Even before COVID-19, Ashley Warwick wanted to be home more often with her kids. Then, she found TTU K-12.
Nov. 8-12 marks National Distance Learning Week. To celebrate, we're highlighting a family who found homeschooling help with Texas Tech University's TTU K-12, part of the university's eLearning & Academic Partnerships.
Last year's lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic caused students to go from in-person schooling to virtual learning in the blink of an eye. Everyone from teachers to students and parents adjusted to this unusual and unfamiliar scenario. Many parents struggled to juggle work commitments while also making sure kids stayed on top of their homework and “Zoomed” into class on time.
Now, more than a year after the lockdowns, most schools in the U.S. are back to in-person learning. But one school that never needed its students to adjust to virtual learning – because it's always been virtual – was Texas Tech University's TTU K-12. And thanks to TTU K-12, here's one of the families who was able to continue learning on their own terms.
Ashley Warwick from Houston has two kids, Megan, a fifth-grader, and Evan, a second-grader. Warwick worked in public schools for 13 years as a speech-language pathologist. At the beginning of 2020, she decided she wanted to be home with her kids and told her employer she wouldn't be returning for the 2020-2021 school year.
“My husband started traveling so much that I thought, ‘How am I going to continue to work full time?'” Warwick said. “Before spring break, when COVID-19 shut things down, I informed the school I was working at that I wouldn't be back in the fall. The timing just happened to work out. My kids finished the remainder of the school year and the following year virtually.”
Before the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order stating Texas schools can't require masks. While many large independent school districts (ISDs) like Dallas, Austin and Warwick's hometown of Houston defied Abbott's orders and made masks mandatory, the initial uncertainty of the situation made Warwick explore other schooling options.
“A few weeks before school started, Houston ISD decided to require masks, but I still felt it wasn't safe enough for what I wanted for my kids,” she said. “I was really looking for online options. I tried to find something and stumbled upon Texas Tech's TTU K-12. An adviser called me back, explained how it worked and I was like, ‘Oh, that's fantastic!'”
Justin Louder, the interim superintendent of TTU K-12, noted how TTU K-12 didn't have to adjust its teaching modalities during the pandemic.
“Because TTU K-12 has been virtual for many years, our program didn't have to pivot to remote education like most districts; we just continued to serve our students,” Louder said. “Our long history of providing a supportive successful online option to students and parents positioned us to become a welcome virtual option for families during the pandemic.”
Beginning a new school
Both of Warwick's children have assigned teachers for most of their classes who provide guidance and offer office hours.
“While they don't provide prerecorded lessons, the guidance and access to staff is excellent,” Warwick said. “Most learning relies heavily on me teaching it or accessing videos through the textbooks online.”
Going from a standard 7:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. school day to a make-your-own schedule was a major perk for Warwick, but it took some getting used to.
“We get to make our own schedule, which is fantastic,” she said. “That's what I love about TTU K-12. However, it was kind of hard getting used to the flow of things and getting into a routine with two kids in the beginning. Right when the school year first started, our internet went out for two days. We worked from my phone, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we've got to get this done!' But then I realized, ‘OK, no, this is flexible.' If we have something, we can save it for a little later. If we need to go to an appointment, we can do that. We haven't missed out on anything, and we can get all of our coursework done.”
When Warwick encountered difficulty with the English/Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) curriculum she was teaching her kids, she was pleasantly surprised by how quickly TTU K-12 not only responded but adapted.
“At the very beginning, the ELAR courses were very overwhelming,” Warwick said. “It was taking two weeks to get one weeks' worth of assignments completed. So, I reached out to the principal of TTU K-12, Cari Moye, on Facebook and she immediately messaged me back. She was phenomenal. I mentioned my background and explained that if I am struggling with the amount of assignments required, and don't know how to get it all done, then I can imagine how others are struggling as well.
“Moye took some of my suggestions back to the curriculum department and they made changes across the board. After a few weeks into the school year, I noticed a huge difference in the changes made to the ELAR courses for both of my kids. It was great!”
Support and flexibility
Warwick also noted the TTU K-12 Facebook group has been a huge support for her and her kids.
“There's a good parent group on Facebook that's been really nice,” she said. “We had a meet and greet where they broke us up into groups by grade levels, and it was really helpful. Evan has met someone who I think will be a lifetime best friend, and I love his mom, too. I talk to her every day now. It's great to have another homeschool parent to talk to. The connections we've made through this have been wonderful.”
One thing Warwick reiterated was how grateful she is for the flexible schedule TTU K-12 offers. Now, she and her family can take a dream vacation while still keeping Megan and Evan on top of their schoolwork.
“We're planning to take a two-week trip to Hawaii after the holidays,” Warwick said. “We really thought this trip wouldn't happen for another few years, but after staying put for almost two years, we wanted to reward ourselves.
“I love that TTU K-12 is so flexible because I'm going to be able to front-load their assignments before we leave. I'm going to take a few things with me so they can continue learning, but we can literally do their schoolwork from Hawaii. How awesome is that?”