Cecilia Jones and her wife, Rayelynne Jones, know a thing or two about hunkering down in a crisis.
The Orchards-area couple are Florida transplants, where hurricane season taught them the importance of slowly stocking up on supplies. So when news hit that their 13-year-old son, Alexander Monsalve, would be at home for six weeks, they were ready.
“We’re just trying to prepare not to leave,” Cecelia Jones said, standing in her kitchen.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday announced the shutdown of the state’s public and private schools due to the spread of the coronavirus. The closures affect about 85,000 students in Clark County.
The move has sparked anxiety, excitement and sadness among families who, until at least April 27, will be forced to navigate a new and unprecedented normal.
“I don’t want this to be a scary or traumatic time for the kids, but they’re really confused by all of the changes in our routine,” Vancouver mom Jessica Sandfort said.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and state Department of Health have both released guidance on how parents can talk to their children as COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, progresses. Families are advised to allow their children to express their feelings and fears, while providing comfort in stressful times.
Both also warn against allowing children to spend too much time online, noting that misinformation about the virus can spread online and stoke fear among children.
Sandfort’s children are too young to be enrolled in public schools, but 2-year-old Elizabeth and 4-year-old Ted’s lives have still been disrupted by closures. Elizabeth in particular was saddened to learn she could no longer go to now-closed Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries, while Sandfort and her husband made the difficult choice to postpone Ted’s upcoming fifth birthday party.
“It was so hard telling him and disappointing him,” Sandfort said.
Cecelia Jones said she’s been watching the news with Alexander most mornings, and admitted he’s been asking some pretty doomsday questions.
“It’s like a movie that came to real life,” Alexander said during a break from playing Fortnite.
In the meantime, Cecelia Jones said she’s doing all she can to make sure her son isn’t stressed out or upset.
“We’re just trying to make it as comfortable and normal as possible,” she said.
Learning from home
Bria Shores’ home has become a de facto day care. Shores, a stay-at-home mom, is caring for her three children, along with friends’ children while they’re working.
Shores said her son, 15-year-old Hugh Haney, walked in Friday with a grin on his face about the news of school cancellations.
“It’s not summer break, kid,” Shores said.
Area school districts have eschewed structured online learning thus far, instead pushing out information about free resources parents can use on their own. It’s too difficult, district officials say, when there’s no guarantee that all students have access to a computer, the internet or other resources needed to study online.
Parents like Shores and Sandfort are already finding ways to bring the classroom into their home. Sandfort is turning to sensory activities to keep her young children entertained, like doing puzzles, molding clay, coloring and baking.
“We are trying to stay positive,” she said.
Shores isn’t worried about whether her children will learn over the next six weeks.
“I can home-school for six weeks,” Shores said. “I can home-school for six months if I have to.”
What worries her is whether people will take the spread of COVID-19 seriously and choose, like her family, to stay at home as often as possible.
“It’s going to require some sacrifices,” Shores said. “Maybe our social comforts. We’re going to get through each day as it comes.”