As an eighth-grade science teacher, Alicia Parks has some experience with directing a classroom. But doing it at home – with five children in five different grades – comes with additional challenges as coronavirus closures shut down the Aiken County Public School District for the remainder of March.

“As a parent, it was kind of a little terrifying because it’s five kids and five different grade levels," Parks said. "So I was like, ‘How am I going to focus on five kids doing five different things all at the same time?’”

Distance learning packets were distributed by the school district after closures were announced to help students continue their studies at home. Hard-copy packets were given out at public schools last week. Students also had the option of downloading electronic copies of the packets, which is what the Parks family did.

Consistency, taking breaks and spacing out their work evenly over the two-week period has helped her children stay on task.

“They’re following their packets pretty well," Parks said. "The fact that they don’t need a book or anything is helpful.”

Parks said her children began using their distance learning packets last Wednesday. The packets for her children in elementary school are mostly focused on math and English language arts, which requires a lot of writing letters and reading. For her children in middle and high school, the packets involve more studies and projects like research papers.

"It still uses a lot of critical thinking skills, so I think that it's going to benefit the students that actually do the packets, because most of the packets are a review of old information that they should’ve already learned," Parks said.

In addition to her own children, Parks also is concerned about helping the 32 students in her science class at Kennedy Middle School continue their studies from home. 

“It was a little scary but … it’s working out now that we have a system and a little bit of a routine," Parks said. "As a teacher, my kids are really great, and they’re emailing me back and asking me questions. We’ve opened up several different ways of communication that my kids are jumping on to use; so, hopefully, it won’t continue, but if it does, we’ll get stronger. Virtual education can actually better prepare them for college because it makes them more independent.”  

Parks also has some advice for parents to make learning at home during the coronavirus closure a successful experience.

“As a teacher in Aiken County, we are required to reach out to our kids at least once a week, and the main way we’re starting to do that is by calling," Parks said. "They (parents) really should answer their phone. We have to use our cellphones so a lot of parents may think, ‘Well, I don’t know that number,’ but it makes it to where we can’t reach our kids because they aren’t picking up our phone calls.”

Another thing, she said, is to "not stress out." 

"Email your teachers if you have questions," Parks said. "We’re still here to support you. It’s not a vacation. We’re not off. If you don’t understand something, we are happy to explain it … Just try to be patient with teachers, and try to be patient with your kids because this is all new to them, too."

Staff writer Matthew Enfinger contributed to this story.

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.