Northwest Observer / 2020

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WHAT’S INSIDE Students: We’d rather be learning in class ............ 6 Challenges of remote work, school ...................10 Principal injects humor into message ................ 12 Choosing to homeschool ...................................14 Teaching the arts from remote..........................18 Micro-schools, learning centers ........................ 20 Parents adapt to role as teachers..................... 22 Back to School photos ..................................... 24

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Barking dogs, isolation among distractions for teens studying remotely from home by CHRIS BURRITT NW GUILFORD/GREENSBORO – When the garbage truck rumbles up to Ryan Goldin’s house in Oak Ridge, his two dogs Marley and Coal start barking. It’s just one of the distractions for the 16-year-old as he begins his junior year at Northwest Guilford High School. Like other students across Guilford County, Goldin is discovering that Adobe Stock photo

For many students, academic challenges of distance learning include more distractions and less immediate access to their teachers. The opportunity to socially interact with their peers face-to-face is something many say they especially miss about attending school in person.

studying remotely from home as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak is posing academic challenges. On the first day of school earlier this month, the statewide online platform crashed temporarily, leaving students in a technology lurch just as they were plunging into at least nine weeks of remote classes and extending their separation from friends and teachers over the summer. “I would prefer to be in school,” Goldin said. “One of the biggest drawbacks is not being able to interact with peers. You can do it virtually, but it’s not the same.” Guilford County Schools


is offering remote instruction through at least Oct. 20; at that time, the school system may resume in-person classroom instruction if coronavirus risks have eased. Some private and charter schools, including Caldwell Academy and Revolution Academy, started the year with inperson classes. Destiny Chapman enrolled her two sons, Bryce and Lance, in Revolution Academy after they had attended Stokesdale Elementary School. Chapman was drawn to Revolution because it offered the structure of in-person instruction for her children,

Back to School!

who had been out of the classroom since March. “The smaller class size was also appealing,” she said. Cornerstone Charter Academy started the school year with in-person classes, but last week switched temporarily to online instruction after a parent and some children had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The children passed screening protocols to enter the Cornerstone building and showed no symptoms of the virus as they came in contact with other students, according to an Aug. 24 letter to parents written by Joe Caraher, the school’s director. While recognizing the risks of in-person instruction, some students said they’re eager to return to the classroom for academic and social reasons. This is especially true for seniors who had never envisioned missing out on traditions such as homecoming and the prom during their final year of school. “I really want to go back to school,” said Haley Davis, a senior at Northern Guilford

High School. “Of course, I miss my friends.

“I can understand not having prom or homecoming,” she said. “I can understand delaying the sports season. But I don’t understand not going back to school. Kids need to socialize… School is a safe place for a lot of people. I think a lot of people are missing out on that right now.” The 17-year-old is taking two classes online at Northern Guilford and four others in person at Guilford Technical Community College. She said she thinks she’s learning more at the community college. “I get to see my instructors and ask them questions,” she said. Staying focused in the online environment is another challenge, according to Davis and other students we spoke with. Some said

they’re tempted to step away from their computers to grab a snack in the kitchen or play games or text on their phones.

“Working from home is a very different experience,” said Noah Bailey, a Northern Guilford senior. “It’s harder to find motivation. When you’re at home, you feel as though you’re going to relax more. At school you’re more focused on work.” “The only thing I’m worried about is possibly falling behind,” said Grace Garner, who is taking honors and advanced placement classes as a sophomore at Northwest Guilford. Her mother, Stacy, chairs the counseling department in the school where she advises students that the COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted traditional education for stu-

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Technology woes, distractions among challenges those working and attending school remotely face Multiple family members at home during the school and work day sometimes requires a lot of give and take – and deep breaths

Adobe Stock photo

While students in Guilford County Schools are remotely learning for at least the first nine weeks of the new school year, parents working from home are sometimes pulled between the need to focus on their own work while also helping their children focus on their school work.

by CHRIS BURRITT NW/NORTHERN GUILFORD – Last March, Laura Soto converted the breakfast area of her Oak Ridge home into a makeshift classroom for her three children. “They annoyed and distracted each other even when they had their head phones on,” Soto said. “So we had to spread them around the house.”


It’s a time of trial and error for families across Guilford County as the COVID-19 outbreak last spring abruptly changed the way children learn and their parents work. Many are sharing home computers, parents are adjusting to makeshift offices in spare bedrooms and children are retreating to their rooms for online learning.

resume in-person instruction. That decision will depend upon whether the risks of spreading the coronavirus have moderated enough for students to return to classrooms.

Soto’s husband, Danny, is working from home, resolving customer complaints as the manager of an insurance company. He set up an office in a guest bedroom, closing the door for privacy that the couple’s 7-year-old son, James, didn’t understand initially.

The school district is trying to accommodate students who lack technology. Starting this week, it is running online learning centers in 13 schools, giving children free access to school internet for remote instruction.

“‘Yes, Daddy is here, but no, Daddy is working,’” Soto recalled telling her son. “There was that adjustment at the beginning.” Children are going to be homebound until at least Oct. 20 when Guilford County Schools may


In the meantime, teachers are instructing remotely, requiring that students work on computers or tablets unless they make arrangements to do school work on paper.

None of the learning centers are located in schools within northwest Guilford County; according to the school system’s website, “the learning centers are strategically located in neighborhoods and communities where Census data indicates that more than two-thirds of households

Back to School!

