‘How do we keep these kids motivated?’ Parents and educators react to Michigan school closures

After three weeks of school closures, Kymberly Calhoun was concerned about her son, a basketball player at Western International High School in Detroit. He was struggling to get out of bed in the morning and playing too many video games. An honor student, he had trouble focusing on the learning materials his school sent home.

Now the family is facing three more months at home, after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement Thursday that school buildings won’t reopen until next school year in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“How do we keep these kids motivated for the rest of the year?” Calhoun asked. She is also at home, on sick leave from her work as a bus driver, and seeing firsthand her son’s frustration. 

“I don’t know how to reach him as far as education,” she said. “Sitting around is really driving him crazy. He’s very active, and keeping him in the house and not being able to go further than the yard is like being locked up in jail for him.”

Michigan’s 1.5 million students and their families are facing the same tough reality. The school day, an essential part of children’s social and intellectual well-being, is gone for the time being. Families and educators must now work to replace it.

Calhoun agrees with Whitmer’s decision to close schools, but she’s still not sure what comes next, even as school districts rush to follow Whitmer’s orders to develop plans for distance learning.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District is working on its plan, which is expected to be ready by April 14. Like many districts across the state, DPSCD has not been offering real-time instruction in the first weeks of the closure. Only a handful of mostly wealthy Michigan districts have been able to do so so far. On Whitmer’s order, all districts in the state will have to submit remote learning plans for approval by local education agencies.

In the meantime, students are struggling with a future that suddenly seems far less certain. Calhoun’s son, Marquis Hare, is a high school junior, and he worries that the closures will set back his plans to attend college. He wants to be the first person to get a college degree in his family.

“That’s all I’ve really been thinking about,” he said.

The closures didn’t come as a surprise to LaRai Warrior, but she felt overwhelmed anyway. In the first weeks, she has struggled to get her two children to focus on the learning materials sent home by their schools, Frederick Douglass Academy and Mackenzie Elementary School. Warrior isn’t working right now and is caring for her children at home.

The family’s lack of an internet connection just made things worse. Warrior said she’s hoping to take advantage of internet deals available during the crisis. She knows that the extra bill every month is going to force her to stretch the dollars she has, but she wants both of her children to succeed. “It’s been very difficult,” she said.

A math teacher at Frederick Douglass Academy in Detroit, Marquita Moore, said she began to dream up lessons that would work even when her students weren’t being graded and weren’t sitting in front of her.

“I was thinking of ways to creatively teach lessons that would inspire students to tune in,” she said, adding, “I’m ready for the challenge. It’s the world we’re living in, so we’re going to adapt to it.”