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More Bonding Time, Even If Life Can Be Overwhelming

For online school, this single mom sets up all five of her kids in her bedroom, with chairs pulled up to bureaus, nightstands, and any hard surface available.

By Madeleine Burry

May 13, 2020

Young Boy Writing

For Tenisha Green, a single mom and a small business owner in St. Louis, Missouri, working from home is nothing new. She’s used to running her business from home. Now, she’s playing a second role: Helping her five kids—Cody (age 5), R.J. (age 10), Myah (age 12), Ryanna (age 13), and Liyah (age 16)—stay on track with their school work. 

Tenisha’s has always been the kind of parent who quizzes her kids on the drive to school and plays educational games with them at dinner. And teaching isn’t unfamiliar to her. She’s homeschooled her youngest child, Cody, since age 2, and also homeschooled her eldest before high school. Still, the days can be overwhelming, she acknowledges.

For our Community Voices series, we spoke to Tenisha and her middle daughter—seventh grader Ryanna—to get a sense of what their days are like during the school closure. Just a few days before our conversation, Missouri announced that schools would remain closed for the remainder of the school year. That’s put Tenisha in preparation mode, looking for ways to keep her kids engaged with learning and spending time (remotely) with their friends. While Ryanna won’t miss putting on her school uniform, she will miss spending time with her friends. 

Ryanna’s Mixed Feelings About a Canceled School Year 

How do your days compare to when you were in school? 

When we were at school, it was exciting because it's a whole bunch of kids and it's like you got some type of friends. And work was easier because you have the teachers right there to help and now it's more difficult because the teachers are not actually right by. Even though we have our mom, it's still a little difficult.

First we have the time to clean ourselves up and stuff and brush our teeth and all of that and then at 9:45, we actually start class. We have a meeting with our classmates, our original class, and then we go on for the day from there. 

Do you have homework, too? 

No, we don't have homework anymore, it's just class work. We only have four classes a day, and we don't have school on Friday.

What do you miss about school? 

I miss my friends.

We all wanted to leave school. When school was in, we were ready to leave but now it's like, we want to go back.

Do you keep in touch with your friends? 

Yes, we do FaceTime.

When I talk to my friends, I feel like I have no news because I’m inside all day. 

Yes. We don't have nothing to talk about as well.

Is there anything you like about this experience? 

It's nice to be able to have family time, but my brother can be annoying sometimes. 

What do you do once you’re done with your schoolwork? 

I watch Netflix, I watch YouTube, sometimes I play Fortnite. Our family plays different games like on Wednesday, we played hide and go seek in the dark, we just play around.

How did you feel when you heard school was canceled for the rest of the year? 

It was a mixed feeling because I'm happy that I don't have to wear the school uniform and walk to school every day and deal with the teachers, just be around certain people. I'm also sad because I'm not going to be able to see my friends for some time because of the coronavirus and the summer might be canceled, so there's no way that we can link up with each other.

Is there anything else you want to mention? 

My birthday is next week, on Thursday and I was excited but at the same time I'm not because my party had been canceled because of the COVID-19.

Aw! That’s so tough. Do you think you’ll do something as a family? 

Yes. I think we're going to play “Who knows me best” and play the other games that we were going to play at my party and we're going to have cupcakes and whatever dinner that I would like to have. Because I don't have school Friday, I might hang out with  my cousins after that or something. 

“We all wanted to leave school. When school was in, we were ready to leave but now it's like, we want to go back.”

Ryanna Green

Tenisha: "It's Just More Bonding Time"

What are your days like? 

I am a small business owner, so I do most of my work from home. I got them up at around seven o'clock when they were actually going to the school site, but now I get them up around eight or 8:30. I get them on their morning meetings on their computer and then we get some breakfast, then they go back to learning.

They'll take a break every so often and get some outside time, stretch their legs, get some free time, what we will call recess. Then we're back to learning until all of our assignments for the day is completed. Between the four of them are three different schools. The teachers put them on a pretty good schedule. That's actually something that has been helpful to where they could do more independent work and I don't have to check in as often.

Are you able to get your own work done uninterrupted? 

Not so much. It really so depends on the subject. Some teachers have a time slot where they are available. If the teacher is not available, I may send out an email to the teacher. If not, we just try and figure it out by going outside of the material that they did provide us. If we need some help we'll pull up a book or watch a short video. I know I had to watch a video with my son. He was working on perimeter and area and he didn't quite understand and I didn't break it down to him to where he was able to understand, so we watched a short YouTube video that got us back on track along with an email from his teacher. It balanced out.