Maureena Shepherd, an Oak Ridge-based

Realtor for Allen Tate, donated 25 new laptops and 15 tablets to families lacking devices. Photo courtesy of Laura Soto

lack broadband connectivity.” Starting last spring, the county ordered more than 79,000 laptops for students and teachers, but most won’t be delivered until December, or possibly later if shipments are delayed, according to school officials. The delay has prompted the school district to ask for donations of gently used devices to loan to about 5,000 students who don’t have them. It is also seeking monetary contributions to buy devices. “While we know we have adequate devices on the way, students need access to online lessons now,” Whitney Oakley, the district’s chief academic officer, said in a news release on the district’s website. “Although we can provide printed materials, we don’t want technology to be such a barrier.” Northwest Guilford families and companies are contributing, in ways big and small. When Laura Soto’s parents, Jim and Alice Pottmyer of Colfax, read about the shortage of laptops for students, they gave Soto’s daughter, Sophia, a laptop for her 14th birthday. As a result, she didn’t need to try to borrow one from the school district. The birthday present freed up a device “for someone else in Guilford County who needed it a lot worse than we do,” Soto said.

“I’m always looking to give back in ways that appear relevant at the time,” said Shepherd, who heads up Maureena Shepherd & Associates. When the school district announced it would start the school year remotely, Shepherd decided she wanted to help narrow the technology gap for students. Her two children go to Oak Ridge Elementary and Northwest Guilford Middle schools. “I know there are families who are struggling with four kids and one laptop,” she said. Shepherd posted on Facebook that she wanted to donate the devices. All 15 of the tablets and about five of the laptops went to Oak Ridge Elementary, which distributed them to students, she said. She gave the remaining laptops to families, primarily in northwestern Guilford County. Oak Ridge Elementary is giving, rather than loaning, the devices to students, according to Melinda Hooper, the school’s counselor. Even if schools reopen and classes resume, they will need the devices for their school work at home, she said. The school relies upon organizations and indi-

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Freshman Sophia Soto studies in her Summerfield home with a bearded dragon named Toothless.

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You will be back Charter school principal finds humorous way to assure students they are missed, and distance learning won’t be forever by ANNETTE JOYCE The uncertainty surrounding the new school year has brought with it an element of anxiety to many students and their families. Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, Rudy Swofford, principal of Summerfield Charter Academy, looked for a way to send a message to his students that better times are ahead while also offering a touch of light-heartedness. His parody of “You’ll Be Back,” a song from the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” has done exactly that. For nearly four minutes, Swofford sings and dances through the academy’s halls, in the gym and in classrooms, dressed both casually and more formally and with and

Photo courtesy of Rudy Swofford

Rudy Swofford, principal of Summerfield Charter Academy, is becoming known for his humorous ways of relaying messages through song. without a face covering, all while repeatedly assuring students they are missed and loved and they will “be back.” This is not the first time Swofford has serenaded his students. He started a while back with short videos to let both parents and students know when school would be cancelled because of snow. When schools shut down in March because of the pandemic, the creative principal stepped up his game and released “Lost in the School,” a parody of the song “Lost in the Woods” from the movie “Frozen 2.” After watching “Hamilton,” a musical based on the life and death of Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Swofford got the idea for his most recent parody. The song “You’ll Be Back” seemed like the perfect tune to convey his message of hope. Swofford has headed up Summerfield Charter Academy since it opened in 2013. He’s spent most of his professional life in education, and before that he was a youth minister. As far as musical performances go, he said he hasn’t had very much experience or formal training. “I’ve sung at church and performed in community and high school theater. Nothing really serious,” he said. “It’s just something I like to do and it’s kind of fun.” Writing the parodies is relatively easy, Swofford said. He starts with the karaoke version of the song and works on the lyrics. Then he just keeps playing around with it until he comes up with something he likes. “I always try to keep as much of the song as I can and

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Back to School!

During these unprecedented times Sheriff Danny H. Rogers and the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office wish the students well. Keep your spirits up, work hard and one day you can...



Homeschooling by choice continues upward trend Parents cite several reasons for homeschooling their children, including being able to select their child’s curriculum and having more influence and greater flexibility in how they are educated by ANNETTE JOYCE Delivery boxes started piling up at Amy Smith’s Stokesdale home in mid-July. No, she wasn’t getting a jump-start on Christmas shopping. These boxes contained chapter books, textbooks, maps, science experiment kits, workbooks, journals – all the items she would need to homeschool her two children, Jacob and Jordan, this school year. Photo by Annette Joyce/NWO

Amy Smith (center) has been homeschooling her children, Jacob (left) and Jordan, for over five years. Smith started homeschooling about five years ago after Jacob, who was then in the third grade, was being bullied and, in an unrelated incident, was nearly hit by a delivery truck in the school parking lot while he was at recess. Unable to resolve the issues, Smith decided homeschooling was the best option. Jordan wanted to attend kindergarten in public school, so her parents agreed. However, the youngest member of the Smith family soon determined classroom activities at school weren’t nearly as interesting as what her brother was doing at home, so the next year she entered first grade as a homeschooler. Jacob, 13, and Jordan, 10, are two of the estimated 149,173


students the N.C. Division of NonPublic Education (DNPE) includes in its statistics for the 2019-2020 school year, based on 1.6 students per recognized homeschool. North Carolinians for Home Education (NCHE), a non-profit homeschool organization based in Raleigh, believes that number is higher and estimates there are an average of 2.5 students per homeschool, bringing the estimated total to 237,157. Regardless of which estimate is more accurate, the two organizations agree the number of homeschools in the state will continue to grow rapidly just as it has over the past several years. The number of state-recognized home-

Back to School!

Photo by Annette Joyce/NWO

Parents who homeschool their children are able to choose from among several curriculums.

schools increased in 2019 by about 4.6 percent to 94,863. Even as the numbers increase, there are still many misconceptions about homeschooling. To educate ourselves and our readers, we recently spoke with some parents in our readership area who have chosen this path for their children’s education.

Why they do it Parents cited various reasons for homeschooling their children. Some said they simply didn’t feel their child was well-suited for traditionalstyle public education. Having more control over what their children are exposed to was another reason given. And many like the idea of being a bigger part of their children’s educational experience. That was the case for Stokesdale resident Lisa Bailey, lead practicum developer for Classical Conversations, a company that provides Christian homeschool curriculum and training for parents. “We decided to homeschool because we loved ‘seeing the lightbulb come on’ with our girls,” Bailey said. “We loved learning together and sharing the wonder of new ideas.” Bailey homeschooled her two


daughters, Stephanie and Sarah, from kindergarten through 12th grade. Both girls received full scholarships to college and graduated in 2016 and 2019, respectively. Through her primary job and as a local Classical Conversations tutor for ninth graders, Bailey continues to play a major role in the homeschooling community.

