Eli and Emma Farley in online school. Courtesy/LAPS Foundation
Eli and Emma Farley with little sister Elena. Courtesy/LAPS Foundation
By Jenny McCumber
Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation
Do you ever wonder what a school day is actually like in Los Alamos this year? The following is the first of three articles describing the school experience from different perspectives, brought to you by Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation.
Meet the Farley family, part of our White Rock community. Cory and Stephanie have three children, Eli (4th grade), Emma (kindergarten) and Elena, 2 years old. Cory works at LANL and Stephanie, a registered nurse, is navigating her children through this very different school year. Eli and Emma attend Los Alamos Online Learning Academy, which is Los Alamos Public Schools’ newest school, created to meet the needs of Los Alamos families during the pandemic. We asked Stephanie to give her perspective on school life in the time of COVID-19.
How did you make the decision to enroll your children at Los Alamos Online Learning Academy? Was it a difficult decision?
Having experienced COVID within my family, the decision to enroll my kids in LAOLA was emotionally difficult for many reasons. This summer my uncle spent 5 weeks on the ventilator after exposure to an asymptomatic coworker, but survived; he gave it to my grandfather who sadly passed away. He had unknowingly exposed my father who contracted it, but experienced it mildly. After experiencing the stress and anxiety that the “Corona-coaster” can take you on, my husband and I decided that it would be wisest to keep our children at home, limiting the exposure to COVID. However, this decision was extremely difficult for a couple reasons. Emma would be entering kinder this year at Chamisa. This is not how we wanted her to experience her first year of school, especially because all she has talked about since she turned 4 was attending school with her brother! My son is very social and very much extroverted so the idea of keeping him home broke our hearts as well. He LOVES being with people. After experiencing everything we did this summer and the constant changes that COVID brings and despite losing the social aspect of school, we knew we needed something that would stay consistent in our lives. Although the decision was difficult, I am so glad we chose LAOLA because I have been able to rely on a system set up to teach fully online. While hybrid works for many families, we knew the consistency that LAOLA would bring was much needed in our family. While there have been some trials for the teachers to figure out what will work best (at the beginning of the school year), everything has since fallen into place and our kids are thriving.
How has Eli and Emma’s school experience compared to previous years for Eli at Chamisa?
The biggest thing that we miss is the feeling of family that we get from Chamisa. There is just something different about Chamisa and our family adores that school! The pod system is amazing! Eli really misses the social aspect of school and the programs he was involved in. He was involved in many clubs at Chamisa and Emma was excited to join some clubs herself, especially art club if it was offered. Our teachers with LAOLA are incredible and give the children time to share, time to socialize and are doing an amazing job at meeting our kids’ social emotional needs. However, we greatly miss the “in person” interactions you get at school.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
Because my children are so social, they really want to be together in the same room which can lead to distractions! We have a designated school area, but they end up on the couch, in a fort, by the fireplace or the Christmas tree. And they all tend to migrate together! I am really grateful that the teachers allow them to do school where they are comfortable. The biggest challenge is keeping my 2 year old from distracting the older kids. She is our third kiddo and she always wants to be “one of the big kids.” When she is being distracting and I have to remove her from the presence of the big kids, meltdowns ensue. Pandemic parenting is already hard but throw in a terrible two’s toddler/almost threenager and it takes it to the next level! I am an RN and although I am not working at the moment to stay home with my kids, I have other “jobs” in which I do a lot of volunteer work. The constant call out for “Mom!” plus keeping the children out of our office when daddy is working can be exhausting.
Describe your typical school day.
After the kids have finished their morning routine, they settle into our “classroom” with their school supplies and their computers. Managing screentime has taken some time to figure out. Our kids generally get free screentime on Saturday mornings during the school year. We are trying to teach our children how to have a healthy relationship with technology. Emma’s teacher, Mrs. Littleton, has a schedule that they follow which has plenty of breaks. During these breaks, I have Emma go play with her younger sister. Playing is so important at this age! Then she is able to return to her class refreshed. Eli has the option to get off his computer or work on his independent work. Both are given the incentive that if they get their work done by noon (for Emma) and 1:30 (for Eli) then they can have free time on their chromebooks for 45 minutes. For their freetime, Emma usually chooses ABC mouse or PixalArt. Eli usually chooses some kind of coding game or Prodigy. Wednesdays are fun days around here! Wednesday is Project Days in kinder, which is Emma’s favorite day! The kids do a project together and then show off their final work. Emma also has pre-ballet after school and she is absolutely in love with Ballet. Wednesdays are fun for Eli too as he has choir which meets on a googlemeet. By 2 p.m., we are generally done with school and the kids go rest/read while the toddler naps. Mommy gets some focused time to work and then the evening is spent having family time.
What are some positives about the online learning experience?
I am very grateful for the consistency that LAOLA provides in these uncertain times. The teachers are doing an amazing job of not only educating my children but meeting their social emotional needs as best they can. I am really impressed that they can do that over screens! The most fun thing for us as parents is seeing “how” our kids learn. When Eli went to school, it seemed as though he just came home from kinder one day being able to read. With Emma, we get to see the process, which is really cool! With Eli, we get to do science experiments and hands on projects with him as a family. We love getting to watch the learning “in action.”
What is your greatest hope for your children this school year?
My greatest hope is that my children will have learned to adapt to any situation. We are teaching our children to rephrase the negatives to something positive such as:
We have to do school from home … to … We are blessed to get to do school from home and be together more.
COVID means we can’t see our friends … to … We have our small cohort that we can play with right now. We are grateful to be with them and we will see more of our friends when the pandemic is over. This is something to look forward to!
We can’t do anything fun, like go to the zoo or go on adventures like we normally do! … to … let’s come up with some new adventures we can do at home.
These are just a few examples. Our hope is that this will help them learn that while realistically things can be difficult, when we control our mindsets to be more positive, we can get through anything!
The Farley’s story is a great example of the resiliency and positive spirit within our LAPS community.
Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation was able to step in and help the Los Alamos Online Learning Academy this year. As a quickly created new school LAOLA didn’t have a separate budget for needed items so LAPS Foundation has purchased many resources for teachers to transition into online teaching and learning, such as manipulatives for kindergartners like Emma. Emma’s teacher, Becky Littleton observed, “For young children learning, having manipulatives for each child to pick up, turn around, build, count, and play with make all of the difference in the world! The LAPS Foundation purchasing these necessary tools for our school made learning for our youngsters at LAOLA much more equitable and FUN!”
Our generous donors make it possible for LAPS Foundation to fulfill our mission to serve as the connection between our community and school district, evaluating needs and investing resources to improve the quality of public education in our community.
About LAPS Foundation
The Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization that helps the local community provide an extraordinary education for Los Alamos students. Los Alamos has given over $1.5 million to fund opportunities students and teachers would not have otherwise. To learn more about LAPS Foundation and how to get involved and/or make a donation, visit lapsfoundation.com or call 505.500.6501. Donations to LAPS Foundation, a 501(C)(3) organization, are tax-deductible.
Emma Farley using manipulatives provided by LAPS Foundation. Courtesy/LAPS Foundation