When I was a kid, the pressure to achieve academic excellence was impossibly high. I was encouraged to always be striving for the very best, and many times I was rewarded and showered with love only when I succeeded. My young identity was entirely wrapped up in seeking external validation for my efforts, to the painful point where I didn’t know who I was when I wasn’t performing well in school. My educational years became a source of great anxiety, overwhelm, and shame as a result, and in moments of struggle those feelings only worsened.
Now that I’m a mother to two young kids and a stepmom to a teen, I’ve worked hard to create a much safer space for them than I had growing up. My husband and I encourage our children to do their best, but we also acknowledge that the joy of learning in and of itself is so much more important than any grade on a test. We have created a household filled with curiosity, ease, and room for a whole lot of messy trial and error. And both of my young kids are thriving as a result.
My stepdaughter, however, has always been a high achiever and has struggled greatly with academic anxiety as she grapples with how to get everything on her plate accomplished. We are currently living thousands of miles apart from her, and I can only imagine how tough this current phase of life must be for her. It’s one thing to have children under five in self-quarantine whose only academic goals are counting, learning words, and beginning steps for reading. It’s a whole other ballgame to be navigating half a dozen different subjects, physical education, and extracurricular activities all while isolated at home.
My heart breaks for every single child who is drowning underneath their mounting schoolwork, whether they are easily able to fulfill it or not. And as a working mom who stepped into a food bank back in March to feed my kids, I also have boatloads of empathy for all the parents trying to make ends meet while balancing their children’s exponentially growing academic to-do list.
To my great relief, I’ve been introduced to a free hotline and website for families dealing with school closures. Once you read more about this extraordinary organization, I assure you that you’re going to want to put their phone number on speed dial.
“Our site is designed to help parents find a solution to whatever problem they are facing during school closures,” says SchoolClosures.org co founder Manisha Snoyer. “It’s our aim to provide simple, straightforward solutions. If a parent calls the hotline, they can expect a compassionate listener to empathize with their situation and work with them until they find a solution, not direct them to yet another resource.”
On March 11th, Snoyer had a long conversation with SchoolClosures co founder Eric Ries about the tens of millions of children in the United States who were facing the prospect of becoming what she calls “involuntary homeschoolers.” They both noticed that there was a ton of information scattered all over the internet for parents, but no unified response to this crisis. That’s when they decided to be the change they wish to see in the world. Within twenty-four hours, Snoyer and Ries had a website up and a hotline being manned by a growing number of parent volunteers. But thankfully, they didn’t stop there.
“We began with distance learning and education but talking to parents it’s clear this was raising a lot of other problems, including food, financial security, and childcare (especially for health workers),” she explains. Since launching the site on March 12th, SchoolClosures has brought together over 200 volunteers and 80 organizations including educational experts, content writers, researchers, developers, designers, secular homeschooling families, investors and a number of tech companies to try and take a coordinated approach. They have also recruited volunteer tutors from Stanford and other universities to teach kids remotely.
Snoyer and Ries’s overall goal has been quite simple – and powerful – from the very beginning. They’ve wanted to create a safe space to provide parents and families with immediate and tangible solutions if they’re feeling oversaturated, touched out, and burdened to the max at home. “If a parent calls in and needs a tutor, we will connect them with an exceptional volunteer and follow up to make sure that it’s the right fit. If they need a computer for their remote learning plan, we’ll find them a computer from one of our partners. If they need advice on working from home with their kids, we’ll talk to them to understand their children’s learning styles and recommend a plan that works for their family’s unique needs and lifestyle. We can also connect families to learning specialists who can help address special needs.”
A fifteen-year teaching veteran and stepmom, Snoyer is bound and determined to help families thrive in all areas during this chaotic and challenging time. And I’ve got to say, learning about the work she’s doing right now has brought tears to my eyes as I write this. Because I sure could have used a hotline like this back when I was a young teen being pushed to succeed and also failing to keep my mental health in check.
When a child or teen calls the hotline, they can expect the same empathetic treatment that a parent receives. Students can expect a compassionate listener, great advice, and if they like, to be connected with a volunteer tutor or get help with their academic question then and there. “One really exciting type of call we get is high schoolers who want to tutor younger children,” Snoyer says.
In just over a month of operation, SchoolClosures has already assisted families with advice on how to best use online learning apps, find places to get meals, emergency childcare for essential workers, psychological support and practical advice for parents, how to create a daily schedule, financial relief, finding remote jobs to do while working from home with kids, and enriching activities children can do while parents are working.
“Parents calling in about food often don’t know where their local school is distributing meals,” says Snoyer. “Our volunteers look up their district and inform the parents about where meals are being distributed. If their school is not distributing meals, we will help them find food pantries or provide them food ourselves by raising donations.”
It’s the least the hotline co-founders feel they can do to help everyone during this life-altering chapter. Yet it has made all the difference for so many families in need right now. To any parent looking for a resource that’s not only immensely helpful, but undoubtedly inspiring, you can stop your search and rest easy knowing that Snoyer and Ries have totally got your back.
“The pandemic has exacerbated many issues for parents that were already present before the crisis, but are [being] highlighted now,” Snoyer says. Her hope is to continue to be able to support parents in being involved in their child’s education, balancing work and family time, getting affordable meals, childcare and access to technology — all vital issues that will continue to be important as children return to school.
The educator wants parents of all backgrounds to know that this is an incredibly trying time, and we need to be consistently gentle with ourselves as we adjust to it. “No parent can be expected to educate their child while working full-time from home,” she shares. “None of us are doing it perfectly or even very well! So stop putting pressure on yourself to achieve an impossible task.”
She also advises families to stop creating unnecessary stress around fears that your child might fall behind academically. Instead, lean into their natural abilities to engage in social experiences and the world around them, however limited it is right now. “Learning doesn’t stop when kids go home from school,” Snoyer assures us. “Children are naturally learning all the time. By engaging with them in conversation, supporting their natural spirit of inquiry by exploring questions they answer and letting them play, they will continue to develop their minds.”
As demanding as our children’s various needs are right now, they can also benefit greatly from just keeping it simple. Snoyer advocates for making a little room in our day for some unobstructed quality time, which can help boost our kids’ connection to us. “If you can, try to embrace the precious time you have with your child,” she says. “Maybe set aside two hours a day to just be with your child, not doing anything academic or work related.”
And for any parents needing additional ideas for how to keep their kiddos entertained while they’re working, Snoyer’s sister site is packed with tons of great self-led activities.
The hundreds of volunteers who are helping Snoyer and Ries have been trained to listen and support parents through this crisis and can even connect them to affordable (or free!) therapy. They’ve also partnered with Crisis Text Line, which helps them go even further in assisting a family who may be struggling more than usual right now. “It requires hundreds of volunteers to maintain our hotline and make sure families get access to critical information about learning, food, childcare and psychological support. We are always looking for new volunteers who can help field questions on the hotline, tutor or provide other support.”
While we certainly have a bunch of essential workers out in the field rising up to epic hero status, it helps to know we also have heroes like Manisha Snoyer and Eric Ries to (literally!) call on at a time when we are all in the thick of this pandemic. My mama bear heart is feeling a little lighter today, and I have both of these incredible educational advocates to thank for that.
If you have been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak and need help, please call, text, or email SchoolClosure’s free hotline at 1-855-264-2051.
This article was originally published on