“(Because of homeschooling) we know each other so well, and spend time together working, playing, reading – every day. Our kids see us learning alongside them and they have grown up thinking that ‘learning is just what families do together,’” Bailey said. “I think the years of homeschooling, especially classically, have made us more comfortable wrestling with ideas and positions together; we are not afraid to tackle ‘uncomfortable’ subjects and our kids have learned to ask good questions, not just parrot our positions.”

Christy Carter and her husband, Chad, believed homeschooling was the only way to go for their children. “We were less about what we didn’t want our kids to have than what we wanted them to have,” Christy Carter said. Carter has homeschooled her two children, Caleigh, 16, and Cydney, 11, since they began school. Along the way, they’ve discovered many perks. “You’re able to be one-on-one with them and they can learn at their own pace,” she said. “I know whether they understand something, and can tailor what I’m doing to help them learn. “I love the fact that you really get to know your kids. That also helps with being a better parent,” she added. “Don’t get me wrong. I know there are lots of parents who don’t homeschool and have great relationships with their kids. This just works for me.”

Going back to school As public and private schools begin each new school year, so do most of the local homeschools. However, it’s up to the parents to decide exactly when the school year starts and ends. “It’s all over the place,” Carter said. “We started Aug. 10 (this year) but we have several friends who homeschool year-round.” Carter likes following the traditional school schedule and having the summers off from curriculum planning and structured teaching. She also appreciates that North Carolina gives homeschools a lot of leeway in how the school year is set up. “North Carolina recommends 180 days spread out over nine months, but it’s just a recommendation,” she said. Besides having more control over

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Teaching the arts from remote Art, music teachers among those adapting to new style of teaching necessitated by pandemic by PATTI STOKES Transitioning from teaching students in person to teaching them from remote presents unique challenges, as educators across the country found out last spring when students abruptly vacated school buildings because of the pandemic.

Photo courtesy of Susan Hodnett

Oak Ridge Elementary art specialist Susan Hodnett pushes a cart with packets of art supplies for her students to use for their remote art lessons.

Oak Ridge Elementary art specialist Susan Hodnett said she, like so many of her colleagues, was thrown a bit off kilter when suddenly required to virtually teach her subject matter. Forced to use technology to help implement her lesson plans, she quickly tapped into her creative side and brainstormed with other art teachers across the county. She faces the beginning of this new school year armed with many lessons learned from last spring.

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“I was working 80+ hours a week,” Hodnett said. “A specialty teacher has numerous students, and at any given time I had over 2,000 assignments to look at, grade and respond back to that child. It was kind of a two-edged sword, because it was the best part of my day; a kid would be showing me their artwork and we had that connection – so, the plus was that I had more one-on-one time with the kids. The minus was that I had a lack of sleep.” With her iPad as her video device, Hodnett used resources such as yardsticks, door holders and numerous other items from home as she worked and tweaked… and worked and

tweaked… to come up with the best ways to video herself demonstrating art techniques. “It was like making a TV show,” she said. “I had to do multiple clips, and then edit in iMovie. It took a lot of time – and then, if that wasn’t enough, we had Zoom meetings and team meetings and all those assignments coming in… I pulled 10 all-nighters last spring to do some of those things and try to keep up. “Normally, in a classroom, I could have the students hold their work up and in a heartbeat I could see who needed some help, or if there was something I forgot to tell them,” she explained.

Back to School!

When teaching from remote, student assignments must be opened and reviewed separately. With 789 students last year at Oak Ridge Elementary and all of them learning art, it’s no wonder Hodnett felt the day ended long before her work was done. She credits the county school system’s art team leaders and fellow art teachers for the support they’ve offered and brainstorming sessions they’ve shared on how to make remote distance instruction more workable and effective. She’s also thankful her annual fundraiser through a company called “Art by Me” was wrapped up last March just before the students abruptly went home; proceeds from that fundraiser made it possible to buy art supplies for this year’s students. When they rode through the line at the elementary school the last week of

August to get their textbooks and materials for the new school year, there were hundreds of packets of art supplies, assembled by grade level with the help of the school’s teacher assistants, waiting for the students to take home. And as for those videos of her virtual art lessons – they’re in the works and well on the way.

Like Hodnett, Ben Keith, who is beginning his third year as band instructor at Northern Guilford Middle School, admits he was initially not prepared to teach band from remote and there were definitely some challenges to overcome. “… As there are in any courses you’re teaching online,” he said. “But we are learning from what we did last semester and applying it to this one. We’re in a much better position now. We had zero

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Ben Keith, Northern Guilford Middle School band instructor

interactions with the kids last spring, and the interaction is where it’s at. Being able to see the kids virtually is much better.” Keith said one of his biggest challenges has been relying so much on technology to teach his students. “That’s been a struggle, but we’re figuring out what works with the kids and what to steer clear of,” he said. “Our beginner band students are just coming out of elementary school, so we’re thinking about how to teach beginners remotely. We are still wrapping our heads around it, and we are taking it week by week. But as we break out into small groups and work with individuals and different sections, I feel confident it’s going to work out and they’re going to at least grow.” Figuring out where his students are on their musical path, and where they should be under the circumstances, are questions Keith admits he doesn’t have the answers to. “We don’t know that because we haven’t done it before,” he said.

