by Terry Rogers
Starting in April, Milford School District families began a distance learning program that allowed students to do work at home and avoid falling behind during the school year. Elementary students were provided packets to work on and teachers reached out individually to help them while secondary students were provided online learning options. Those who did not have electronics at home were able to sign out a Chromebook for online learning.
“It’s certainly a unique experience,” Denise Heimbaugh, a fourth grade teacher at Lulu Ross Elementary, said. “But getting to see and talk to my kiddos has warmed my heart. Logistics have been a bit crazy because we have so many students with varying levels of technology from none and no internet access to kids with multiple devices and a very strong Comcast internet.”
Heimbaugh has been spending a fair amount of time just testing out the students’ technology, speaking with students and families on everything from dropping off packets to nutrition needs to seeing how excited the kids were to see their classmates.
“I feel like it has brought me an even greater appreciation of our diverse school population and the struggles which face many,” Heimbaugh said. “I have families where both parents are still working full-time because they are essential. I have some where one parent is working and another is laid off due to the closing of businesses and others where both parents are laid off and they are struggling financially. I feel very blessed to be able to help my students and their families in any way I can because that’s what I’m there for. I love my kiddos as if they were my own children.”
Heimbaugh believes the children are adjusting fine and has spent as much as two hours each with some of the children in her class, getting them set up with technology. According to Heimbaugh, the children all say they miss school quite a bit and their friends but they admit they are having fun, too, which she certainly loves to see. Merrilee Stevenson, who has six children in Milford schools, described what the home-schooling process is like for her family.
“I am a stay-at-home parent, so I am here with them during the day and try to keep them on a schedule,” Stevenson said. “We start with a set breakfast time, a cleanup time and then a couple of hours of schoolwork. They have free time after lunch and, if the older ones have more homework to do, they get back to it. I know many homeschoolers who offered helpful advice when this all started and that gave me a good bit of confidence as to how to structure the day.”
Stevenson has a Kindergarten student at Morris as well as a second and fifth grader at Mispillion Elementary. Their paper packets included a weekly plan with an overview of the week’s lessons, copies of worksheets and reading articles and some answer sheets. She explained that the younger children are eager to work and excited to have something stimulating to do. Stevenson also has a seventh grader at the Milford Central Academy as well as a junior and senior at Milford High School.
“The Kindergarten and second grade teachers have been using the Remind App, the fifth-grade teacher has been using Class Dojo and Google Classroom,” Stevenson said. “The middle schooler and high schoolers get their assignments through Schoolology and Remind. I have not really run into problems helping them when they get stuck. Usually when this happens, they need me to sit down and read it out loud to them. Sometimes, slowing down and hearing someone else read the instructions or questions is all that’s needed to get them on the right track.”
Merrilee states that the biggest challenge she has is that she has less time to do the things she was doing before and now has to plan and provide lunch now. “I know they have free breakfast and lunch available and we did try it a few times, but it just didn’t work for our family. On a positive note, the kids enjoy sleeping longer and I am enjoying spending more time with them and teaching them new things they aren’t learning at school. I’ve taught one how to make homemade bread. Before we started online learning, I bought yarn and crochet hooks and introduced them to crochet with the help of YouTube.”
In addition, the family started making medical face masks for healthcare workers and elderly friends from church with the children pitching in to help.
“We made initially about 40-50 masks. I had two kids operating sewing machines, one cutting fabric, one pressing with an iron, and one assembling pieces. Their work helped prepare all the parts necessary so that I could do the technical sewing and crank out about four masks per hour,” said Merrilee. “I’m trying to balance my time between making masks and keeping the house running smoothly with meals, laundry, and schooling.”
Under the COVID-19 State of Emergency, Governor Carney declared all public schools closed through May 15. State officials have not made a decision on whether to extend that date but Superintendent Kevin Dickerson and his team at the Milford School District state that they are preparing for all possibilities. Parents or students who have questions about remote learning can contact the district office at 302-422-1600 or contact their specific school.