Stories from our Alumnae Community
Maryjane McCloskey Finne, Class of 1969, was a pre-med student from Vermont when she attended Douglass. Following graduation, she worked in the pension industry, was a Y2K programmer, and taught high school in Rahway and Roselle, NJ. Her current writing endeavors include poetry, essays and informational stories at maryjanefinne.com. She enjoyed attending her first reunion, her 50th in 2019, but also had stayed connected with the AADC through her support of the AADC Annual Appeal and advocacy and by reading our publications. Here is her story, shared by the AADC on January 7, 2021.
Remote Learning with My Grandson
“How would you like to help Owen get a good start in eighth grade?” My son, Chris, ever the salesman and fisherman, readily hooked me. I am a former teacher and school technology facilitator and currently tutor. Since Chris and Owen moved away to Tampa last summer, I have had little time with my grandson. I was willing. We developed a plan. Chris and Owen would drive to New Jersey from Florida, getting Covid-tested on route. They would quarantine at our small family cabin in the Sussex County forest west of New York City. I would drive 65 miles daily to the cabin from my home in the suburbs. Chris would use Zoom for his highly stressful technical position in our Covid economic downturn. Owen’s remote schooling would begin on August 24.
On Sunday, August 23, our family gathered at the cabin to celebrate Chris’s birthday. I looked forward to beginning work on Monday. Friends from my age cohort and beyond, including my former pastor, 103, urged me to report back about this new way to educate. Monday morning I bounded out of bed at the previously unthinkable hour of 6 am and arrived at Dunkin’ Donuts by seven. There I armed myself with an extra-large green tea and a Power Breakfast Sandwich and purchased jelly and powdered sugar donuts to lure Owen from his bed. I arrived at the cabin before 8:30, 70 minutes before school start time. All week I managed to continue this routine, although by Friday I was too late to pick up donuts.
The cabin has a good internet connection, so I had no worries unless a storm knocked out power. Fortunately, it was sunny all week, with temperatures up to 90. With two fans and many open windows, the lack of air conditioning did not deter even the Floridians. Tampa schools (Hillsborough County School District, the seventh largest in the nation), had just adopted Canvas, a new online instructional delivery system that incorporates Zoom for live instruction. I had watched several training videos for parents and felt equipped to handle technical problems.
Sometimes when I received a call, I had to walk the length of the house, up the driveway, and down the road to a tree stump I adopted as my telephone booth for better reception.
Classes followed a normal schedule. Class attendance, however, was only taken when Zoom was part of the lesson, and many classes did not use Zoom. As Owen’s mentor/monitor, I wanted to observe that the system was recording Owen’s attendance at each class accurately, important in future weeks when Chris and Owen returned home and Chris was busy working. However, I was never able to locate such historic information, despite being logged in as his parent. This puzzled me. In the last school I worked, I became very familiar with Power School, another online student information system with easy access to attendance and grading information for parents. In fact, I still regularly teach newly-arrived refugees how to monitor their children’s progress using Power School, which even provides translation. Not having easy access to historical class attendance records is a serious issue for parents who are keeping track of multiple children while engaged in household chores and employment, whether from home or job site. Few families can dedicate a single adult to watch each child in the family every minute.
At one point when no one was on Zoom, Chris began talking about a difficult issue. Just then, Owen’s class began. “Dad,” Owen quickly warned, “unless you want my whole class to know our personal business, it is necessary for you to stop talking now.” Such difficulties we had when locked in together are more severe in other families. My other son’s wife, 20 weeks pregnant, has to monitor three children, 6, 8, and 10. With live remote learning, she would have to go up and down three flights of stairs constantly moving from one child to another for seven hours. Therefore, she has decided to use the curriculum from Montgomery County Schools to home school all three children together at the dining room table from 8 to 12 while her four-year old goes to live pre-K classes at a local church. This seems to be a more effective solution for them. Meanwhile, during the non-school hours of her day, she is employed, writing and self-publishing a manual on how to obtain parole in the Maryland correctional system. Quite a challenge she faces.
My local public radio station recently interviewed college freshmen. One girl had opted to live in the New York University dormitory, where her only live human contact is to receive a tray of food three times daily. Why submit yourself to such a prison, you ask? Her family of seven lives in an apartment in New York City. Both of her parents work remotely on Zoom from their apartment as do two of her younger siblings. Her older sister is a college student working from home and the youngest is a 10-month old baby, producing her own quantity of noise. For this young woman, residing in the lonely dormitory was the best option.
One night, I received a help call from a student I have tutored for the past three years. He was to begin Middle School online, but he had not yet received adequate instructions. Fortunately, a member of my extended family works in that district’s other Middle School. Unfortunately, between the two schools there is no standardization of procedures. However, she sent us a copy of the letter she had written for her students which explained about how to log onto to the new Schoology learning system. Using this, my student was enabled to contact one of his teachers for more details about start time, since no schedules had been sent out. In our current environment, chaos continues to reign.
However, compared to the life-threatening situations we faced here in New Jersey and New York City last March, the challenges of remote schooling and working seem mild. For so many, these frustrations are amplified by wildfires, hurricane damage, food insecurity, potential evictions, language difficulties, and poor or no internet connections. We need to keep our neighbors in mind when we consider complaining and instead try to maintain an attitude of gratitude if we have food, shelter, work, and access to learning. Let us continually support one another through encouragement, information, and donations of food and money. That is how we best can get through these tough times.