EAU CLAIRE — Instead of getting on a school bus every morning, around 2,000 students in the Eau Claire school district alone are attending school fully online this year.

At a Monday virtual event, parents from western Wisconsin convened to offer advice and ask questions about what their students are struggling with while participating in all-virtual school.

Perhaps most important to Tanya Schmitz, a Chippewa Valley parent whose son attends the Eau Claire Virtual School, is that parents should consider keeping kids on a consistent schedule.

“We have a very rigid school time … his school day is 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., but he is allowed to control that time, and I think that’s really important,” said Schmitz, who worked and volunteered at an area private school for several years. “He can decide if he’s going to start the day with this subject or that subject.”

Schmitz was a panelist at the virtual event Monday, sponsored and hosted by the IFLS Library System, which serves 10 counties in west central Wisconsin.

The event drew ten to 15 parents, including people from Cumberland, New Richmond and Chippewa Valley school districts.

Virtual learning will impact almost every family in the Eau Claire school district this year. In addition to the roughly 2,000 students who are learning completely virtually this school year, most of the remaining 80% of students in the school district are learning online a couple days each week.

Several western Wisconsin parents said Monday that their kids were struggling with reading comprehension in non-reading-related classes — noting that curricula of different subjects didn’t seem to be aligned in terms of reading level.

Schmitz encouraged parents to contact teachers, in addition to school officials: “It’s a good time to reach out to the teacher and say, ‘This is what’s happening. Any thoughts about what might be going on here?’”

“Ask your librarian,” added Leah Langby, library development and youth services coordinator for the IFLS Library System, who moderated the panel. Local libraries can round up different books for students based on their specific reading level — although they typically don’t offer textbooks, Langby said.

If possible, try to have kids work on online school in a physical space that’s separate from their eating and living spaces, Schmitz said.

“We walk away from our desks at lunchtime and we come together at the dining room table. We very much have our lunch away from work,” Schmitz said.

Prioritize kids getting enough sleep and taking small breaks during the day, more often than you might think they need, Schmitz recommended: “Even we as adults have a difficult time sitting in a cubicle for eight hours, let alone a child … it’s important to remember (that) it’s a long day for them.”

But parents with elementary-age students, parents who work or families who share a smaller space have bigger obstacles to virtual schooling, both Schmitz and Langby emphasized.

For parents thinking about finding a different way of educating their kids during the COVID-19 pandemic — homeschooling, a virtual charter school or another kind of program — Schmitz encouraged parents to look for programs that happily accommodate plenty of questions.

“If they’re transparent and say we’ll set you up with a family, they can answer questions and give you an idea of day-to-day, that’s the people I want to work with,” she said.

Finally, kids still need their friends, now more than ever, Schmitz said.

“Really try to foster that,” Schmitz advised. “It’s harder during COVID, but I do think it’s really important to promote those friendships.”

Langby emphasized that libraries are trying to support parents and are open to ideas.

“Libraries around the area are really champing at the bit to support you with the challenges of suddenly schooling for home,” Langby said.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter

Sarah Seifert is the L-T's education and health reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Chippewa Valley since 2017 and joined the L-T in 2019. Get in touch at sarah.seifert@ecpc.com or on Twitter @sarahaseifert.