids decided that they want to do more learning time in the morning and have more free time in the afternoon. That worked well for us because that is when we are also doing the majority of our office work.”
She and Michael explained to their children that the work packets from school were to help make sure no one forgets important information. “Our son’s teacher FaceTimed with him, and he absolutely loved having her full attention,” Allison says. “Our daughter’s teacher sent a letter to the students with a photo of her taking a walk in the woods with her dogs and encouraged us to share photos of what we had been up to that week. Their teachers have done a great job of staying connected to our children.”
To make their children’s schoolwork more interesting, Michael and Allison have taken creative liberties in some of the work that is sent home by pairing it with Coral and Calvin’s interests.
“We are taking advantage of the bustling spring activity as a daily learning experience. We are avid gardeners and check the apple trees, blueberry bushes, strawberry plants, and grapes that we planted last year,” Allison says. “Each day we check these same plants and watch the buds grow bigger and start to open. We have 13 chickens and take them out to free range in the yard while we do these checks to eat grubs and bugs. Today we started preparing our raised garden bed for planting, and this weekend we will assemble our beehives together. We are using this as an opportunity to delve into earth science lessons that will be useful for the rest of their lives.”
Each night before bed, their mother asks Coral and Calvin to share their favorite part of that day and to choose something they can do the following day that would make them happy. “Having something for them to look forward to each day has helped keep spirits up and to not dwell on what is currently out of our control,” she says.
Kerrie Kraus and her husband, Paul, are both working full-time from home, with their three children at home with them: fifth-grader Matt, who attends Jacobs, and Dan and Samantha, who are both seniors at Norfolk Agricultural High School in Walpole.
“Everyone is now an expert at quarantining at home. In our spare time, we spend lots of time walking with our dog, Gracie, enjoying the sunset from the end of our street, and playing baseball in the yard with Matt, who is very upset at the prospect of no baseball in town this spring,” Kerrie notes.
The family celebrated their first virtual birthday party last Monday, when Matt turned 11. The celebration was followed by an indoor campfire, with lit candles after the power went out.
Other family activities have included taking the engine out of a tractor, doing lots of baking and cooking, and getting together nightly for a family dinner.
“We are trying to keep up with schooling at home, which isn’t easy while trying to also work full-time,” Kerrie admits. “So we are winging it and doing our best. Our main goal is to come out on the other side of this still liking each other. We are spending these days bonding as a family. With Dan and Samantha going off to college next year, this is probably the last time we will be able to have this kind of time together.”
While these families’ no-school days vary, there is at least one common denominator: dealing with the disappointment of potentially missing milestones. These could include proms and graduation ceremonies (no decision about those has been announced yet), the cancellation of sports activities, and missing friends and family members – all while they practice social distancing.