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One day in the life of a DeKalb family learning from home

District 428 family shares what an e-learning day looks like with five children

The Vander Bleek kids (clockwise from bottom left) Henry, 9, Charlie, 13, Regan, 15, Samantha, 14, and Ruby, 8, take advantage of the warm weather Monday to work on their laptops in the backyard of their DeKalb home. Families all over the state have had to adjust to the new reality of at-home learning for students since Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker's stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Vander Bleek kids (clockwise from bottom left) Henry, 9, Charlie, 13, Regan, 15, Samantha, 14, and Ruby, 8, take advantage of the warm weather Monday to work on their laptops in the backyard of their DeKalb home. Families all over the state have had to adjust to the new reality of at-home learning for students since Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker's stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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DeKALB – With schools across the state closed, students are now engaged in online learning until at least April 30.

To get a closer look at what that looks like, Julie Vander Bleek kept a diary on Monday detailing a day in the life of her five children, who are enrolled in DeKalb School District 428, as they tackle remote learning per Gov. JB Pritkzer’s stay-at-home order.

Vander Bleek has five children: Reagan Vander Bleek, 15, a freshman at DeKalb High School; Charlie Vander Bleek, 13, a seventh-grader at Huntley Middle School; Samantha Vander Bleek, 11, a fifth-grader at Lincoln Elementary; Henry Vander Bleek, 9, a fourth-grader at Lincoln; and Ruby, 8, a second-grader at Lincoln.

Below are excerpts from the diary Julie Vander Bleek submitted and some insights from the interview. It has been edited for clarity.

8:45 a.m. – Sam logs in on his own Chromebook and for attendance. Looking for some poetry books at home to use for Language Arts. Assignment is to read 10 poems each day.

Generally, teachers have been posting assignments at around 9 a.m., but some have been getting their work up earlier.

Vander Bleek said most materials have been provided by the school, and there were plenty of online resources for Sam to use for poetry, but they wanted to find their own.

“It was just an option if you had anything at home you wanted to use,” Julie Vander Bleek said. “But really everything has been online resources they link you to. I think everything, every subject they’ve had, everybody can get everything online.”

8:45 a.m. – Ruby logged on to a home laptop. Checks email for daily slides with assignments. Starts link to video read aloud.

A second-grader, Ruby is in a little different situation than her four siblings. The district provides Chromebooks for students starting in the third grade. That leaves second-graders and younger working offline.

There’s still online work for Ruby, her mom said. Each day, Ruby’s teacher sends out an email with a slide containing links to online work. It’s very similar, Vander Bleek said, to the older children’s Google Classroom interface.

But most of the work is in packet form.

“Somehow that Friday [March 13] the teachers were able to put packets together for everybody second grade and under. It was copy paper of their math workbook,” Vander Bleek said. “They had to get those out for every kid. Then, last week, we went physically to the school and you could pick up the packet. There was no contact with anyone. They put them out in a tub. So we picked that one up for this week. That’s what I assume they’ll continue doing.”

9 a.m. – Charlie shows Henry the neat activity he wants to do with him that he was assigned for physical education today.

Vander Bleek said the children have really enjoyed the physical education activities provided by the gym teachers and have been working on them together, particularly in the afternoons.

“Sometimes it’s better because I can get my work done early,” Henry Vander Bleek said of the remote learning. “Then we can go play outside.”

9:31 a.m. – Checking in on Henry to make sure he is on track. Reviewing his writing ideas.

Vander Bleek said a lot of her duties are just making sure her children don’t get distracted.

“I think they really do most of it on their own,” she said. “I have very little involvement beyond just kind of overseeing. Like with Henry, he doesn’t like to write a whole lot. I’ll say he’s stronger in the math area than the writing area. So it’s just about making sure they put in the effort that they should.”

She said there hasn’t been too much of an adjustment.

“It really hasn’t been that bad for me,” Vander Bleek said. “I’ve been a stay-at-home parent and work part-time, really less than part-time. I’m used to being at home with them and doing a lot of stuff with them. Being able to be outside a little bit has helped quite tremendously. I think this would be a different story if it was the middle of winter.”

9:35 a.m. – Reagan contacts French teacher with question, received reply within a few minutes and then also found the answer.

Vander Bleek said she’s generally been impressed with how responsive the DeKalb School District teachers are during e-learning. In addition to answering questions, they’ve been interacting with their students in other ways.

Monday was pajama day district-wide, with students and teachers sharing photos online. There were similar theme days all week for D-428 spirit week.

“They’re posting a lot on Facebook, they’re doing the spirit week thing,” Julie Vander Bleek said. “Staying connected like that helps out a lot, too.”

9:40 a.m. – Samantha says she can’t edit her document for Language Arts. Reagan shows her how to make a “copy” and then is able to write in it.

Any glitches, Vander Bleek said, have been minor like this one. And the children have done a good job of helping each other out, she said.

9:55 a.m. – Boys back inside, getting everyone back to work

“We’ve really found a nice routine around here,” Vander Bleek. “It’s like this is what needs to be done in the morning, and here’s what goes on during the day. Like Charlie, he gets done with his schoolwork then we do Boy Scouts and piano lessons and 4H.”

10:20 a.m. – Henry finishes math after mom looked at it and saw he hadn’t completed it yet

Having the children declare they are finished when they are not is something Vander Bleek said hasn’t been occurring too often.

“It’s come up a little bit,” she said. “Moreso depending on which kid it is. It’s just the nature of being on the computer. They’ll listen to music and sometimes we’ll have to stop that. For the most part I would say they are pretty good at getting through it. But like anything you’ve got to stay on them.”

10:45 a.m. – Samantha is done with the day’s work

While Henry was enjoying learning from home, Samantha said she hopes the school opens back up after April 30.

“I think it’s pretty good but I like school better,” Samantha Vander Bleek said. “I want to go back to school. I’m just getting kind of bored of the stuff, I mean. It’s kind of the same stuff.”

11 to 11:20 a.m. – Henry joins online classroom meeting

“It was pretty good to see some of my classmates,” Henry Vander Bleek said.

Noon – Reagan is done with the day’s work

Where the other children were done earlier, it was the high schooler who finished last. Vander Bleek said DeKalb High School has a bigger workload.

Reagan Vander Bleek said since she’s worked a lot on the Chromebook for assignments in the past, the adjustment hasn’t been that bad.

“It’s been good,” Reagan Vander Bleek said. “I’m kind of surprised at how easy it has been. We’ve done a lot of stuff on the computer already so it wasn’t too tough of a transition.”

One thing it does have an effect on, Reagan Vander Bleek said, was band.

“I miss the rehearsal setting, but it’s a good opportunity to practice on your own,” Reagan Vander Bleek said. “I’ve been doing a lot more practicing.”

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