Navigating virtual Back-to-school in 2020: Advice from the TorchLight team

by Susan Mullin

child doing virtual back-to-school on laptop on kitchen table

Like many of you, the TorchLight team is navigating virtual Back-to-school with its many challenges and “opportunities.” To support parents and caregivers, here are our tips, advice, and a little humor regarding virtual school.

Amy Tsuchitani, Account Director

I’ve taken to scheduling in breaks on my calendar that coincide with times when I know the kids will be off zoom. For instance, 10:50-11:50 is lunch, so I make it a habit not to schedule calls during this time so I can help them when needed. Take advantage of the nice weather and move your office outdoors for small chunks of time. This is a nice way to create a little space between yourself and some of the chaos that may be going on indoors with others that are working and learning.

Jen Todd, Senior Manager, Client Service

Create a workspace that is consistent, quiet, and comfortable. Also, no pjs on school days!

Heather Pederson, Director of Recruiting Operations and Engagement

I’m not big on advice, since every situation and family dynamic is different, but here’s what we’re doing to cope… I take time each Sunday to update my daughters’ board with an inspirational quote, so she has something to remind her of my love and support each day. We’re making exercise a priority even when it’s hard and we don’t feel like it. She wanted twinkle lights and a pink velvet chair in her study, to make it feel more like her, so of course she got them. And we enrolled my daughter’s puppy in doggy day care. He’s gone 2-days a week, getting his play on with his puppy pals – instead of getting his chew and bark on at home in the middle of class and meetings.

Stephanie Ranno, VP of Business Development & Account Management

A little levity goes a long way in stressful situations. While preparing for virtual school for 3 elementary aged kiddos the overwhelm and stress levels were pretty high. Did we have all schedules loaded into their shared Google calendars correctly? Do we know all teacher and child log-in codes? Did we have enough internet bandwidth? We’ve always been a family that uses humor to connect, to decompress, to lighten the mood. So when I found my oldest mid-way through week 2 making his peanut butter sandwich in full costume, it was quite “on brand” and fully needed. This stuff is hard. Overwhelming. Sad. Heavy. So finding ways and places to be silly can be so important for the whole family.

Katherine Leiden, Contractor

Like many 30-year-old Millennials, I have a lot of plant babies but no human children. Still, fall puts me in back-to-school mode every year. I’m a volunteer tutor with the DC-based program Community Club, which pairs adult tutors one-on-one with students in the DC Public School system once a week through the entire academic year. Tutors stay with the same student from the time they enter the program until they graduate from high school. We provide general homework help, offer support for college prep and applications, and are a lifeline for our students when and if they ever need a mentor or a friend.

My student (we’ll call her T) and I are starting our fourth year together in the program, so we’ve already established a strong bond. Still, that doesn’t make it any easier to begin this year, her senior year, remotely—swapping our weekly face time for, well, FaceTime. 

T is a great student. I’m used to her sitting down with me each week and lighting up as she describes a project she has been assigned for class. These days, I can sense T’s annoyance and boredom with the current virtual school set-up.

This is a tough school year for everyone. What tutoring has shown me, though, is that we can’t give in. These kids need our help to find creative ways to keep them engaged and interested in virtual school.

Do I have the answers? No. Do I wish I did? Yes. But until a novel solution cuts through the rest of the static in my brain, I’m going to be a cheerleader.

I guess this is my call to action—let’s build each other up and make the most of the situation we’ve been handed. Let’s continue to be positive influences on those around us.

Heidi Parsont, CEO and Founder

Remember that nothing about this virtual school year will be perfect but I can promise that it will be memorable. As a parent, just remember to take a deep breath and use any free moments to remind yourself that you are doing a great job.

Joyce Kelly, Contractor

As the remote working mom of a 15-year-old high school sophomore, I have it much easier than most with younger kids. What has worked best for us is making sure he has the tools he needs, giving him a designated quiet space to attend virtual classes (he uses his room), feeding him, and then just kind of staying out of his way. 

One thing we did which has really paid off was to purchase an Eero mesh network to ensure we have seamless WiFi in all corners of the house. My son’s room was a bit of a dead zone for his spring classes, and this solved the problem as we put a heavy strain on WiFi with three of us being remote. Best $200 we’ve spent in a while. 

One unexpected pocket of joy is getting to hear about his day in the moment. On the first day of classes, he kept popping in between periods to tell me which friends were in his classes or how cool his English teacher is or that the girl he likes is in his Chemistry class. It’s hard to get a lot of unbridled enthusiasm out of high schoolers when you’re off in your own worlds of work and school all day — back in the old days when we went to an office or school  — so getting to share his day in real-time is an unexpected joy. 

Julie Rutherford, Marketing Director

I have 2 boys (12 and 15 years old) and I’ve found that planning a few special lunches each week gives them something to look forward to and breaks up the monotony a bit. A Subway run or some other fun lunch goes a long way. I also do low key check-ins with them during the day just to let them know I’m here if they need me. Sometimes I just get a couple of words back when I ask them how it’s going (“Fine mom”) but it lets them know I care.

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