At Clark’s Fabrication in Madison Heights, a family business co-owned by Madison Heights City Councilwoman Kymm Clark, students Jasper Srock, Ruby Srock, Hazel Clark and Maeleigh Funsch take a lunch break before returning to their workstations for remote learning.

At Clark’s Fabrication in Madison Heights, a family business co-owned by Madison Heights City Councilwoman Kymm Clark, students Jasper Srock, Ruby Srock, Hazel Clark and Maeleigh Funsch take a lunch break before returning to their workstations for remote learning.

Photo provided by Kymm Clark

Council members share how their families adapted to remote learning

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published September 18, 2020


MADISON HEIGHTS — Members of the Madison Heights City Council with kids in school had to make the same tough choices as other parents with grade-school kids during the pandemic, figuring out how to adapt their approach to education at a time when public school districts are having kids learn remotely from home.

The Grafsteins
Mayor Roslyn Grafstein and her husband live in the Lamphere school district and have two children enrolled at Lamphere High. They plan to return to in-class learning if the buildings reopen this November. Back when the school buildings closed in the spring, the Grafsteins bought a Chromebook and iPad to be used for online schooling. Their kids already had desks, and in August they reorganized their home to provide better workspaces for everyone.

“There were a few glitches, but my kids were able to figure out how to use Zoom and the other school applications on their own,” Grafstein said.

Both Grafstein and her husband have been working from home since March.

“In the spring, when we first had four people simultaneously on various video-conferencing platforms, we upgraded our internet service,” Grafstein said. “We have the standard 1,000-square-foot house that is common in most of the city, so the four of us are able to spread out and work without disturbing each other.”

She said she encourages her children to talk with their friends on the phone or through video, and to physically visit them outside as weather permits.

“They are taking screen breaks and getting out a few times a day for walks or bike rides,” Grafstein said. “We have not had an issue completing assignments or contacting any teachers, and the district got back to us quickly the one time there was a technical issue.”

Grafstein said everyone in her household understands the need for remote learning, but they are eager for things to return to normal.

“With all of us working from home, it is harder to separate work or school from downtime because the computer is a visual reminder that there is work to be done,” Grafstein said. “A benefit that has come with all of this over the last six months is that we are having more meals together. Quite often one of us will make something quick and easy to eat so when the kids take their lunch break, food is already there. I think we are also eating healthier.

“I am thankful that my children are at this stage,” she added. “I feel for the many families who are dealing with younger children and those with special needs who rely so heavily on in-person interactions.”

She said the pandemic has brought to light the number of families who rely on schools as a form of childcare so parents can work. She said that with more than half of the students in the city coming from low-income families, many depend on the schools for free or subsidized meals. She said it’s fortunate the school districts continue to offer those meals for pickup during the week, and that the districts also provide technology for students. Those who need internet access can also borrow mobile hotspots from the library.

“City staff and council need to be flexible and creative as we look for financial solutions to meet the growing needs of our families, while recognizing an expected shortfall in property tax revenues,” the mayor said. “New viable businesses and potential ordinance revisions to make it easier for new business development will be key to our economic sustainability and recovery. Circumstances will push many families into job changes and new business opportunities that are appearing, as people juggle childcare and the need to continue providing an income.”

The Clarks
Madison Heights City Councilwoman Kymm Clark and her husband have three girls attending the Lamphere Schools, and they’re currently in a learning pod with two children from another family.

“Our kids are remote learning with their teachers, and we are so grateful for that,” Clark said. “The end of last year was rough, and made our kids and us as parents feel like we were incapable of pulling off any iteration of online school. There is a warm security knowing our kids will see their teachers’ faces all day throughout the week.”

Clark and her husband co-own Clark’s Fabrication, a business in the city, and they work there. And so the kids have been operating out of the business during this time, as well.

“We are fortunate to have the extra space to set up our kids at their own desks with their own space for them to create some type of school normalcy,” Clark said. “Our crash course in Zoom and Google Classrooms in the spring went a long way to preparing us to start school on the right foot this fall. All of our kids are able to use these applications independently without our intervention.”

She said that they hired a professional tutor to further support the online schooling of the kids in the learning pod, and they also have someone to bounce ideas off and handle technical difficulties throughout the day.

“It was the best decision we ever made,” Clark said.
She noted that the new arrangement has led to some benefits and drawbacks.
“In terms of socialization, my three girls who do great in school and often are complimented on their kindness and thoughtfulness, are also infamous for receiving the ‘talks too much’ feedback on their progress reports. We are only a couple weeks in, but we are already seeing increases in focus and attention and confidence going into quizzes and assignments. I attribute this to them not being motivated to impress their peers,” Clark said.
“As for the impact of screen time, we are definitely seeing that too. Eye strain, interruptions in sleep and irritability have all been symptoms we are experiencing,” Clark continued. “We have decided to limit screen time that falls between classes to after school, and devices for our youngest are put away at 5 p.m. during the week. We also ordered blue light glasses to help with the strain. That is helping a great deal.”

She said the most obvious challenge has been the social aspect.

“Our kids miss their friends and teachers deeply and cannot wait to be able to be in a building with them once again,” Clark said. “The upside is that their focus on school now is on their studies, not on the social food chain, which I can see has raised their confidence in their personal abilities to excel.”

Clark said the experience has led her to think about the challenges facing the community at large, leading her to share the mayor’s concerns.

“If you consider the low-income population of our community, you have to think about the roadblocks they face when trying to participate in online school,” she said. “Do they have a device they can use to participate? Access to the internet? Shelter over their heads? Our schools are doing a great job making sure our students have devices, but what about the kids who come here from out of district?

“It would be great to see the city be able to address these problems to ensure kids who attend our schools are getting their needs met, and to provide space and resources for those who struggle. Community Wi-Fi access would be a good start.”

The Blisses
Madison Heights City Councilman Mark Bliss and his wife have three elementary school children attending the Lamphere Schools.

“Like most kids these days, my children are pretty tech-savvy, so the new apps weren’t a problem,” Bliss said. “Being cooped up inside and in front of a screen all day is the real challenge, so we’ve done our best to get them outside and playing each day.”

He said that he and his wife have been tag-teaming various responsibilities, juggling work with doctors’ appointments and grocery shopping. But one concern that remains is socialization.

“I love aspects of remote learning like the ability to work at your own pace, but while I hope that some of the positives will stick around long after COVID-19, I also hope that we can find creative ways to get children the socialization and in-person lessons they truly need,” Bliss said. “Obviously that’s not in the cards right now, but I’m hopeful that it will be possible in the not-so-distant future.”

He echoed his colleagues on council, saying that the pandemic has better put into perspective the needs of the community.

“It’s telling to me that so many families didn’t have devices or even internet for their children to use. That’s a major issue, and I’m glad that at least on a local level our schools and library have been able to step in and loan devices and internet hotspots to those who need it,” Bliss said. “Obviously this is a major expense, so I’m not sure that it’s fully sustainable at (the city) level; however, at least as far as the library goes, I’d like to see us find the necessary budget savings to continue to loan out mobile hotspots to those who need it.

“I’d also like to see (the Information Technology Advisory Committee) discuss with staff what it would take to put Wi-Fi in our neighborhood parks,” he continued. “There aren’t any silver bullets here, but we can make a difference, even at the council level. It may take us years, but if we plan and prioritize, we can get it done.”