Distance Learning Limits COVID-19, Raises Other Issues in Omaha Public Schools

By Karlha Velásquez Rivas


Josefina decided to pause her job due to the pandemic issue and also to help her kids with the remote school. Photos: Karlha Velásquez.

Josefina Ángeles had many questions before the start of this school year.

How am I supposed to help run virtual classrooms for my 11 and 6-year-olds?

Her answer: the 11-year-old, now a 6th grader will need less help. But the 6-year-old, who is still in kindergarten, needs more attention.

Ángeles works at a cleaning company while her husband works in another area, so school terms provided them with a chance to work without worrying about who would take care of the kids.

“When this pandemic thing started, we were scared,” she said. “So much news that we were watching made us keep inside the house. We didn’t want to catch it ourselves.”

She is now improving her English with the classes for her 6 years old kid.

Then she, like many other mothers, learned about the case of the nearly 300 children and young people infected with coronavirus in American schools. Her two children attend Omaha Public Schools (OPS). The district’s board of directors agreed in early August that classes from the new school term be 100% remote through digital mediums.

“It was a relief. How good that they made that decision!” she said when she learned that classes would turn remote.

But Ángeles had to ask for a long leave of absence from her work to dedicate herself to caring and supporting her children as much as she can with classes, especially the minor who is still learning to use digital devices.

Ángeles has taken leadership and parenting classes that she said have helped her manage family affairs. She has also taken English classes to further support her children. Classes in Omaha schools are mostly taught in English so it’s a new challenge for Latino immigrant parents to help their children.

“Luckily, I have a good employer who is sympathetic and grants me absences from work, and I also have someone who supports me financially,” she said. “Even though our income is decreasing, we are fine. My priority is my children and they have a good education.”

Emotions found

Classes at OPS began on Aug. 18. During the month of August, El Perico asked 50 Spanish-speaking children, between the ages of 9-12 and who live in different areas of Omaha, whether they preferred remote classes.

Sixty per cent replied that remote classes are necessary even though they are not their favorites, while 40% responded that they prefer face-to-face classes, meet their teachers, have breaks and play with their friends.

She creates a space to make comfortable the studies for her kids.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do with physical education,” Ángeles said.

The eldest of Ángeles’ children could not explain whether he would like remote or face-to-face classes more. He got used to the tablet and virtual class system.

For now, the OPS schools system will remain like this until the end of the year, as Ángeles said, until the children are able to return to school in divided groups.

“Now I must learn about my children”

With basic notions of English, now Ángeles becomes “a student” of OPS. Although she finished her bachelor’s degree, she will have to begin her studies starting at kindergarten through her 6-year-old son. She conditioned her basement to make it an exclusive study site for her children. There she has a goal chart so her children can write what they want to do in the coming days and what has already been done or accomplished.

“I don’t know how I’m going to do it,” she said. “Now I must be taking classes with my children to guide them and be aware that what they are saying can be explained to them better.”

This same situation is also happening to other mothers who were interviewed but preferred to remain anonymous.

“I’m afraid that my kids go back to school because I don’t want them to get sick, but I’m a single mother and I can’t afford daycare so now I work by piece boarding independently,” said Luisa, a fictional name.

She also makes a billboard with the goals they want to get.

Guaranteed education

Distance education is nothing new. In the 18th century, some American universities carried out this system and relied on the post system. Then Mexico and Colombia were the pioneers in implementing it in Spanish, reviews a website.

The situation of avoiding contagion within schools forced educational authorities to implement a type of remote education in basic and diversified education, covering all the needs of children with the help of parents as supervisors.

Kimara Snipe, member of the Board of Education, also took with caution the new circumstances in which children will face the new educational “mode.” She said that long before the pandemic, she has been working with the STEM ecosystem program, a system in which new teaching models, including remote ones, are constantly studied.

She added that teachers were training in the summer and have been involved in creating teaching materials to make learning more effective and efficient.

“OPS distributed 54,000 tablets with an integrated internet system, so the internet issue is not a problem because each student can access the education system through that equipment,” she said.

Ángeles’ children also have iPad tablets. If any student has not received this device, they can go to their school address to apply.

Program charts of mental health education and support

Ángeles says that food programs have been very helpful for her and other parents.

“There are parents who depend a lot on what schools offer them,” she said. “For my part, I must stay at home and attend to the nutrition and education of my children. It’s a challenge. My 6-year-old needs more attention and I have to manage.”

Snipe said that OPS will continue with the breakfast and lunch food program for students at these institutions.

“Food delivery for children is guaranteed,” she said. “With [OPS Superintendent] Dr Logan we have evaluated all the details and needs of the education system, including mental health,” she said.

She added that OPS, with support from OneWorld, developed a program to help teachers and the community spiritually deal with the new education system, as well as clarify doubts about COVID-19 and the psychological effects of the enclosure and lack of contact on children and families.

Even after the end of the school term, everyone hopes that at some point children will be able to meet at school, always taking steps to prevent further contagion.

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