“Okay, now I’m freaking out….” the texts were pinging the phone of Andrea Brevard, Instructional Designer for Remote Learner.
Two weeks earlier, the county in Virginia where her kids attend school announced an extended spring break in response to COVID-19. At that time, Andrea and other parents of young children took the news in stride. Two weeks was manageable – a “Super Spring Break”, even.
This was totally different: the Governor of Virginia had just announced that schools would be closed for the remainder of the school year.
“The immediate response I was getting was ‘Now I’m overwhelmed.’ and ‘I can’t do this’,” said Brevard. The news, social media, and other outlets suggested that parents across the country were experiencing a similar feeling. Brevard, an instructional designer for almost 11 years, had a different reaction.
“I’m very familiar with taking content that isn’t necessarily ready for online instruction and putting it in a format that is easy to read and interactive,” Brevard said. “I could see that my job put me in a unique position where I could be helpful.”
So Brevard set up a site for her friends, helping these overwhelmed parents to manage the time with their children. It was organized by days of the week and included a proposed schedule and some content ideas for each subject. Her thoughts then turned to the teachers.
“My boys are in kindergarten and first grade,” Brevard explained. “I knew that their teachers, who are very skilled and organized in the classroom, were freaking out. Those grades are rarely done in a purely online way.”
Brevard herself likes organization and structure. When given a framework, even for a difficult task, she usually finds that she can work her way through it successfully. So Brevard created a school version of the site and sent it to her sons’ teachers along with step by step instructions for how to load content, including videos. “The Kindergarten teacher jumped right in – ‘this fills my OCD bucket!’, she said,” Brevard relayed with a laugh.
Her instructional design background helped in other ways as well. “I helped to lay out a few pages for one teacher, pointing out how different it is to read online versus on a piece of paper, by using color and spacing in ways that improved readability.”
Not only did Kindergarten and first grade adopt Brevard’s site design, but two other grades have adopted it as well. Teachers have been very thankful for and excited by Brevard’s help. The attitude has shifted from feeling overwhelmed to a sense of “I can do this.” Her friends, some of whom are stay-at-home parents, agree. “My friends have said how much it has helped to know that they don’t have to face the responsibility of filling a completely empty schedule each day,” Brevard shared.
Now three weeks into a fully online school schedule, Brevard strikes a reflective tone. “This is quite a time. It’s all new – but it’s all new for everybody. None of us has ever experienced this before. We need to be practical, realistic, and not too hard on ourselves.”
And while she’s pleased with the success that friends and teachers are finding with the sites she’s built, Brevard has more than just online learning on her mind as she looks forward to the remainder of the school year. “My hope for the rest of the school year is to get in a lot of quality time with my kids. I want them to learn, I want them to do their work, but I don’t want to spend all day fighting with them about it.”
Brevard’s eldest son recently had a unique assignment: to make a clock. “He was so excited about doing it,” Brevard said. “And I got to watch and help him make it instead of only seeing him bring home the finished product. I wouldn’t have gotten that experience under normal circumstances. It was fun!”
Brevard laughed at how easily this serenity can come off the tracks. But she’s sincere.
“Rather than looking at this time as a burden – and it is – I’m also trying to see it as a gift.”