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Wildfires Interrupt Remote Schooling For Families In Oregon


Throughout this unprecedented school year, we're hearing from families, students and teachers about how the pandemic is changing education. Today, as part of our series called Learning Curve, we meet Jenna Philpott of Lake Oswego, Ore. She and her husband, Matt (ph), have four kids. Three have dyslexia. Another has ADHD. Maddox, Georgia, Truman and Maisie all started remote classes this past week, but then came the wildfires. They sent us this audio diary of how their week unfolded.

JENNA PHILPOTT: OK, now what are you doing, Maisie? All right, right up there, I think.

MAISIE: Oh, it's right here.

J PHILPOTT: You have to allow the camera. So click on that link for the Zoom call.

And we're talking about zombies?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah. Well, we're talking about Modern Warfare - Call Of Duty.

J PHILPOTT: When is Mr. McClain (ph) done?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: He's - we're done. We're - we have, like, a 15-minute break. We're on the Tuesday schedule today.

J PHILPOTT: You're on the Wednesday schedule today.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We're on Tuesday. It's all been shifted over a day.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Three G plus 57 - or it would be the other way.

J PHILPOTT: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That's fine.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Three G plus 57.

J PHILPOTT: OK. Now read the meme. There's no meme this time. Oh, man.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: 'Cause I'm a winner.

J PHILPOTT: (Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Where did Jack Wilkes (ph) go? Probably no power.

J PHILPOTT: So Truman has his dyslexia intervention in a few minutes. I told his teacher I have to get him off in about three minutes, and he's on a group assignment with another student, so I don't really know - I don't want to leave her hanging. My son has also made bacon in the middle of an ash and fire storm here, and so we can't open windows to get the smoke from the bacon out of my house.

Hey, what are you working on?


J PHILPOTT: Why are you working on your English while we're evacuating?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Because it's homework.

J PHILPOTT: All right. We're going to go in, like, I think - I don't know - as soon as we can, OK?


GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we're joined now by Jenna Philpott.

Welcome to the program.

J PHILPOTT: Hello. Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is a pleasure to have you. And I want to ask how you and your family are doing. I understand that you're currently in a hotel in Redmond, Wash., right outside of Seattle.

J PHILPOTT: That's right. We're doing well, considering. I don't know. It's complex. I think I - every answer I have to your questions is, it's complex (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But just, you know, paint a picture. I mean, obviously, you know, having to get away from the fires - I mean, how did that feel?

J PHILPOTT: We were in a level 1 evacuation zone, which means have a plan. And we decided that our plan was to go sooner than most. Being stuck in traffic with kids with ADHD and dogs at - in the middle of the night in the middle of a fire wasn't something we wanted to do if we could avoid it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a lot. It's a lot.

J PHILPOTT: It is a lot. We have an electric car, and we weren't sure if it would get all the way up to Redmond in one charge. It did. But, you know, traveling at night with four kids, two dogs...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fleeing a fire.

J PHILPOTT: Pandemic (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I just want to ask you a little bit about what this has looked like for your family while they're trying to learn because I can't imagine what it's like trying to teach them in that environment.

J PHILPOTT: I guess the good thing is that they're what they call asynchronous lessons online - so lessons that you can complete without a teacher there guiding you. I don't know what we're going to do on Monday, and I don't know what we're going to do next week. And I don't know what this looks like. I don't know.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your kids are dyslexic. I will say my daughter is dyslexic, too. I mean, you get accommodations, but it is still really hard.

J PHILPOTT: Well, for the younger ones, the district has tried its best to curtail the number of passwords just to get to the material. But if you are dyslexic and you're young, you can hardly read a password, much less, you know, basic reading (laughter). And so just maneuvering on the online space is difficult. There is no independence at all - at all.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me a little bit about this from the kids' perspective. How are they feeling about it?

J PHILPOTT: I think they are frustrated and overwhelmed, and it builds. I'm sad and a little embarrassed, I guess, to tell you this on national radio, but I've really let go of a lot of expectations or wanting or trying to explain the help that we need. It's - at this point, it's better to have my energy to be a good parent and to recognize that, at some point, we're going to be on the other end of this and it's going to be because of our efforts as a family.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you have any idea what you're going to do after this? I mean, how's your home looking? Do you know yet?

J PHILPOTT: No. Our state fire coordinator and governor said we should expect to burn through the end of October and that the efforts are going to be to keep the more heavily populated areas free of fires. I don't know what that means for us. One of the options is to pitch a tent in a friend's yard up here in the Seattle area, but the smoke is bad up here, too.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I actually don't know what to say. I am so sorry.

J PHILPOTT: I don't either (laughter). I don't either.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm so sorry that your family's going through this.

J PHILPOTT: Yeah. I'm sorry if my answers weren't super specific to my kids and education, but at this point, it's maybe not the first thing on my mind.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jenna, are you taking care of yourself, too?

J PHILPOTT: (Laughter) As best as one can. I don't know how to answer that either. I mean, yeah. And I have a really good husband who brought me coffee for our interview (laughter). So...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We wish you and your family all the best. And we will be checking back in with you to make sure that you guys are well.

J PHILPOTT: Oh, thank you. Thank you. Thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Jenna Philpott from Lake Oswego, Ore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.