Coupled with that, he isn’t spending as much group instruction time with his students. “I’m seeing them (virtually) about 1 ½ hours a week, spread throughout the week, whereas when we were live, I would see them about 45 minutes a day. As long as they are getting better compared to when we started, we’ve made growth. That’s what we’re looking for in a program and that’s what musicians are always looking for,” he said. Admitting he wasn’t particularly “tech-savvy” before all the changes last spring, Keith said learning to embrace technology has definitely helped as the new school year has gotten underway. “Technology, as much as it can be stressful, can also be great,” he said. “The Canvas platform (which Guilford County Schools is using)

Continued on page 27 GREENSBORO

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Micro-schools, small-group learning centers present short-term solutions for some families by ANNETTE JOYCE When Guilford County public schools started back Aug. 17, parents and students found themselves faced with at least nine weeks of remote learning due to the school system’s strategy for preventing the spread of COVID-19. For many parents, juggling their own jobs while making themselves available to help guide their children through the school day has been an added complication in the midst of all that has transpired since last March, when schools were abruptly shut down. Some parents have opted to transfer their kids to private, charter or faith-based schools to allow their children to maintain in-school learning. Others have decided homeschooling is the best alternative. For the majority of parents, however, these options are either not viable or desirable. In response, many have gotten creative and joined forces with friends, neighbors and fellow parents as well as or-

ganizations to offer temporary solutions that make the situation more workable for everyone involved.

Power in numbers One way that some local families are dealing with the current educational situation is by taking notes from an alternative form of education known as micro-schooling, where small numbers of children, usually fewer than 10, come together to learn. This model has been around for some time and is basically a revamped version of the one-room schoolhouse. As parents pool together to create these groups during COVID-19, each group has become a kind of pandemic pod. Varied in structure, these pods can be as simple as joining with others to share supervision. In this situation, the students migrate to different homes each day while the day’s designated parent oversees the remote learning process.

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Photo courtesy of Destination Education Learning Hub

Luke Wolansky entered kindergarten while attending Destination Education Learning Hub.

For at least one Oak Ridge family, micro-schooling has taken on a more formal, structured entity. Because the idea can be controversial – some believe it causes inequity for students whose parents can’t afford such an approach and takes good teachers out of the school system – the founder of the school agreed to talk with us only on the condition of anonymity. The Oak Ridge resident and local business owner proposed the micro-school idea to some of her friends several weeks ago when she found out public schools would begin the new school year with remote learning. Her idea involved turning her basement into a school and hiring a Distance Learning Manager (DLM) to work with the children on their remote assignments as well as to make sure they were given the opportunity for socialization that a typical classroom setting provides.

The micro-school has 11 third to seventh graders, all boys. The DLM is a coordinator for one of the public school’s After-School Care Enrichment Services (ACES) programs. Since students are not at school, she was out of work before being hired for this position. A typical day at the microschool mirrors a day at public school. Class starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. Students work on their remote lessons and if someone finishes an assignment early, the DLM will get that person involved with supplemental “educational experiences.” During the day, they take breaks and head outside for some physical activity. Everyone brings their own lunch. When the school day ends, the DLM is replaced by a teenager, who keeps the boys active by playing games such as kickball, baseball and slip and slide until the parents arrive to pick them up.

Back to School!

Photo courtesy of Destination Education Learning Hub

At Destination Education Learning Hub in Oak Ridge, third grader Davis Ann Flynt works on a STEM activity. students with their virtual lessons and also provides much needed time away from the computer screen.

“It’s not perfect, not all peaches and cream,” the resident said. “We’ve had a couple of boys bickering, but you would have that in school. We just deal with it and move on.”

Down on the farm Another parent, Prof. Kamil Usoro, M.Ed., Early Childhood Education and Trauma, has put her teaching career temporarily on hold to make sure her son, Noah, a second grader, gets the best education possible during this time. After attempting to work with Noah at home, Usoro recognized the environment was creating too much conflict. “It just wasn’t working,” she said. “Who wants to war with their own child? I knew I needed to create a classroom atmosphere.” While doing so, the Summerfield resident felt she could help other children and has since set up a remote learning center on a 55-acre farm located across from Northern Guilford High School in Greensboro. This gets her son into a classroom environment and gives her the opportunity to work with five additional children. During the school day, which runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Usoro helps the


“One day my son was on the computer for five hours,” she said. “He’s only 7.” She wants to get outside with the students and enjoy the farm as much as possible. Her plans include offering yoga and taking the kids fishing at the farm pond. Fluent in Spanish, she also plans to provide short Spanish lessons, along with other activities such as music and gardening. Usoro is adamant about providing a safe environment for learning, with pandemic-related precautions in place. At this point, she still has a few spots open.

Switching it up Destination Arts, an Oak Ridge dance and performance arts studio, has been shut down for the last six months while the state continues in Phase 2 of pandemic guidelines. With schools still closed to students, owner and business director Cameron Ligon saw an opportunity to breathe some life back into her business and simultaneously help local families by turning her empty classrooms into a learning center. Maintaining a maximum of

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“For God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” II Timothy 1:7 – KJV Ronald D. Ingle, Jr.

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Stokesdale office located at: 8512 US Highway 158 Kernersville office: P.O. Box 2474, Kernersville, NC 27284

Continued on page 29


Parents learn new appreciation for role of teachers While the situation surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak plays out, parents adapt to increased roles in their children’s education

Photo courtesy of Starr Anderson

After struggling with simultaneously helping her five youngest children with their remote learning routines, Starr Anderson of Colfax gave them the option of being homeschooled, which they agreed would be the best plan for this school year. Back row from left: Ellie, Starr, Lorrin; front row: Edynn, Anna, Taitt

by CHRIS BURRITT / PATTI STOKES NW GUILFORD/GREENSBORO – When the spread of the coronavirus last March forced the closing of schools, Starr Anderson began homeschooling five of her eight children. “I never in my life thought I would be on this road,” Starr said one afternoon last week after wrapping up the schooling of her children in the family’s Colfax home. She has met other mothers who are also homeschooling, one of the options for parents struggling to provide for their children’s education while working or, in some cases, looking for work after losing their jobs due to COVID-19. “One mother told me it’s basically been World War III in her house,” said Kamil Usoro, an educator

