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The challenges of keeping families engaged through virtual learning

GBAPSD family engagement coordinator explains how he’s working with families online.
Published: Dec. 2, 2020 at 10:56 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - “At one point I told my husband we have to choose to be his teacher or his parents, we can’t do both,” said Jamie Jensen, whose son is a sophomore at Southwest High School.

Jensen says he was a good student until he started virtual learning.

“He went from a gifted student who went to Leonardo da Vinci and excelled, and now, he’s not excelling,” Jensen says as she shakes her head.

It’s a problem some staff at Green Bay Public Schools have also noticed

“It’s been more than a challenge. A highly motivated student, during this virtual environment...not so much,” said Luis Franco, the district’s family engagement coordinator.

He has worked for the district for the last 23 years, connecting families with resources to keep them engaged with their child’s education.

Franco says a valuable one has been the district’s support center, which launched this school year because of the pandemic.

“You can call, you can text, you can send an email and you will get a live person on the other side who will walk you through the process, step by step, maneuver the technology,” said Franco.

He’s also worked with various community partners to get messages to bilingual families.

“We have to be a little creative as far as using the platforms that we have. We use Facebook as a means of communication, we use the Spanish radio to disseminate the message, we collaborate with community partners such as Casa Alba,” explained Franco.

Inside the home, Franco says he’s also seeing scenarios where siblings are having to take on more responsibilities inside the home, at times having to choose between being a student or a caregiver.

“One of the things we have discovered through the many conversations we have conducted with parents is a lack of an environment within the household that is conducive to learning,” said Franco. “They’re [older siblings] the ones who stay behind, or are the ones watching their brothers and sisters, while they are going through the pandemic themselves and going through their own challenges.”

Franco says it’s an issue he sees with many of the Hispanic families he works with, but the problem is not unique to one culture.

Parents such as Jensen, are also seeing her son struggle with finding a good learning environment.

“My house is where I go, it’s my safe space, it’s my fun space, it’s not where I go to school,” is what Jensen’s son has said to her.

She’s part of a Facebook group pushing for district leaders to open the classrooms because at this point, she’s starting to worry about her son’s mental health.

“I know he’s smart, I know he has the information he needs to have. It’s the rest of it, it’s the emotional side,” said Jensen.

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