When I was 13, my father, brother and I took the long trip from Melbourne to visit my aunt Pat and her family in the Northern Territory. We traveled by car and train, allowing us to truly grasp the size of Australia. And yet, nothing prepared me for the vastness of the cattle station where my aunt and her family lived.
At around a million and a quarter acres, their farm was larger than Rhode Island. They were a three-hour drive from the nearest town and a seven hour drive from Darwin, the nearest major city.
Pat raised eight children on the station. Their schooling — from kindergarten through high school — was done remotely, at first via correspondence with a school in Adelaide, and then via two way radio when the School of the Air became available to them.
(The New York Times wrote a story about these types of schools in the Northern Territory in 1997, well after Pat’s youngest child graduated.)
It was Pat I thought of this week when my own son’s school sent an email detailing plans for distance learning during term two, starting next week, as part of a statewide move on the part of Victoria to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Very few people know so much about educating children remotely — but Pat is a national exception. After raising her own children, Pat became an educator in remote communities and co-founded the Katherine branch of the Isolated Children’s Parents Association. Her work has earned her numerous accolades, including the Order of Australia and a nomination for Senior Australian of the Year in 2019.
Now her expertise in demand once again. Both the Australia Day Council and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have recently contacted her in the hope she might provide encouragement to parents who are anxious about their children’s education in a time when distance learning may be the best option.
“There is a lot of unwarranted panic about this,” Pat told me this week by phone from her home in Katherine. “This is not going to affect the intelligence of your children one iota.”
She points out that distance learning has been in place, and been successful, all around the world and for many years. “People think this is the first and only time this has ever been done,” she said.
The Times has plenty of advice for parents dealing with children learning at home, along with a report on overburdened mothers during the pandemic, and good coverage of what it meant when New York City schools moved to remote learning.
My own anxieties about remote learning for my teenage son have more to do with the burden of policing his time, just one more thing in a long list of chores and responsibilities I spend time nagging him about. Despite that, I know that he’ll be OK in part because he has parents who are concerned in the first place.
“Distance learning only works when parents are at least somewhat involved,” Pat told me.
For children in negative home environments, school can be a welcome respite. Both Pat and I worry far more about those kids than children like my own, who mostly have to deal with anxious, supportive nagging.
And yet for all of us who took for granted that school would be a constant, the cancellation of classes — with no clear end in sight — brings challenges both educational and domestic.
What parts of parenting have been most difficult for you during coronavirus isolation? Let us know at email@example.com.
Here are the week’s stories:
The Weirdly Enduring Appeal of Weird Al Yankovic. National economies collapse; species go extinct; political movements rise and fizzle. But — somehow, for some reason — Weird Al keeps rocking.
In Scramble for Coronavirus Supplies, Rich Countries Push Poor Aside. Developing nations in Latin America and Africa cannot find enough materials and equipment to test for coronavirus, partly because the United States and Europe are outspending them.
Our Best Easter Recipes. Here’s what to cook when you’ve had your fill of chocolate bunnies.
More Coronavirus Vaccines and Treatments Move Toward Human Trials. Just three months after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, several biotech companies are beginning trials of promising vaccines and treatments.
And Over to You …
Last week, we wrote about seeking connection in a time of social distancing, and asked how you were staying connected. Here’s one reader’s response:
My neighbors and I are having a ‘Pandemic on the Patio — Pyrmont Covid Cocktail Hour’ every Friday. We meet on our respective balconies to take in our beautiful view of Sydney Harbour and ‘the bridge’ and share an hour and half of ‘bubbles and babble.’ It is joyful and has also proven to put a smile on the faces of anyone who passes by!
— Kim Chandler McDonald
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Updated April 11, 2020
When will this end?
This is a difficult question, because a lot depends on how well the virus is contained. A better question might be: “How will we know when to reopen the country?” In an American Enterprise Institute report, Scott Gottlieb, Caitlin Rivers, Mark B. McClellan, Lauren Silvis and Crystal Watson staked out four goal posts for recovery: Hospitals in the state must be able to safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care; the state needs to be able to at least test everyone who has symptoms; the state is able to conduct monitoring of confirmed cases and contacts; and there must be a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.
How can I help?
Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities. More than 30,000 coronavirus-related GoFundMe fund-raisers have started in the past few weeks. (The sheer number of fund-raisers means more of them are likely to fail to meet their goal, though.)
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.
How do I get tested?
If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.
How does coronavirus spread?
It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.
Is there a vaccine yet?
No. Clinical trials are underway in the United States, China and Europe. But American officials and pharmaceutical executives have said that a vaccine remains at least 12 to 18 months away.
What makes this outbreak so different?
Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.
What if somebody in my family gets sick?
If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.
Should I stock up on groceries?
Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.
Can I go to the park?
Yes, but make sure you keep six feet of distance between you and people who don’t live in your home. Even if you just hang out in a park, rather than go for a jog or a walk, getting some fresh air, and hopefully sunshine, is a good idea.
Should I pull my money from the markets?
That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.
What should I do with my 401(k)?
Watching your balance go up and down can be scary. You may be wondering if you should decrease your contributions — don’t! If your employer matches any part of your contributions, make sure you’re at least saving as much as you can to get that “free money.”
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