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who recently started teaching her 7-year-old son, Noah, and other children in a farmhouse on Spencer-Dixon Road across from Northern Guilford High and Middle schools. “A lot of parents aren’t suited to be teachers,” Usoro said. “They’re already stressed out from parenting. Some have lost their jobs. For those trying to work from home and teach their children, it’s like trying to work two full-time jobs simultaneously.” Guilford County Schools switched abruptly to online instruction in mid-March after closing schools because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Parents who were accustomed to sending their children to school suddenly found themselves

trying to figure out computer technology to help them learn online while at home doing their schoolwork. Families without computers and internet connection slipped even further behind. Desiree Walker, a pharmacy tech at Crossroads Pharmacy in Stokesdale, is the mother of two young children, Addison, a kindergartner, and Brantley, a first grader, who attend school in Rockingham County. Walker works full-time and has no access to internet at home. Since school started back in August, life has been more than a little complicated. “Last spring it was pretty easy. There were a couple of different sites they (students) had to go on, but it could all

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be done on my iPad (using her cell phone’s mobile hotspot),” she said. “We didn’t have to mess with the Chromebook. This year I thought, ‘well, at least they’re not getting sick, so we’ll figure it out.’ Then I found out they want you to have a Chromebook. “We can’t get WiFi – you can get it two streets over from my house but I can’t get it. The hotspot on my phone hasn’t been awful – but every now and then it will disconnect from my son’s computer and shut him out from his Zoom meeting and I have to keep re-connecting,” Walker said. To further complicate the situation, Walker’s children can only connect to WiFi via her phone’s mobile hotspot when she’s with them – which she isn’t during the school day. A family friend next door who keeps the children while Walker is at work has neither WiFi nor a cell phone, so most of the children’s school work is done in the evening. “On a typical weeknight evening, I come in and go right to work,” Walker said. “Recently we’ve been having to do oven pizzas for dinner or something else easy so I can help both of them with their schoolwork. They (teachers) give you enough work for the kids to work about 8 a.m. to 2:45 in the afternoon. I’m having to fit all that into a four- to five-hour period.

“Normally we start about 7 p.m. and when we finish just depends on how much work they have – one day we finished at 10:30 p.m. and another day it wasn’t until about midnight,” Walker said. “It’s not hard to get them started, but it’s hard to keep them


going, especially with Brantley (her son),” she added. “It’s not so bad for my daughter, because she’s in kindergarten, but there are some days when my son has 11 assignments.” Walker said she talks with her son’s teacher often, “but whether they say ‘do your best’ or not, they still expect the work to be done and you can’t carry it over until the next week.” It’s two weeks into the school year ,and Saturdays have already become a day to catch up on school work. And if after five weeks Rockingham County schools don’t resume in-person classroom instruction? “We’ll just keep on keeping on,” Walker said resolutely. The virus has created a ripple effect for many other parents as well. Some have lost their jobs, leaving them at home to help their children while also fretting about how they pay bills until finding new work. Other parents have faced the choice of continuing to travel to work or quit to stay at home with their children. “It’s a stressful, back-and-forth situation,” said Usoro, who decided to start a learning pod for students after the virus halted her work as founder of Triad Play, which organizes intergenerational playgroups. The breadth and duration of the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many people to offer parental advice on topics ranging from the impact of social isolation on children’s mental health to setting up safe playdates. Providing predictability for young people is widely recommended by educational and health professionals. “Create a schedule,” reads a post on, the American Academy of Pediatrics’

website. “Family routines are important to reduce anxiety and improve behavior.” Fiorella DeLisa, a mother of three children at Northern Guilford High and Middle schools, has tried to offer assurance to other parents worried about how their children are going to fare with distance learning. “So many parents are in tears because they’re expecting perfection,” said DeLisa, a former middle school science teacher in Apex, southwest of Raleigh. “I say, ‘guys, just roll with it.’

“This situation is far from what anybody wants,” DeLisa added. “But I think everybody is putting forth a good-faith effort to make it the best situation it can be. It is not perfect, but it will get better.”

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Starr Anderson’s five children (ages 6 through 14) were attending Colfax Elementary and Northwest Middle schools when the coronavirus forced classes online. Homeschooling her children was a logical choice after she realized last spring that she couldn’t manage remote learning for all of them simultaneously. She and her husband, Robb, have three older children who are in college and high school. The couple asked their younger children whether they wanted to continue online learning or pursue homeschooling. They chose homeschooling, which was a relief for their mother.

Continued on page 27


Students in Guilford County kicked off the 2020-21 school year last month in a variety of ways – some are attending classes in-person at a private or charter school with COVID-19 safety guidelines in place while thousands of Guilford County Schools’ students are participating in distance learning from home; micro-schools have popped up in some neighborhoods and in many homes across the county students continue their education with a homeschool curriculum.

ur children e youngest of fo th p, ep D lie ar Ch s kinderboys), started hi in his family (all tary via en em ak Ridge El garten year at O Oak Ridge. in e m from his ho ng ni ar le ce an dist will be Schools’ students Guilford County r at least fo ng ni ance lear st di in g in at ip ic part ol year. of the new scho ks ee w ne ni st fir the

Luke Winterhoff, a seventh gra der at Northwest Middle School, and his younger sister, Leah, a fourth grader at Oak Ridge Elementary School, had their lapt ops ready as they prepared to dive into the new school year via distance learning .

nse practice,

k a break cally in the

Oak Ridge Elementary student Hanna Barwick, a third grader, waves to teachers from her family’s car on Aug. 27 as they rode through the line at the school to pick up her textbooks and resource materials for distance learning.

