Christine Renfer is a pharmacist. Her husband Jim is usually the teacher.
But with schools closed during the coronavirus outbreak, both Renfers have become home-school teachers to their family of six children, all in different grades.
“I’m the math guru,” Christine Renfer said. “Thank God … they’re taught the way I learned.”
Renfer has been working from home while her six children, in grades five through 10 at Holy Redeemer High School and Wyoming Area Catholic, do their schoolwork and chores every day. She said they had to establish a routine, but now the family is “in the groove.”
“I’m enjoying being home more actually,” she said.
The Renfers, like other families in Greater Pittston, will celebrate Mother’s Day at home this year, as moms and working parents everywhere step into roles they never thought they would handle.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought we would be where we’re at,” Renfer said.
While the Renfers juggle middle and high school curriculums, other parents have a broader age divide to bridge when helping their children with at-home schoolwork.
Barbara Sciandra has been working from home and from her normal workplace while managing the needs of her three children, in seventh, fifth and second grades.
“Because I work in healthcare, I am an essential employee and work out of the house three days per week,” she said. Her husband Sal is able to work fully from home.
“The new normal definitely has its challenges, but our children’s school has made the transition very easy,” said Sciandra, whose children attend Holy Rosary School in Duryea.
Lisa Licari knows first-hand what that transition has been like. A secretary at Holy Rosary School, Licari helped manage the transition for all of the school’s students, including her own children who are now at home with her.
“We’re managing,” she said. “They’re pretty independent.”
Licari’s sons are in ninth grade at Holy Redeemer and in seventh and third grades at Holy Rosary. She said the boys check on their younger brothers and help them with their work whenever they can, while Licari cooks more meals than ever before and looks for ways to keep the family active.
“I feel like a short order cook,” she said. “I’ve been making anything from mac and cheese … to chicken fajitas, spaghetti and meatballs … and there’s five of us so we have leftovers.”
Licari, Sciandra and Renfer all stressed the importance of establishing routines to get through this time of social distancing and distance learning for their children.
“They’re missing out on their normalcy,” Licari said. “We just try to make memories and be together.”
Members of Licari’s family used to be out of the house by 7:15 every morning, she said. Now, they sleep in a bit, but she still gets them up by 9 a.m. for breakfast, morning chores, then schoolwork.
“I keep myself on a schedule, too,” she said.
After Renfer gets her children out of bed, they settle in for three to four hours of schoolwork. Then, to fill the time at home, they have “family nights” involving bingo and movies when the kids are not using the HouseParty app with their friends online.
“I love being home with them,” Renfer said.
Sciandra said her kids all wake up to lesson plans provided by their teachers the prior evening. They work throughout the day, often with the help of Sciandra and her husband, to complete and submit their schoolwork on time.
“My older two have been on their own for the most part,” she said. “My youngest requires some oversight and help … our kids are in a great routine.”
Each mom said they have enjoyed the extra family time as Mother’s Day approached. The Renfers even planned a full day of celebration, with James Renfer’s birthday falling the day after Mother’s Day.
“We ordered our favorite foods from a caterer,” Christine Renfer said. “The kids say they’re making me presents, and they want to have a movie night.”
Sciandra said she can’t help but take some enjoyment out of having a break from her family’s busy lifestyle.
“We have dinner together every night. We spend time laughing and playing outside on the weekends,” Sciandra said. “I’m grateful my family is healthy. It’s as simple as that.”