Oakland Voices is interviewing parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 2020, public school students in Oakland have been in “crisis learning” and distance learning mode. We reached out to parents to explore struggles they may have, any benefits they see to distance learning, and support that they would welcome.
Malinda Bun, co-owner of East Oakland’s Cambodian Street Food, has five children who are in OUSD’s schools—a son at Oakland High School, a son at Bret Harte Middle School, twins at Manzanita Community School, and a daughter at Manzanita SEED School.
“(Last semester) it was like running around. It was like, I’m a parent, I’m a teacher. What am I gonna do? But, we did it. It was definitely hard,” Bun said. Once schools closed, her days were devoted to overseeing her children’s schoolwork, followed by working several hours at her restaurant in the late afternoons and evenings, which is a totally different schedule for her. Although she has help from her mother when she goes to work, she is responsible for the rest of the day. She also works fewer hours now at the restaurant and family members help her out there.
At the beginning, Bun’s family encountered many tech-related issues. “When the shelter-in-place took place, introducing the kids to virtual learning was difficult. Sometimes the password worked, and sometimes it didn’t. And there were different links. Just getting the links,” she said. With five classes and four grades (she has twins who are in different classes), it often felt overwhelming.
Also, it took a while for the children, who are aged five to 14 and attend four different schools, to get used to the reality of having school at home. At the beginning, Bun would have to remind her children, “Hey, guys, you’ve gotta get up, get dressed, have breakfast, and get on the computer.”
How did Bun respond to this very different experience? If she had access or app issues, she would contact the teachers: “I would text them if I got confused. And they’d respond, so the communication wasn’t difficult,” she said. She had the teachers’ phone numbers because she had met with them all at the beginning of the year and the teachers included their phone numbers in the weekly packages and on announcements. She urged parents to make sure “that teachers are responding back to their students, that they are responsive to their students.”
Bun also spent over $2,000 on equipment and supplies. She purchased five sets of materials for each of her children (e.g., pens, crayons, dry erase markers, highlighters, sticky notes, folders), a little file cabinet where the children can store their work, a printer, and a table/desk for her eldest son who entered high school this school year. She also bought a large whiteboard to help her children, who she says are visual learners, stay organized. “I have everything on the board. Their Zoom times, their (OUSD) email, and the teacher’s name,” she said.
How successful does Bun think online learning has been? Have her children been learning? Not as much as when they are in school, she thinks, but this semester has been better because teachers had more time to plan and the children have got used to learning on a computer.
“They’re learning more this year because it’s routine now, the schedule is familiar. It makes a lot more sense now,” she said, adding, “Even though it’s hard, I think they’re making it easier (for parents) by having the resources there for us. Like, this is where you can go, this is how you can find information, schoolwork, the class work, newsletters, updates,” she said.
Although online learning has been going better this school year, Bun’s children miss going to school. “They want to go back to school. They want to be around people at school. They want to be around their friends. They want to be in class. They actually miss that. They ask me, ‘Mom, when are we gonna get back to school?’” she said, adding, “The world isn’t the same. They’re a little bit confused and I try my best to tell them like, hey, there’s this virus that happened that’s deadly. We have to stay home. We have to social distance and stay away from people. They do get frustrated because they can’t go out and be around friends and family.”