A new way of learning challenges parents and teachers

Miscellany/Deirdre C. Mays: Kristine Wilcox and her two children, Madeline, 11, and Nate, 10, spend time in the empty silence of Blessed Sacrament Church in Charleston, both praying and doing homework. The children are students at Blessed Sacrament School.

CHARLESTON—For Kristine Wilcox and her two children, their church has become a classroom.

Each day, Wilcox, Madeline, 11, and Nate, 10, spend time in the empty silence of Blessed Sacrament Church, both praying and doing homework. Madeline and Nate are students at Blessed Sacrament School. 

It’s one of the ways Wilcox is dealing with her new role as homeschool teacher, a challenge that she and other parents took on when the coronavirus caused school closings statewide. 

Those like Wilcox are working to balance their new role as teacher with that of parent, striving to get kids to focus on schoolwork when many of them are also getting cabin fever from being forced to stay at home and away from friends for so long. 

Wilcox said the quiet environment makes it easier for her kids to concentrate.

“We go in there, we light a candle, we say prayers for our family, our community and the world, and then we sit in there and do homework,” she said. 

Madeline and Nate use her cell phone if they need to access the internet for classwork and she even brings snacks for them to eat outside. 

Being in the church gives Wilcox spiritual support. 

“I don’t think I could have survived this at home,” she said. “The biggest thing is we can’t receive the Eucharist anymore so this is the closest thing I think I can do because He is in the tabernacle with the sacristy candle lit,” she said. “I know Jesus gives us graces by spending time with him.” 

This new way of learning is challenging for many parents who are now also working from home. 

Christian Smith, an assistant professor in the English department at Coastal Carolina University, works alongside his wife while also supervising their son Julian, a first-grader at St. Andrew School in Myrtle Beach. 

 “We have to keep doing our jobs and getting to multiple digital meetings ourselves on top of homeschooling,” Smith said. “The time conflicts and deadlines there can be a challenge.”

Michelle McLeod of Columbia is facing a two-fold challenge. She is the fourth grade teacher at St. Joseph School, so she has to plan lessons and hold classes each day, while also supervising the work of her fourth-grade daughter and twin sons who are in second grade. 

 “I have to find a balance between communicating with my students and their parents and between being present with my own children,” McLeod said. 

Dr. Kate Silver, a pediatric and adult rheumatologist at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, is caring for a newborn son, Ryan, along with daughters Caroline, 4, and Annaliese, 2. Because Caroline is only in 4K, her schooling has fallen largely on her mom. 

She said there is a different relationship between parent and child than teacher and child, and kids are more likely to get frustrated with parents. She has been looking for creative ways to teach Caroline, such as counting scavenger-hunt hearts in neighbors’ windows. 

“If anything comes out of this, it’s that we need to pay teachers more,” Silver said. “They need to make like a billion dollars.”

Keeping up a regular routine is a big help, parents say. Smith urges families to get their children up and ready for school at a set time, just like they would during a normal school day. 

 He said faculty and staff at St. Andrew have been helping students have a home experience that mirrors normal school as much as possible, including morning announcements and prayers offered online by principal Debbie Wilfong. 

Physical activity is also important to keep kids healthy and focused. McLeod said she makes sure her kids get exercise every day, and several times she has interrupted lessons for an impromptu family basketball game or walk when things get stressful.

Despite the stress, parents say there are positives to the new way of doing school. 

“We get to see how Julian learns new things every single day,” Smith said. “Usually we would pick him up and ask him what he did in school and he would never go into detail, but now we can actually see and witness his learning every morning.”

McLeod urges parents to seek out God, to pray and to be kind to themselves. 

“I want all parents to know to give yourself grace and use this as a time to reconnect with your family,” McLeod said. “When you are having a moment, when your heart is racing and you are overwhelmed, know it’s okay to stop and say ‘I need some time.’ Be sure to give yourself grace.” 

Deirdre C. Mays and Amy Wise Taylor contributed to this article.