School

Published on September 8th, 2020 | by Cheryl Klein

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Dispatch from Kinderzoom: We Do Not Got This (Yet)

Monday

I’m trying to convince Dash, who has been a kindergartner for two weeks now, to do his homework on an app called Skies. School starts in an hour. He’s wearing his uniform: royal blue polo shirt and navy shorts. The principal suggested wearing uniforms to make this all feel more like school and less like our living room.

Dash wants nothing to do with Skies. He wants to play an alphabet game on Starfall, last week’s assigned website. I can’t get Skies to recognize my login, so I can only open the assignment via Safari via the Los Angeles Unified School District website. A wobbly layer cake of websites and firewalls, each with its own idiosyncrasies. 

Some Skies assignments require us to take pictures of things, but the camera on Dash’s school-issued 2012 iPad only works in selfie mode, which makes for awkward staging. Skies also asks Dash to write his name in various colors with his fingertip. The touch screen is scratched and only semi-responsive, so it looks like he has the skills of a two-year-old. 

I have to queue everything up, but he wants to do it himself.

He screams, “It’s my tablet! Let go of my tablet!”

I snatch it away. He hits me in the face. 

“Just a minute. We need to do this thing Mrs. P showed us. It’s going to be really fun,” I say. 

Every Monday, there’s a school-wide Zoom assembly. I’m not sure what the purpose is, but I imagine that seeing the sweet young faces of the kids keeps the principal from quitting. 

“Remember, boys and girls, we put our PAWS on learning,” she says. “We are Productive, we are Authentic, we are Welcoming, we are Successful.”

Since March, in the parenting department, I have been productive by necessity, much too authentic for my family and coworkers’ tastes, welcoming if you count the fact that the neighbor girls come over every day, and successful in the sense of everyone still being alive.

The principal shows a video of two tween girls dancing to a song called “You Got This.” 

“I want to become a real doctor and give myself a flu shot!” one girl sings. They kick and bop against a neon background.

“You got this!” the other assures her. 

Tuesday

Dash’s teacher, Mrs. P, is talking about the fact that it is September 1. She asks the kids to count, in unison, to…1. 

Instead, Dash is making a paper airplane. “I put a paperclip on the end so it flies better,” he says, sending it careening across our living room/classroom. 

Does he need to be assessed for ADHD or does Zoom school just suck? is the kind of question I ask myself a lot lately.

We sing happy birthday to one of Dash’s classmates and then Zoom boots us out. Dash migrates to the porch. Brown leaves blanket our driveway and there’s a nostalgic nip in the air, but it’s supposed to be 103 degrees in LA this weekend, which seems like some kind of metaphor for pandemic life. Just when you think you can exhale, life turns up the heat.

My partner, C.C., swoops in from her work on the other side of the living room to mess with the settings on Dash’s tablet. Something about a VPN network. 

Corralling kinderzoom stresses C.C. out. She started her career as a teacher and was often overwhelmed by the antsy, disruptive kids–kids like our son, at the moment. She was great with students like the one she’d been–quiet Latina girls in need of a confidence boost.

When we log back in, Mrs. P is talking about emotions. She asks students to press the green Yes button or the red No button on their screen. 

“Who feels happy?” she asks.

Dash presses No.

“I understand, buddy, it’s frustrating getting kicked out of Zoom. I was feeling frustrated about that yesterday,” Mrs. P says. I believe her.

Mrs. P and the kindergartners practice taking deep breaths. From the floor next to Dash’s small chair, I’m trying to simultaneously write this essay, email my boss, and text a friend. I take a deep breath too. 

“Dash, look, you’re using namaste hands, very good,” Mrs. P says, although what she has interpreted as hands folded in prayer are actually hands stuffing gummy fruit snacks into his mouth.

“I want to see Jasmine and Juanita,*” he whines re: the neighbor girls, who do triple duty as siblings and classmates now. 

Yesterday afternoon, a friend texted me a video of her kindergartner reading Spanish words out loud. Dual-immersion kindergarten was going well for him. I had to take a deep breath then, too.

As Dash darts about the house, I worry about him getting such a small dose of school this year. He used to go to school five days a week and daycare four afternoons a week. Back then, I worried about him becoming institutionalized. Over the summer, I worried he was becoming feral, but I also loved it. Picture a montage of box forts and grass stains, hide-and-seek and lava monsters, Paw Patrol stickers slapped on walls like the calling cards of a tagging crew. 

Wednesday

At Mrs. P’s suggestion, I implement a positive incentive system. 

