When the Lodi School Board decided in late July to have virtual instruction for all schools in the district through at least the first quarter, they — and each administration — knew it would put some families in a bind.

There are parents in the district who don’t work from home amidst the pandemic and can’t monitor their children’s daily routines. A majority of families polled throughout the summer by the district noted that they favored in-person learning because of it.

So that’s when some community members decided to step up and offer a helping hand. They wouldn’t be able to help all families struggling with the district’s virtual instruction model, but each knew they could help some.

Mandy Sitzman was one of those to lend a hand to her fellow parents. She will be using her own house as a daily learning space for school children of parents who either don’t work from home or just need extra assistance during the virtual learning period.

“Last spring, I know it was crazy for all in school, but I watched my children just stop caring, even though my husband and I tried to make it as exciting as possible,” Sitzman said. “It was such a hard, stressful time for everyone in the world, but to watch my kids miss their class, their friends, and have a hard time with ‘mom’ as their teacher/principal … it broke my heart.”

Katie Greer, with the help of her mother, Chris Plumer — co-owner of the Plumer Karate America studios — will offer its Lodi location for families to have their children come into the studio during the morning hours for any needed help through the virtual learning process. Greer co-owns and is the chief instructor of the Poynette PKA location, and will welcome 15 students to the Lodi studio from 8-11:30 a.m. as it has plenty of space for the children to remain distant of each other.

“We wanted to limit it to 10 students, but we are up to 15 with another five on a waiting list,” Greer said. “We also brought on an additional adult — a college student — to help us provide more one-on-one attention for students.”

Greer said she will have students that range from 4K to fifth grade. She is a mother of three children in the district, two of whom attend LPS, and she noted that “we struggled with virtual learning in the spring.” Greer is a licensed and experienced teacher, but had a hard time motivating her eldest child to complete his daily work.

“It was a struggle. I wanted to give my own kids some more structure this fall and asked my mom if she would be willing to help me lead a small study group in which we would help students with their virtual learning,” Greer said. “I knew my son would take instruction better with some of his peers present, and that other parents were in the same pickle that I was.”

As an added bonus of the location, Greer said that the studio will offer an optional karate class at the end of each morning as a means to provide “some structured physical activity for students.”

“We are happy to provide some help for families during virtual learning, which can be a stressful time for all,” Greer said. “I’m glad to hear that other families/groups throughout the school district are helping each other out.”

Sitzman’s set-up

Sitzman, a stay-at-home mom for the last two years, with children in the district, is offering up her own house as a “pod” school setting. She will take in six kids — two kindergartners, three OSC third-graders and an LES fourth-grader.

Other parents are doing similar things to that of Sitzman, forming small groups within their homes to help relieve some stress from families around the community.

“When I first learned of what pod grouping was, I realized that’s what I need and want to do because that is what will help not only my kids, but other kids thrive more in wanting to participate,” Sitzman said.

She also watched the school board meetings on Zoom and listened to the parents talk about their kids struggling with online learning and needing some sort of structured learning.

“I listened to a mom fight for being in school because it felt like she was needing to choose from her livelihood or her kids education, and that just hit me in my heart,” Sitzman said.

Her background of being a stay-at-home mom has allowed her the ability to help others during this trying time. She said that a couple of parents reached out to her first and Sitzman gladly agreed to bring their children to her home to help any way she could.

“I am very lucky to be able to do this for our family and other families,” Sitzman said.

In Sitzman’s house, the kindergartners will be set up in her living room, with a dedicated learning corner. She also replaced her normal wall decorations with alphabetical and other age-related learning posters. The other kids will be scattered in her dining room, with a corner dedicated for cubbies with each child’s name on it to put their materials in.

“I have a lot of books, so my daughter created library cards for the kids so that they can ‘check out’ any books we have,” Sitzman said.

Arrival time is around 7:30 a.m., with breakfast offered and play time until 8 a.m., when the Pledge of Allegiance will be recited — just like at school. Sitzman added that she will allow a little more recess time and more screen breaks, especially if she feels kids are struggling throughout the day.

“My goal with the older ones is to give them their independence but help guide them or teach them when they don’t understand, but keeping the routine the same so they can stay focused as best as they can,” Sitzman said. “But if they need a break, I will for sure give them one.”

Snacks and lunch will be provided by Sitzman. She will also assign “class jobs” to the students each day.

“I of course will be tweaking this schedule and routine as we go since there are so many unknowns, but I want to make sure the kids are getting the best they can, in the circumstances they are in,” Sitzman said.

Sitzman also noted that she will be as positive as possible, knowing that by doing so, it will make the kids excited for their day, too.

And albeit a small number at Sitzman’s house, she knows that children interacting with other children will help them make it through the virtual learning period.

“It is so beneficial for kids to be with other kids,” Sitzman said. “It helps them emotionally and physically and it keeps them motivated when their peers are doing the same thing.”

Kristi and Matt McMorris offer their help

Kristi McMorris, director of the Lodi and Lake Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce — along with her husband, Matt — are offering their help as well. Matt is the pastor at Grace Valley Church in Lodi, which the couple started. Kristi is also its Nursery Director.

The couple wants to offer any needed support to members of its church, and the community.

“We of course meet every Sunday at 10 a.m. and within that time frame, certainly offer any support we can as well as just generally throughout the week,” Kristi said. “We really have an open door policy. Anytime we can be a help, we are there.”

Recently, the couple gave all the stay-at-home moms of their church a small “Survival Bag” as the virtual learning has kicked off this fall for the Lodi district. It was a way for the McMorrises to provide some positivity to parents. Some of the items included in the bag are tissues, a bath bomb, facial mask, chocolate, Shout wipes and more.

The McMorrises aren’t new to the homeschooling situation and know that currently, many people and families are struggling to juggle work, home education, child care and much more.

“My husband and I are trying to support our community as much as we possibly can. … Our hearts go out to our community members and we are striving to be a help in any way possible,” Kristi said.

Everyone is doing the best they can

There is no perfect way to substitute the environment of in-person learning. Virtual learning is an adjustment for all involved — school administrators, teachers, parents, students and anyone else associated with the certain district.

Sitzman and Greer will try their best to replicate what students see during a typical day in the classroom. Sitzman will also try to follow the specific schedules for her students, as outlined by the respective teachers.

“I have to keep an open communication between families and teachers, and all the teachers have been excited to hear that families are working together,” Sitzman said. “Overall when you look at the bigger picture, we are all doing our best to make the most of the situation we are in. But it would not be possible without the amazing staff at each school that are flexible, connecting with the kids the best they can, and are always keeping the communication open.”

It’s a stressful time for all, not just for the families who have to adjust to their kids learning virtually, but for the administration and teachers who won’t have students in their buildings for the time being.

“I hope everyone keeps in mind that teachers are super-stressed out this fall as well. This situation is not ideal for any of us,” Greer said. “Hopefully we can all give each other a little grace, be flexible and stay positive. If we can, we will better serve the students in our district, and this fall will be more enjoyable for all.”

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