PORT NECHES, Texas — Schools across southeast Texas are launching flexible education programs this week while classes are cancelled because of the coronavirus.
Port Neches-Groves ISD is using a combination of online instruction and traditional paper and pen assignments to keep students up to speed in their classes.
Assistant superintendent for administrative services Julie Gauthier says although this is uncharted territory, it's going well so far.
"We have a wonderful community here and everyone is supporting each other, we've really enjoyed seeing everybody taking on this new role," Gauthier says.
It's been an adjustment for teachers, students and parents. Gauthier says as educators, they're human contact people. Not seeing the kids everyday has been hard.
"You've seen some of the parades and things like that they've done to reach out to the kiddos, just because that's what we do, and what we love is just being around the kids," Gauthier said.
At home, Gauthier says families have had to come up with a totally different routine. It can be difficult for student to understand what's going on, and why. She encourages parents to take it slow, enjoy the moment, and not to overdo it.
"Keep it simple, if you're getting on Pinterest or Facebook all you're going to do is probably overwhelm yourself trying to keep up with people, and so our parents know themselves the best, they know their kids best, and my advice to them is just be yourself do what your kid needs," Gauthier said.
Gauthier's biggest tip for parents is setting up a schedule and getting the kids into a routine. She says splitting up the day into pieces and giving the students something visual to keep track of will help keep it simple.
"Do not expect an eight hour school day at home like we have at school, it should be simple, short and just keeping them fresh in the academic setting," Gauthier said.
The school work is meant to be at the parent and child's own pace. Gauthier says they understand that a lot of parents are still working, some even in the medical field. The district is providing brief assignments at the beginning of the week, and students have the entire week to complete them. As long as they're finished by Friday at noon, students will be counted present.
"Have some expectations set out for the day, and know that this is kind of some family time that's been gifted to us," Gauthier said.
Teachers are also on standby, and ready and willing to help out, according to Gauthier. They're able to reach out with GoogleMeets and other tools to help parents however they can.
Rachael Walker is a special education teacher at the high school. Her students learn employ-ability skills to help them obtain and maintain jobs, along with hands-vocational skills. The class helps them prepare for the workforce, and shows them exactly what they should be doing once they get jobs.
"Every day we have tasks in the classroom but for now since we're not in the classroom we have to do tasks from home," Walker said.
Now that they've switched over to distance education, her students are assigned to send her pictures and videos of themselves completing different chores at home, like cleaning, doing the dishes, and folding clothes.
"It's been a learning experience for sure this year we've had a lot of ups and downs but this is uncharted waters for everyone," Walker said.
So far, Walker has gotten great feedback from parents. Her students have never been happier to do chores around the house.
"I'm just happy that the parents are willing and able to help with this they have been phenomenal and it wouldn't work without the parents," she said.
While this is new for PNG, distance education is the norm for Texas Connections Academy.
MORE | Advice from an expert:
Lynnette Crawley is a master teacher for the virtual public school. She says in this type of online learning environment, you get what you put into it.
When the school first started, Crawley says there was nothing else like it. One of the first things they had to do was find a tool for teachers to be able to meet with each other every day to share ideas, and talk about what worked. It's also important for teachers to be able to meet and talk with students. Crawley says tools like GoogleHangout, GoogleMeet, Zoom and Adobe connect all allow teachers and students to have live sessions.
"We need it as teachers to communicate with each other and to collaborate, but the students need it too, they need to hear from the teacher," Crawley said.
Crawley says kids learn best when they're talking about the subject, moving around, and engaging other parts of their minds besides simply reading the content. She says not to be afraid to contact your student's teacher, and ask for advice or resources.
"You gotta use your resources because you're partnering with the teacher and right now you might feel removed from that teacher, but you have contact information with that teacher," Crawley said.
If teachers are offering live session, Crawley says to make it a priority to get your child involved. Doing things like setting an alarm can help parents remember.
Crawley says during this time, it's important not to panic, and give yourself grace.
"Be willing to say, 'you know what, I'm not going to get it perfect, and I'm going to mess up but it can be fixed,' and your kids can get a solid education, but we have to work together, it takes the parent with that student with that teacher," Crawley said.
It's also important for parents to give themselves their own space to work. Crawley says to make sure your kids now how to get your attention while you're working, whether it be a signal or a note on a whiteboard. Most importantly, when the day is over, Crawley says you have to call it.
"Because you're working at home, and it's hard sometimes to walk away, so close your computer, walk away, and spend the rest of the day with your family, spend the rest of the day away from school if you're a parent, because it's important, " she said.
Connections Academy also has a web page full of resources and messages for parents, teachers and students.