How families are converting homes into virtual classrooms

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)  Wednesday marks the first day of school for Philadelphia School District students, and families across the city are putting final touches on in-home virtual learning spaces. 

“We know that none of this is normal, but I wanted them to have a space that feels creative,” said Haniyyah Sharpe-Brown, who will be working from home while she monitors her eighth-grader and second-grader as they attend digital classes.

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“For me, it’s not enough to sit in a room with bare walls or to plop in the dining room,” she explained.

Sharpe-Brown and her husband converted their Northeast Philadelphia basement into a classroom, turning to Pinterest for ideas. When she couldn’t find school desks, she bought two work tables on Amazon and arranged them facing each other.  

“I have a wallpaper chalkboard that we can write on with chalk if we need to work out anything on the board,” she said. “We have positive affirmations all around because this is going to be challenging, and the positive affirmations are not just for them, it’s for us, too.”

Sharpe-Brown posted each of the children’s schedules on the wall so that everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing.

“If I can get everyone logged on by 8:30, then I’ve accomplished something,” said Yolanda Biggers, who is mom to a high school senior, a seventh-grader, and a second-grader.

“We converted our dining room into a learning area,” she said of her North Philadelphia home. “They’ll sit at the dining room table, and we have course materials and books that the school district has provided us.”

Like most homes with multiple learners, headphones are key.  

“Our kids have headphones. They each have their own separate Chromebooks,” said Biggers. “And supplies from pens, pencils, markers, Chromebooks, stuff is all around. But it is what it is.”

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For 16-year-old Illian Irizarry and her sisters — 13 and 11 — their learning will take place in their bedrooms.

“We each got desks,” she said. “We’ll log in from our desks and that’s how we’ll talk to our teachers.”

Illian Irizarry started school on Aug. 24, and her sisters will begin Sept. 2.

“I’ll be glad because they’ll start going to bed early and be focused,” she added. 

Families across the Philadelphia region have created learning spaces in their homes, converting whole rooms — or sometimes just a tiny corner to accommodate the virtual learning.

“The key is to do the best you can,” said Sharpe-Brown, “and don’t compare what you’ve done to what others have done.”

The other critical components are flexibility and patience.

“My kids are enrolled in school and I feel like I’m enrolled too,” said Biggers, who will work part time from home.

She’ll rely heavily on the network of moms she’s created since the spring.

“We all get on the phone and we rant and talk about what we go through,” she said. ”I just want parents to know that we are rooting for each other.”

Support, plus a little wine and coffee, will get everyone through.

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