Parents struggle being untrained teachers

  • Krysie Berry works with her children, Brodie, 7 and Jules, 5 in their kitchen in Northwood on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Berry had to go back and forth between them to get them set up on their computers. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Brodie Berry, 7, tries to concentrate on his school zoom call on Tuesday, September 22, 2020 in their Northwood home. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Krysie Berry works with her daughter, Jules, 5, on her Zoom call in the kitchen of their Northwood home on Tuesday.

  • Krysie Berry works with her children, Brodie, 7 and Jules, 5 in their kitchen in Northwood on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Berry had to go back and forth between them to get them set up on their computers. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Krysie Berry listens as her stepson, Brodie, 7, gets on a Zoom call for class on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Krysie Berry listens in as her stepson, Brodie, 7, as he gets on a zoom call in their kitchen on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Brodie Berry, 7, plays with his hair while his stepmom, Krysie checks the calendar for making a doctor’s appointment at their Northwood home on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Krysie Berry’s daughter, Jules, 5, works on a project on her zoom call from school in their Northwood home on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Krysie Berry works with her children, Brodie, 7 and Jules, 5 in their kitchen in Northwood on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Berry had to go back and forth between them to get them set up on their computers. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Krysie Berry works with her children, Brodie, 7, and Jules, 5, in their kitchen in Northwood on Tuesday. Berry had to go back and forth between them to get them set up on their computers. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Brodie Berry, 7, on his school zoom call at their Northwood home on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Krysie Berry works with her children, Brodie, 7 and Jules, 5 in their kitchen in Northwood on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Berry had to go back and forth between them to get them set up on their computers. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 9/22/2020 5:03:50 PM

Krysie Berry of Northwood is an operations manager for Air New England, her husband, Kris, a mason.

Neither has the background needed to teach young students in a structured environment, much less address the needs of a child in an Individualized Education Program.

But with a policy that calls for remote learning and allows nothing else, moms and dads there and in other school districts across the state – not to mention the entire country – continue to wear two hats, juggling jobs they were trained to do, with one in which they were not.

“Some teachers work twice as hard to create videos and lessons and they’re getting half the results back because parents are not educators,” said Berry, whose 7-year-old stepson, Brodie, has ADHD. “We cannot teach like professional educators can.”

They’re learning. No choice there.

In Northwood, Krysie has been permitted to work remotely; Kris cannot. Along with ADHD, Brodie also has difficulties with sensory perception. He’s in the Individualized Education Program.

His mother says she’s trying her best to overcome obstacles, teach Brodie what he needs to know, at the pace that he’s comfortable with. She says the time needed to support her stepson takes away from time spent with her 5-year-old daughter, Julie.

She’s simply not qualified, telling me, “For his ability to grasp concepts of learning, he needs to be with professionals and paraprofessionals in his special education fields. At home, I’m working eight hours a day, emails, phone calls.”

Kris works long hours, sometimes traveling 1½ hours for a masonry job and getting home late to become the other half of this inexperienced teaching tandem.

Initially, the board’s decision, while not exactly what the couple wanted, was at least a good start, choosing a hybrid model that featured two days at school for half the students, a day of sanitizing, and then two more days at school for the other half of the student body.

Full-time home schooling had and remains an option that must be offered, as was mandated by Gov. Chris Sununu last spring.

But since that initial decision, Kris and Krysie have evolved into major advocates for a hybrid model that includes in-school for all children at least four days per week. Five days would be even better.

“My stance on this is children need to be in school,” Krysie said, “and for those families that have medical concerns and can keep their children at home, that should be an option.”

She continued: “But for the families who know it will be safe and their children wear masks and they stay six feet apart, we should be able to send children to school five times per week.”

She said she wants to be fair. Four times in school per week and a day for remote learning and sanitizing would have been a compromise. She blogged on Facebook, voicing her opposition to limited class time and became a local sensation, with a couple of hundred messages showing support.

Then, as is often the case with COVID-19, the world turned upside down at a specially called school board meeting last month. Maybe there was a compromise in the works, the Berrys thought. Maybe the voice of residents who worried about losing their jobs and holding their children back educationally had been heard.

Instead, after the board went into a closed session for 1½ hours, board chair Brian Winslow returned and held an open vote, reflecting what had happened in the conference room.

He and Shane Wells voted no to an all-remote policy. Stephanie Arroyo, Jessica Boudreau, and Shirley Glennon voted in support, and, by that 3-2 margin, the school board’s strategy had changed, from hybrid to home.

Reached by phone, Winslow said further research, after the board’s initial unanimous vote, showed that the school simply didn’t have enough staff to split into remote and classroom learning. Also, the board, Winslow said, realized that social distancing in the school’s small classrooms would have been difficult.

“We looked into it and saw these problems,” Winslow told me. “We saw staffing problems with either hybrid model. We could not stretch the kids out effectively. It was problematic and more challenging.”

Meanwhile, parents who hoped in-school learning would dominate any policy said the board simply wasn’t ready to face the fall semester. Joe Hutchings, who has three children in the school district, wants them in class.

He’s an information technologist, his wife a dental hygienist. Translation: He’s home, mixing two jobs.

“There was a lot of organization needed and this showed unpreparedness by the school board,” Hutchings said. “They’re meeting year-round and everyone knew about COVID, and it’s not like anyone sprung anything on them at the last minute.”

From here, nothing looks clear. The board members who voted to go remote weighed the pros and cons and chose caution. Winslow and Wells put more trust in CDC recommendations. Wells also said that mental health problems caused by lack of interaction could surface in the future.

“I’m going to vote no on full remote,” Wells said after the decision was announced. “I look at the long-term effects on our kids not being in school.”

Then Kris Berry disputed the data that had been released. Several sources said the numbers were not placed in proper context.

But even if that wasn’t the case, parents of schoolchildren say they need help.

“You made your decision based on what facts?” Kris asked the board, according to the official online video.

“You want remote? Fine, remote. A lot of families need their kids in school.”




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