by Mel Selcho
Four different approaches keep kids engaged in learning
BACK TO SCHOOL season 2020 was a mixed experience depending on where you live, how old your children are and what your family’s approach to social distancing looks like. Check out what school looks like to four different movers and shakers:
Home Schooling RV-Style
When her family’s long-established Decatur photography businesses saw the wedding and corporate events they photographed being postponed, Jenn Linke decided she could at least try to make use of the new-found time. She converted her business management skills she normally dedicated to Art of Life and applied them to planning a five-week trip to Los Angeles and back. Her family of five will be living, schooling and working from their RV along the way.
“It was the first time in 15 years we had free time,” she said. “We’ve never had a stretch where our jobs would let us have five weeks away and there is an option for remote learning.”
In order to make sure schooling stays on track, she’s planned to be in more populated areas during the week where internet should be more reliable. Linke has even researched Amazon Fresh grocery delivery to keep them as contact-free as possible.
With theme parks closed, Linke says she is excited the kids want to experience more hiking and seeing national parks and natural treasures. The list includes the Grand Canyon, Zion’s National Park and the Alamo.
She explains that her family will be packing flexibility as the unanticipated changes in weather and area closures could change their
route and disrupt their plans.
“We’re teaching our kids the best sense of adventure,” she said. “Maybe even something better [than what we planned] will happen. We could all use that outlook this year.”
Extra Care for the Extra-Curricular
Teaching is a way of life for Brook Hewitt, who has a 32 year career in the field. Several years ago she took a brief break from work as a formal educator to explore a career in photography. While her new business included the excitement of photographing professional wrestlers and rock stars, Hewitt said she missed being with kids.
She was surprised to find a dearth of options for children to participate in photography, and began Camera Class for Kids in 2012 to fill the need. She teaches anywhere from ages three through high school, and even helps older teens with an entrepreneurial spirit work on photography as their own business.
Hewitt’s hands-on approach includes providing all the gear for class and helping students leave with physical photographs rather than just digital images. She even has a printer that runs on batteries she brings to the outdoor shoots.
When COVID-19 closed schools and after care facilities, Hewitt made her first pivot to create online classes and content. Realizing her students wouldn’t have access to her gear, Hewitt’s classes shared “different hacks and projects kids can do with cell phones and tablets they had at home,” she said. “I ended up teaching virtual classes all over the world – Asia, Africa and Europe. It was a bucket list item I never even knew I had.”
Hewitt made another change this summer to help kids spend even less time in front of computers. She now offers in-person photo walks in outdoor spaces as private lessons or to very small groups of children, many of whom are already in some form of a social or learning pod. To minimize exposure, she gets tested every week, wears a mask and sanitizes the cameras in between lessons.
Students have photographed with bubbles, mirrors and even learned to make images of ghosts with the cameras in natural wooded areas.
“Fun is a hot commodity these days,” Hewitt said. “Watching [the kids] have physical freedom to move around, to skip and jump and play is almost like taking a happy pill.”
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The Pod Principal: “I can help here”
Self-described “reading maestro” Anne Weidert left her job at Woodward Academy to become a tutor and have more time with her family. As business grew, she hired a team and formed Smarty Pants Intown Tutoring. She even converted a room in her home to mimic an elementary school classroom setting for her students.
March 2020 brought challenges and opportunities Weidert never expected. As in-person activities became prohibited, she realized quickly that both the success of her business and the students who relied on her were at stake. While she quickly switched to online tutoring options, it took some time to convert the lessons through the discovery of games, activities and videos that enriched the experience.
As fall schooling approached, nearly 80 families reached out to Weidert for help. Weidert was able to connect similarly-situated families with each other to form learning pods, three of which are run through her business. She handled the set up logistics and found teachers to facilitate the public school lessons and offer additional enrichment experiences based on what the group decided.
“I’m like the pod principal,” she explained. “I helped them get set up and now put out fires along the way.”
The small group experience offers an advantage Weidert says these children wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. “These kids are getting a different relationship with a teacher who only has four or five students,” she explained. “One of the kids even named his pod ‘The Back House School.’”
As communities have reacted to COVID-19, Weidert says she saw a lot of people stepping up to help. “I can’t sew. I can’t do medicine. But I know this part. I can help here and let others help in something that’s their jam.”
For more information, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cartwheels for a Virtual Learning
Intown Stars Gymnastics began when owner Anna Robinson found herself as a newly-single mom wondering how she would support her children. She turned to her gymnastics background, having been a gymnast as a young child and coaching through the years. She realized there weren’t any intown gyms, so she began her own in 2014, in a room in a church in Grant Park.
The business grew to a regulation sized gym in Decatur serving 1,700 kids per week with a competitive team, a wide range of classes and camp programs. Intown Stars Gymnastics was profiled by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest growing businesses for 2019.
As schools shut down and it was clear they were not re-opening soon, Robinson found herself needing to make another business plan.
“I knew parents need to work, whether at home or not,” she said. “If [the kids] were going to learn on a screen, they may as well learn here where they can also play in the gym and be with other kids.”
She converted part of her 23,000 square foot space into a virtual learning center. Then Robinson went to work finding community organizations who could partner with her to provide scholarships for families that needed help with child care.
They currently serve children in Kindergarten through 7th grade and divide them into small groups where they can logistically monitor, supervise and facilitate their online learning. As a mother herself, Robinson said she knows how challenging it can be to step into the role of teacher for your own child, let alone try to help teach them and work at the same time.