2020 a big Easton Lowe of Stokesdale has his with de gra smile as he starts second homeschool, East Park.

began first Even though these two brothers School Aug. 17 grade at Oak Ridge Elementary and Ethan with distance learning, Eli (left) day of school. t firs the on Hanks were excited

Syver Odendaal (11th grade) & Melina Erha rtic (12th grade) of Syver, on their first day of school at Caldwell Acad emy. “We are grateful they are able to be back on campus in class,” said Julie Odendaal, the children’s mother. “I know it helps that Caldwell has smaller class sizes, making it easier to distance the children. They have two breaks a day outside where they can remove their masks, and lunch is outside as well. My daughter has one of her larger classes outside. As it is our daughter’s senior year, we’re hoping that as much of it will be as norm al as possible.”

with remote (L-R) Launa Parker, 16, begins her junior year at Northwest Guilford High School University Prep ng e-Learni Schools’ County Guilford with grade learning; Nick Tighe, 12, begins sixth e-Learning Schools’ County Guilford with grade third g (for grades 6-8); Alex Tighe, 9, is attendin four students All grade. fourth in is who 9, z, Gonzale Xander is Virtual Academy (for grades K-5), as home. Ridge Oak their in are learning from the family’s kitchen

Technology woes

DeLisa describes herself as more of a traffic cop than a teacher of her three children, Mateo, 17, Christina, 15, and Malena, 13. Each has a laptop and works primarily in their rooms, she said.

...continued from p. 11

viduals for contributions of clothing, food and other essentials, Hooper said. The coronavirus outbreak has increased needs beyond low-income families that typically rely upon donations. “During COVID, a family may have gone from two incomes to one,” she said.

“I do have to get them up in the morning, which isn’t easy,” she said. “They’re pretty independent and know what they have to do. With the computer, they’re the ones helping me.”

Distance learning is also exposing children to more technology than some parents would like. Northwest Guilford Middle School parent Melissa Stallings said her eighth-grade twins, Morgan and Lindsay, spend “a lot of time looking at the computer” during the school day. “They’re bored since they’re not with their friends anymore,” said Stallings, explaining that she and her husband, Wes, try to keep their daughters busy with activities such as swimming and soccer. Soto said her three children have settled into routines. A bearded dragon named Toothless sometimes sits on the shoulder of Sophia, a freshman at Penn-Griffin School of the Arts in High Point. Savannah, a sixth grader at Northwest Guilford Middle School, studies in her room while younger brother James wraps himself in his blanket in front of the family’s computer. “They each find their niche,” Soto said. Some students never imagined

The children cross paths mostly in the kitchen, asking “what’s for breakfast, what’s for lunch?” DeLisa said. After the noon meal, they return to their laptops for the final two hours of school. Adobe Stock photo

With students spending hours on their tablets or computers while distance learning, some parents are concerned they’re getting too much screen time. they’d spend the school day with their parents. But when the lingering coronavirus pushed the cancelation of school last spring into the new academic year, the reality hit home for students such as Haley Davis, a senior at Northern Guilford High School. Davis sits at the kitchen table with her laptop while her mother, Rhenda, works from home as an event planner. “We get along pretty well,” Davis said. “She and I make jokes back and forth.” Another Northern Guilford senior, Audrey Guyler, said she studies in her room, separate from her brothers,

Hudson, 15, and Jude, 12. They’ve not tried to study together. “We wouldn’t be able to do that,” she said. “My brothers get too distracted, and they’re loud so I can’t study.” Distance learning from home with her brothers and their mother, Kelly, is “OK,” according to Guyler. She’d prefer to return to school even if students were required to wear face masks. “It would be better than online school,” she said. “I’d like to have the senior experience instead of being at home and missing out on everything.” Northern Guilford parent Fiorella

“Once two o’clock comes around, they unwind and do their own things,” she said.

want to help? Guilford County Schools is accepting donations of gently used laptops, tablets and smartphones at its offices at 712 N. Eugene St. in Greensboro or at 900 English Road in High Point. People who want to pay for a new device at a cost of about $350 can contribute to a Guilford Education Alliance fund. Call (336) 841-4332 or visit https://guilfordeducationalliance. org/donate/. The used devices need to come with a charger and be equipped with internet access and wireless capabilities, a working camera and two-way audio interface so students can participate in remote learning.

To students, parents and school staff: This pandemic has brought many challenges to the new school year, and you are to be applauded for your

patience, positive attitude, determination and resilience 26

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Parents adapting ...continued from p. 23

“When COVID shut things down and schools went online, I spent the first two weeks giving it my very best,” Anderson said. “But because I have so many kids, I felt as though I was running nonstop all day long from one computer to the next computer, sitting down and trying to get every child through everything they were supposed to accomplish. “I knew I couldn’t keep going that way,” she said. “I didn’t want my kids to be frustrated constantly.” This school year, the family has settled into a routine. They get up at 7 a.m. and “dress as though they’re really going to school,” Anderson said.

‘You’ll be back’

...continued from p. 12 then work with the rhyming scheme. I kept a lot of the lyrics of this one,” he said, referring to “You’ll Be Back.” The lyrics took about two weeks, off and on, to perfect, Swofford said. After that he recorded the audio, then headed to school to work on videoing segments to go with it. Since students have been remote learning, the principal said he’s become much more technologically savvy and has moved from relying on his Google page to creating his own YouTube channel

to reach his audience. “Google limits the number of people who can see the video and I was getting too many hits. Having a YouTube channel solved this,” he said. Feedback on Swofford’s musical creations has been very positive, which has encouraged him to continue. He said he’s already got another song in the works and people have also started sending him suggestions for more songs he can parody.

want to watch?

Check out Swofford’s performance at: – search for “Rudy Swofford, You’ll Be Back.”

Send them back to school with a healthy smile

After holding a devotional at 8 o’clock, they gather around the kitchen table for school lessons. Over the next five hours, the children study together and split up for independent reading and study. Anderson, who is fluent in Spanish, teaches the language to one of her daughters, while her mother-in-law telephones from Utah to read out loud with two of her other daughters.

“We’ve gotten into a pattern,” Anderson said. “It’s been a way better outcome (than last spring).” The family has dealt with the uncertainty of when schools will reopen for in-person learning by deciding to carry on with homeschooling for the entire school year. “I want to have a schedule and not worry about the things out of our control,” Anderson said. “I want to have stability.”


