‘Grammy Schools’: Relatives step up to help with virtual learning

Tomika Anderson gets help from her mother, Regina Anderson, as the school year starts for second-grader Solomon.

Tomika Anderson is committed to not repeating the end of the last school year for her 7-year old son.

In the final weeks of spring, the Woodbridge mother says, the abrupt switch to virtual learning left her now-second grader, Solomon, simply trying to get through each day.

“I feel like my son didn’t learn anything in the spring,” Anderson said. “We were all in complete emergency mode … the understanding of the longevity of this virus wasn’t really fully understood. We were like, ‘Oh we’ll be back in school by the end of the school year.’”

She’s pledging that this year will be different, and calling in reinforcements to make sure. In what she dubs “Grammy School,” Anderson is taking advantage of some nearby family and plans to drop Solomon off four days a week to learn with his grandmother, a former Prince William County public school teacher herself. Online, Anderson is helping other single parents organize something similar.

Anderson works full time in government contracting but also runs a Facebook group called “Single Parents Who Travel!” Since she founded it in 2013, the group has grown to over 7,500 members. She says five members in the Washington and Northern Virginia areas have prepared their own “Grammy Schools” as well. Some grandparents are even going to help watch kids who aren’t related to them.

“One of the things we were talking about in our group, since we’re all single parents sort of facing some of the same challenges around virtual teaching and working from home, is problem solving,” Anderson said. “So now there’s all different ways in which these grandparents are coming together to help support — in this case — single moms so that we can continue to do the hard work of making income for our families.”

Of course, not everyone has family nearby to help, and Anderson said the group, which formerly revolved around travel, has turned into an all-hands-on-deck exchange of tips and advice for navigating the pandemic and social restrictions. The resumption of school has dominated recent conversations.

And “Grammy School” for some won’t be limited to in-person assistance. One mother of three in the group said her kids will be getting additional help from their grandmother, also a retired teacher, over the internet, just as they will attend school.

Other parents, Anderson said, are already feeling overwhelmed. The relatively fortunate ones will be balancing working from home with monitoring their children’s online education. Others are scrambling to arrange supervision.

“Honestly we have parents who either sound like they’re ready to give up already, like ‘I simply can’t do this’ because it’s going to be too hard or because they’re looking around at other schools that started earlier,” Anderson said. “Or we have parents who are reaching out to other parents for support … to hire a tutor or even a babysitter who helps the kid navigate the technology or whatever they need.”

Tomika’s mother, Regina, taught for over 20 years in several Northern Virginia school divisions, and while she plans to be with Solomon for most of the school day as he moves through his online lessons, she said she’s mindful of where his teachers’ work stops and her assistance begins. She wants to make sure no lines get blurred for her grandson. “There’s a grammy side, and there’s a teacher side,” she said.

Living close to her daughter, Regina saw plenty of her grandson to begin with, but she said she didn’t need any convincing to spend more time with him. The two already like to bake together, using measures to illustrate fractions and arithmetic.

When the Prince William School Board first started to talk about an all-virtual start to the semester, Regina quickly offered to have Solomon in her house. Anderson mostly worked from home before the pandemic. “But I never worked from home with [Solomon] in school,” she said.

Regina’s advice to parents is to keep up with the school district’s website and the state’s Department of Education website for guidance and digital resources. She said to also help students keep themselves organized both digitally and with regards to whatever paper is needed. Especially when the physical school space is no longer available, it’s important to maintain a specific area for school materials where possible.

“I would suggest to parents who are a little bit squeamish about this, connect with the school website, connect with the school website,” Regina said. “And pool any materials that you need in one place. Solomon knows where his stuff is.”

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