How are you coping overall? 

Well, I've always been a parent to where I would make games up in the house or we would play games while eating dinner which is educational or school related. I like to know what my kids are learning in school. I will quiz them once we get home or we'll have conversations about what they learned. Just the fact that, it's normal to me to just go outside of the teaching that they are taught at school to gain a better understanding to put it into their own perspective or to their own world as to how something may work, whether it's math or whether it's social studies or even science. We do science projects at home sometimes. It's pretty normal.

What I can say is overwhelming is the fact that just being with them all day and they may get frustrated at the way mommy teaches things versus the way that their teachers [do] because I'm sure that the teachers have much more patience than mommy. 

Do you have any financial concerns? 

Two of my children, they go to the same school and we always packed lunch for them, but they did get free breakfast. The lunch and breakfast, it did throw me for a loop, financially, because my business is not doing as good, of course, in these times. Financially, and then keeping up with just having activities outside of school, let's say the art projects, things of that nature. Financially, it has been a little tough on me. That's the part that becomes overwhelming, most certainly the financial part of it all.

Will it be hard to keep this up throughout the rest of the school year? 

Yes, it's going to be a little challenging, especially staying at home [means] I'm not able to go to the store regularly to pick up the items and things that we may need—glue, paper, construction paper, things of that nature. It also has been a little hassle because printer paper or printer paint is a tad bit expensive, so just trying to do fun activities like crossword puzzles and things to keep them interested in learning, and not being able to financially provide for those type of things has been a little overwhelming.

“I have no problem with my children being at home with me and them learning from home because we do this regularly. I work from home, so it's just more bonding time.”

Tenisha Green

What about computers? 

Well, every school, they provide a computer and I thought that that was totally awesome because, again, I'm a single mother, so I don't have five computers. They did provide a computer, which made it a lot more easier so everybody can work simultaneously, everybody's doing the work, no one's waiting for anyone, and we're working independently, so I thought providing a computer was extremely helpful.

Finishing the rest of this school year at home, I am right now in prepare mode, just trying to continue. We're always thinking of what can we do next, what can we do to keep this fun, what can I do to keep them engaged in learning instead of sitting on a computer. 

Not being around your peers could be socially damaging to the children, so I just tried to make sure that they get some peer time, whether it's talking on the phone, or playing a video game or on these different social sites, Zoom or something, FaceTime, so they can see their peers and interact with them.

The school has been extremely awesome with helping the students with connecting with their peers. They just had a virtual Spirit Week, and I thought that was pretty cool that they're still able to interact with their peers, that they're able to show off their Spirit Week things—Crazy Socks Day, Pajama Day, Show Off Your Talent, things of that nature.

Are there any perks you see to having your kids home? 

Yes, well, just knowing where they are individually, that's definitely a positive. The fact that all of my children, they don't have buses, so I have to drop them off and pick them up from school, so saving on gas, even though gas right now is probably dirt cheap, we're saving on gas and going back and forth to different schools to pick up and drop off has been the positives for me.

I have no problem with my children being at home with me and them learning from home because we do this regularly. I work from home, so it's just more bonding time.

How do you find space for all your kids to do their schoolwork? 

Well, what I do is I gather everyone in my bedroom, where they're not comfortable, and take them out of their comfort zone, I don't want anyone laying down on the computer. They're all just set up in my room with a chair, pulled up to a dresser or nightstand or something, and they work that way so I am able to check in on everyone at the same time and I don't have to run around the house all crazy trying to figure out what's going on. I have to protect my sanity as well. 

And how’s everyone getting along? Any sibling squabbles? 

Definitely, I have four daughters and they typically get into arguments or fussing and fighting with each other, they might be tired of each other and my son always comes to aggravate because he has nothing else to do. [laughs] They have been having those moments opposed to if they were at school, they'd be so excited to tell each other about their day because my three oldest daughters they go to three different schools, so they will be excited to say, "What happened this day, what happened this day, what happened this day," but now it's just like, "Yes, well, we all know what's going on at your home."

More Community Voices

COVID-19: Community Voices” offers a glimpse of life and learning during the coronavirus school closures, in the words of students and parents in the communities we serve. Read other stories in the series:

If you'd like to tell your story or would like to suggest a story for us to cover, please email us. And find resources for educators supporting students through the coronavirus outbreak at Teach For America's educator resource hub.