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Arts from remote ...continued from p. 19

allows students to record – and even videotape – themselves, so what we plan to do is send out an excerpt and let the kids work on it, record themselves playing it, and then I can listen to it and give them feedback. That’s very similar to what we do live as well.” The process takes a lot longer, he said, beginning with loading the excerpts on the computer to individually listen online to the students play. “But,” Keith noted, “it balances out, because we’re in the class, so to speak, for less time. “The challenge that remains, then, is, ‘How do we make music together when we are so far apart?’” Keith said. “Now that we are remote, we’re breaking down into small groups and playing. We’re also using a program called Smart Music to give them something else to listen to; fortunately, Guilford County was able to get a subscription to it for all the students. It has a ton of band tunes and a backup track so the kids can listen to the harmony, practice, and hear what they sound like and adjust. Being able to have a sense of someone else playing with you is much more motivating.” Like so many we’ve spoken with, despite all the challenges with remote instruction, there have been some positive takeaways. “We survived the spring, and after not seeing the kids the last few months of school, it really highlighted the importance of that human interaction. Now, seeing and talking with the kids, even if it’s via the computer, it’s such a blessing and we’re not taking it for granted,” Keith said.


They’d rather be in class ...continued from p. 7 dents across the U.S. “Everybody’s in the same boat,” said Northern Guilford parent Fiorella DeLisa. “If somebody is going to end up at Harvard, they’re still going to end up at Harvard.” DeLisa’s three children are Mateo, a senior, Christina, a sophomore, and Malena, an eighth grader. She feels particularly bad for her son that “there isn’t normalcy. This isn’t what any of us wanted for our children’s senior year, but on the other hand, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. If part of the school year would be normal I’d be thrilled.” DeLisa said all of her children would “much rather be in school with their friends,” but she’s pleased with their interactions with teachers and quality of instruction they’re getting online. So far, they’ve gotten a mix of live and recorded instruction, starting at 8 a.m. and ending around 2 p.m., according to DeLisa, a former middle-school science teacher in Apex, southwest of Raleigh. “It’s almost like regular school without them being there,” she said.

“I don’t think we have a choice other than trying to learn as much as we can,” Badger said. “I do believe that at some point we are going to go back to school. I know I’m going to need to know this information.” The abrupt cancelation of school last March as the risks of the coronavirus spread led to a scramble by school administrators to switch to online instruction statewide. Grades didn’t count then, so some students checked out mentally, according to Goldin. “Last spring we went home on a Friday and were told Monday to get ready for remote learning,” recalled Stacy Garner, the Northwest counselor. “This fall it’s much different. We’ve had time to prepare and process how remote learning is going to work.” Even so, online learning isn’t the best fit for all students. Eliza Stallings, a junior, transferred from Northwest to Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point because she wanted in-person instruction for her five advanced placement classes.

Annie Badger, a junior and president of “We were concerned about the amount of Northern Guilford’s student council, said time she’d have to spend on a computer doing Even withschool COVID-19, theresaid isMelissa still she’s not letting up despite the uncertainty work and homework,” about the resumption of in-person instrucStallings, Eliza’s mother. so much to “With virtual learning, tion. it’s like this blur of time. But at Wesleyan, she’s


not sitting in front of a computer all day long.” The switch from classroom instruction to remote learning can pose problems for children with learning difficulties such as attention deficient disorder and autism, according to Annie B. Trent, founder of Tackle Advocacy in Greensboro. Among her services, Trent represents parents of children with unique learning needs to arrange individualized learning plans in their schools. The shift to online learning has proved disruptive to some children, prompting parents to request changes to their learning plans. “All of those children deserve the same free and appropriate education they were getting before the pandemic hit and they were learning in person,” Trent said. She urged parents to work with teachers and school administrators in a constructive fashion to modify their children’s instruction based on their needs. As an example, a teacher may email notes about an upcoming online lesson or lecture to a student so he can prepare for the instruction, according to Trent. Parents need to make arrangements for their children to meet with teachers, even if that means meeting remotely as long as schools are offering only online instruction, she said. “Direct instruction is very important to help teachers determine their students’ present level of performance and how they are improving,” Trent said. “If you’re not meeting with them face to face, that’s very difficult to do.”

Even with COVID-19, there’s still so much to


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Educational options ...continued from p. 21 25 students, Destination Education Learning Hub allows students to complete their required remote instruction assignments while also participating in daily enrichment activities such as art, music, acting, STEM and more in a safe, socially distanced and small-group environment. “With more children making the switch to remote learning for the 2020-2021 school year, many were in need of a safe, clean learning environment that provided a space for independent learning, as well as safe social interaction,” Ligon said. “This was a way we could support our local schools by keeping enrollments in local districts via their virtual learning platforms, and also a way to offer support for parents who were looking for more help and socialization than may be available at home.” Offering instruction for K through eighth grade, Destination Education is split into three classrooms: kindergarten, first through third grades and fourth through eighth grades, with each grade level grouped into small pods. A background-checked adult instructional guide/tutor leads each pod. Students attend the learning hub five days a week from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. A typical day begins with the students’ individual remote learning schedules, which takes about three hours, with “brain/stretch and snack breaks mixed in,” Ligon said. After lunch, students who have finished their schoolwork are able to participate in off-computer enrichment activities. When asked how the program is going so far, Ligon said, “It’s going well! We’re just still trying to figure out the ever-changing technol-


ogy, but it’s a learning curve for all involved and we are enjoying the challenge!”

but that’s not possible,” she said. “We’re still in the early stages and I’m making improvements as we go.”