“Dash, do you want to do the Paying Attention Challenge?” Thanks to YouTube, his ears perk up whenever he hears the word “challenge.” “If you can sit at your table or on the couch for your whole meeting, you can get ice cream next time the ice cream truck goes by.” 

“The ice cream truck doesn’t come on this street,” Dash says. “Just the cart.”

“Okay, the ice cream cart.”

“It doesn’t sell ice cream, just snow cones.”

“Okay, snow cones. Raspados,” I say. C.C. and Dash are both Mexican-American, but we are sprinkled with Spanish, not immersed.

During the first hour, Dash does pretty well in the Paying Attention Challenge. Mrs. P celebrates his success. During the second hour, our dishwasher emits a strange burning smell, and he runs around the house to escape it while C.C. investigates the problem.

Still Wednesday

In So you want to talk about race, author Ijeoma Oluo describes the school-to-prison pipeline. She cites a five-year-old Black boy who was suspended for “assaulting” a teacher. I think of Dash hitting me as we grappled over his tablet. Black and Brown boys are disciplined at higher rates than white children, and are more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities, rather than gently coached through their challenges. Cleveland Police Union President Steve Loomis described Tamir Rice–the twelve-year-old killed by police for playing with a toy gun in 2014–as “menacing.” Oluo writes, “I can guarantee that to his mother, to his family, to his community–Tamir Rice was…a precious child, just like any twelve-year-old white boy is allowed to be.”

I’m a white parent, and I’m wary of acting like the white parents of the white kids I grew up with: My kid is special. My kid shouldn’t get in trouble for cheating on the AP test. But Dash is a Brown boy who hasn’t learned to control his body yet. I want Mrs. P to know that he is a Good Kid.

Luckily, Mrs. P has been teaching at this Title I school for fifteen years. She’s a Latina teacher accustomed to teaching Brown kids. She knows they’re kids. She emphasizes social-emotional learning. That’s not to say she’s immune to becoming exasperated with a wiggler, but so far her message has been, “We’re all in this together. Just do your best.” I believe Dash is safe in her hands. 

Because of my privilege and Mrs. P’s grace, I can see kinderzoom madness as kind of funny, rather than as a terrifying harbinger of how school and my son might butt heads.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

As described by educator Carol Dweck, “growth mindset” means saying, when we’re struggling, “I’m not good at this yet.” I’m not good at growth mindset yet.

Today Dash says, “I love Skies!” We watch a music video about the color orange. 

Jasmine, our neighbor, loves to play school. At home in the mornings, she logs into second grade while her brother logs into tenth and their parents go to work. In the afternoon, at our house, she makes folders for Dash and her four-year-old sister out of construction paper. She draws up math worksheets for Dash and writes out the alphabet for her sister to practice. When I tell people I’m outsourcing Dash’s education to Jasmine this year, I’m only half joking. I can see her becoming a teacher with a classroom of her own someday, a little anxious but excited to run the show. I hope that our stretched-thin community can summon the resources to help her grow.

A year from now, there will be a hundred think pieces on Lessons Learned From The Virtual School Year. The apps will be slicker and faster, the videos less amateurish, the teachers less frazzled, the children more cyborg-like. I’m not looking forward to hearing about everything we’re currently doing wrong, because I’m still exhausted from the last learning curve. But I’ll get there.

Jasmine leads Dash and Juanita in making “bubblies”–Ziploc bags full of water with faces drawn in Sharpie–which is a thing from TikTok, apparently.

The raspados man’s horn sounds. He appears in a straw hat and mask at the base of our driveway. Steam swirls off the elotes and the smell of sweet corn finds us. For now, we have done Well Enough in the Paying Attention Challenge. With gloved hands, he chisels three cups of snow from a big block of ice and hands one to each child.

*Names have been changed.

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About the Author

Cheryl Klein

Cheryl Klein’s column, “Hold it Lightly,” appears monthly(ish) in MUTHA. She is the author of a story collection, The Commuters (City Works Press), and a novel, Lilac Mines (Manic D Press). Her stories and essays have appeared in Blunderbuss, The Normal School, Razorcake, and several anthologies. Her work has been honored by the MacDowell Colony and the Center for Cultural Innovation. She blogs about the intersection of art, life and carbohydrates at breadandbread.blogspot.com. Cheryl is currently looking for a publisher for Crybaby, a memoir about wanting a baby and getting cancer instead. Follow her on Twitter: @meadowbat.



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