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How Parents And Students Are Dealing With Online School Work

Francisco Seco
During the pandemic, many schools moved instruction online. Some are offering hybrid options, where students attend in-person classes a few days a week.


On today's program: Parents deal with the challenges of online school; the pandemic is exacerbating educational inequality for already at-risk students; the lack of classroom, hallway and cafeteria socialization could negatively impact English language learners; and for Good Question, Kid! experts answer questions about language and geography.

Parents, teachers putting in extra time to help students learn online
(00:00 — 14:07)

The new school year is well under way, and many students are still learning remotely.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’sHousehold Pulse survey, nearly 93 percent of households with school-age children report their children are doing some form of “distance learning” from home, which means students are completely online and attending classes in their homes. Others are taking a hybrid approach, spending a few days a week in person and the rest online.

The shift to online learning added a new role for parents and more stress to their daily responsibilities.

Support for parents navigating these new ways of learning varies by teacher and school district, says Jessica Reed, a Woodland Hills School District parent.

“I know the teachers have been putting in a lot of extra time, making extra phone calls,” she says. “I’m interacting with teachers more than I ever have before. They’re making themselves available in many different ways.”

However parents in some districts think there hasn’t been enough communication or check-ins to see how students and parents are faring.

“As far as the district is concerned, I’m not really entirely sure that we’re doing much, or at least as much as I feel is needed in order to be able to reach out,” says Heather Hoolahan, a Penn Hills School District parent and president of the Penn Hills High School PTA. “Right now, I’m not seeing a whole lot coming parents’ way if kids aren’t saying ‘I’m struggling and I’m struggling hard.’”

Despite the difficulties of remote learning, not every parent is ready to send their children back to school full time, citing concerns about potentially increased risks for students and other family members.

“Because I take care of my dad, I would keep them home,” says Keisha Hatten, a Pittsburgh Public Schools parent.

Many schools and school districts, including Pittsburgh Public Schools, will continue to offeronline school alongside hybrid options.

English language learners, other students are at risk of falling behind during the pandemic
(14:09 — 18:40)

The pandemic has exacerbated existing educational inequities. Teachers and advocates say students of color, students with disabilities, and students learning English as a second language are the most vulnerable and at risk of falling behind. 90.5 WESA’sSarah Schneider reports on the challenges that immigrant and refugee students are facing.


Socialization helps build language skills for English language learners, says advocate
(18:42 — 24:42)

The move to online and hybrid schools means students aren’t gathering around the lunch room, meeting in the hallway or running around playgrounds. While these interactions are important for social emotional learning for all students, for English as a second language learners, it could remove a vital aspect of language learning.


In-person socialization is “critical” for English language learners adapting to a new country, saysEmily Blair, the director of education at theLatino Community Center. She says a lack of socialization can lead to isolation and depression, and notes that interactions and relationships are “the foundation of ESL.”

“Students coming in, especially students who are new to the country and English as a second language, we know that they need those connections, and the foundations of building English is speaking and interacting with others,” says Blair.

But, she says, “interaction is the same in any language,” and socialization doesn’t have to take place only in English. According to Blair, “If you are interacting with your parents in Spanish and having a quality conversation, then that will transfer over to English.”

Where do words get their meanings? Why is Pittsburgh so hilly?
(24:45 — 29:26)

The Confluence has been asking families for questions—those very good questions that a kiddo in your life might have that leaves you scratching your head.


As part of 90.5 WESA’sGood Question, Kid! series,Jevon Heath, a lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Linguistics, explains why words have the meanings they have, and who decided their meanings. Then,the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Albert Kollar, an expert on rocks, strata, and prehistoric geology in the Pittsburgh region, discusses why the hills in Pittsburgh are so steep.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at
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