By Hannah Lester
The switch to remote learning following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic came with difficulties that most parents and students had never dealt with before.
Parents have been faced with the choice of sending their students to school and potentially exposing them to the virus or participating in remote learning and the challenges that are associated with Zoom, emails and learning without face-to-face instruction.
There is another option, however. Trellis Learning was born from the pandemic. Trellis is a “facilitator” for students participating in online learning.
Students come to the academy to receive help with homework, coordinating their schedules and questions about material they are learning. They are also given the opportunity to socialize in distanced and safe ways.
Mary Jo Thompson has a Master’s Degree in Education and assists students, along with tutors and other volunteers for Trellis. She created Trellis as an alternative back in August when schools started back in-person.
Students attend in the morning or afternoon, Thompson said, and can come full-time or as little as once a week.
“The first day they come, I make a schedule for them,” she said. “I sit down and I look at all their assignments for the whole week and I plan it out on a calendar, Monday through Friday, and they get a copy and I get a copy.”
Amy Grilliot and her husband are both educators too and said it was difficult with their schedules to help their son, Dun, with online learning.
“They do the kind of things that are difficult for us as parents to find time to do,” she said. “For instance, we can sit down at the computer with him and watch him do a math assignment, but they sit down at the beginning of the week and take an entire week’s assignments and break them up into really nice, rational chunks and basically schedule his entire week, what makes sense to get done each day, to keep him on the right track.”
This is what Dun, who is in fourth grade, said he likes about Trellis.
“I really like it,” he said. “It’s really fun because they help you with your work and they get it done so you don’t have to go home and have more trouble with it.”
Dun said he enjoys Trellis because he gets to see his friends again. Some of these friends he knew before Trellis, and others he met through the program.
“[It’s rewarding] seeing these students who have been essentially quarantined since February and March, because they come from high-risk families and families that are trying to be safe through all of this, that haven’t seen another kid that’s not their sibling for months and months, and seeing those friendships, seeing those connections made and seeing those friendships grow,” Thompson said.
If students do interact or play without masks, it’s done outside.
“It has just been fantastic,” Amy said. “I mean they, Mary Jo and the staff, are just so great with the kids and so careful with social distancing and masking while still making the kids able to have some social interaction along with their schoolwork.”
Learning is for all age groups too, Thompson said. Currently she has a student as young as first grade and one as old as a junior in high school. This means that students have different levels of help that they need.
“Some of them need a little more support,” she said. “Some of them need to just be reminded to slow down and look over things again before turning them in and some students need for someone to double check and make sure that they’ve turned things in. And I’ve heard from my parents that they just really appreciate that kind of support.”
Students not only get one-on-one instruction with an adult, or teacher, but with other students.
Thompson said sometimes students will be in the same grade, or same school system, and have similar assignments. If so, she gives the students an opportunity to learn together, to discuss and bounce ideas off each other.
Trellis gives students an opportunity to experience some form of in-person learning again, but Thompson said they keep the space clean.
“It’s a big space, there’s lots of windows, so I knew it would just be perfect for spacing the kids out,” she said. “We take a lot of precautions, we check temps, we wear masks inside all the time, we sterilize in between sessions, we sterilize during sessions, we have the kids washing their hands constantly and using the sanitizer constantly. So I feel like we have succeeded this [last] semester in creating a really safe environment.”
Dun said he believes it’s better to social distance so that no one gets sick.
Trellis started hosting students the week after public schools started in August, Thompson said.
“We say all the time that we’re building this plane as we fly it, because needs change, needs are constantly changing,” she said.
Part of that difficulty is that the students at Trellis are in different grades, are in different schools and are studying different things, Thompson said.
“But that hasn’t stopped me from being able to support them,” she said. “We just kind of hit the ground running every day. And if a student doesn’t understand something, we sit down with the white board or the black board and we walk them through the process again, we review the videos.”
Brian Perdomo’s children, Sophia (fifth grade) and Sebastian (first grade), both attend Trellis.
Brian said that as soon as he heard about Trellis, he was interested. Trying to work from home, while also helping his children with online learning was difficult, he said.
“If they were here with me, they would literally be getting the bare minimum,” Brian said.
At Trellis, however, they have opportunities to participate in music and art, Thompson said.
Sebastian enjoys being able to see other children close to his age and play outside, Perdomo said.
“They’re very conscious of distancing and mask wearing while they’re inside and all that kind of stuff and giving them breaks to step outside and get a little fresh air when weather permits and all that,” he said. “All that’s been great.”
For more information on Trellis, visit trellislearningatthestudio.com