Joining forces

Organization – a key to remote learning

Anjanette Carden, a Guilford County substitute teacher and mother who lives in northwest Greensboro, was weeks ahead of the game when she began thinking about what the coming school year might look like. Knowing there was a strong possibility the new school year would begin with remote learning, she was already making plans to work with her own fifth grade son, Colton. With a heart for education and the knowledge that many parents would have limited options in dealing with the new way of learning, Carden pondered how she could help. Deciding it wouldn’t be that difficult to work with a few extra kids, she began the second week of school overseeing remote learning for four students including her son – two first graders and two fifth graders. Carden sees her role as more of a facilitator than a teacher and meets with the kids four days a week for three hours each day to help them complete assignments and resolve any technical difficulties.

Annie B. Trent, owner of Tackle Advocacy, an organization that helps parents of special needs children navigate the world of special education, knew remote learning would require an entirely different set of skills for students to be successful. With this in mind, she established a virtual learning center, where students learn how to improve their study, organizational and communication skills. Individual students or small groups of four to six meet for two hours, twice a week, for coaching and support with the online instructional process; during this time, there are two coaches available to help students. Although students work on their school assignments, Trent said one

of the most important aspects of this program is that the students are working toward becoming independent learners. “We show them better ways to take and organize notes and how to make folders to organize work on their computers,” Trent said. “We’re teaching them these skills while they’re here getting their work done.” The majority of students Tackle Advocacy is working with are in high school, and many are freshman. “We have a lot of ninth graders,” Trent said. “High school is new to them and this is tough. The executive and organizational skills we are teaching can be used in high school and through college (to make learning easier).” Trent also points out that giving kids the opportunity to get out of the house and interact with peers offers them some needed social time that’s lacking because they’re not attending school in person.


Even with these limited hours, she feels she’s making an impact. “When they’re home, they get distracted, but when they’re here they can stay focused,” she said. During this time, Carden concentrates on the core elements – math and reading. Once those are complete and if there’s time, she’ll move on to other subjects.

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Homeschooling by choice ...continued from p. 15

how the school year will look, homeschool parents plan out their days to suit both the teacher and the students. “Homeschoolers are able to choose their routines,” Bailey said. “We get to match the learning to the rhythm of family life.” For most homeschool parents, the ability to design their own schedules doesn’t mean school starts at noon or kids are able to lounge around in their PJs all day. A structured routine is typically in place, but the parent/teacher is able to adapt to their student’s individual learning style or even a family event that might be taking place. Smith’s two children follow a schedule that starts when they roll out of bed. “We usually start sometime between 7:30 or 8:30 every morning, depending on when they wake up,” she said. “Once they’re awake, we’re not letting any grass grow under our feet. We’ll end anywhere from 2 to 3 p.m. The earlier we start, the sooner we’re done.” Jacob and Jordan Smith follow a carefully prepared educational schedule created by their mother. Along with subjects such as math, science, reading and history, there’s time allotted to writing in their character books, Bible study, penmanship and physical exercise. “Having a routine is important so they know what they’re doing and they’re not always asking ‘what do we do next?’” Smith said. At the Carter home, school normally starts around 9 a.m., after the girls have showered and had breakfast. They both have schedules to follow, but their pace of work is quite different. “Cydney will start as quickly as possible and is always looking at how fast she can get done,” Carter said, laughing. “Caleigh looks at it differently. Her question is ‘how long do I have?’ (and paces herself accordingly).” This year, Caleigh, a junior, is dually enrolled at Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC), where she is taking two classes. “We’re mainly doing this so Caleigh can get classroom experience before she goes off to college,” Carter said.


Finding a curriculum Most homeschooling parents like being able to choose their own curriculum. The challenge is sometimes selecting one from the many available. “There are all kinds of curriculums out there,” Smith confirmed. “You can make your curriculum be what your child needs at the moment. And, you can make learning fun!” Smith liked the idea of piecing together different curriculums to devise a program her kids find enjoyable. She also added a few of her own twists, including devotional time and having her kids create a character notebook.

“It’s not always about the details of what you’re learning,” she said. “It’s mostly learning about what kind of person you’re going to be when your parents turn you loose at 18.” When she first started homeschooling, Carter was overwhelmed with all the available curriculums and spent a great deal of time researching, talking with friends who homeschooled their children, visiting homeschooling conferences and book fairs. She finally settled on a program called Heart of Dakota, and has been happy with her choice. “Whatever you use has to work for your kids but it has to work for you as a teacher as well,” said Carter, who likes the idea of closely following the plan outlined in the program.

Outside sources and activities Many homeschoolers get involved with co-op groups that offer classes and activities to enhance the homeschooling experience. For instance, Classical Conversations conducts once-a-week classes where students have the benefit of interacting with other kids. Some homeschool co-op groups host proms, parties, field trips and sports activities. Carter mentioned there are several sports teams sponsored by co-ops. Cydney is currently involved in a homeschool volleyball team that not only plays other homeschool teams, but some public and private schools as well. Depending on a child’s interest, parents also

include other classes such as art, music and robotics to round out their child’s education.

Tests, transcripts and more Homeschoolers are not exempt from the tests or paperwork needed to document their education. North Carolina requires each student take a nationally standardized test annually; it’s up to the parent to choose the test and ensure it meets state standards. According to the DNPE, end-ofgrade tests (EOGs) are not required and usually cannot even be administered to homeschool students. While test results don’t need to be submitted to the state, parents of homeschooled students need to keep a record of test scores. There should also be attendance records and a list of classes completed. Again, none of this information needs to be submitted to the state but will be needed if the homeschool is ever audited. To err on the safe side, Smith keeps extensive records, including Jacob and Jordan’s completed assignments, in large binders that she compiles for each year. She said she’s also meticulous about keeping up with the required records. Should a child decide to transfer to public school or attend college, it will be up to the parent to make sure their transcript is correct and complete.

Getting started There is no special degree or training needed to get students started in homeschooling, but North Carolina does require the parent/educator to have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent. The educator must send DNPE a Notice of Intent to Operate a Home School and it should include the name of the school, which will be included on the student’s future high school diploma and transcript. The DNPE website provides advice on how to select the name, along with other helpful information.

want to know more? N.C. Division of Non-Public Education (DNPE) North Carolinians for Home Education (NCHE)

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