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Monica Olivera shares resources for Hispanic families homeschooling post-pandemic

Monica Olivera is an author, a freelance education writer/materials creator, and founder of the educational resources site MommyMaestra.com where she focuses on resources for Hispanic homeschoolers, bilingual educators, and parents who simply want to be more involved in their children’s education. 

She has been writing about education for the last decade with a special emphasis on education for Hispanic families and bilingual education. Her articles have appeared on sites such as NBC.com, PBS Parents, and Woo! Jr. 

Hispanic heritage, homeschooling, and building a business 

Homeschooling has been a popular topic in the past year since the Covid-19 pandemic swept the globe and schools shut down long-term. Virtual learning became a divisive topic, with many parents expressing frustration with homeschooling while other parents readily embraced the change. 

According to a recent article from the Washington Post, the percentage of children in homeschooling has nearly tripled since mid-2019. The U.S. Census Bureau found that as of May 2021, more than 1 out of every 12 students is being homeschooled. 

Monica Olivera, author, a freelance education writer/materials creator, and founder of MommyMaestra.com (Photo courtesy Monica Olivera)

For Monica, her journey in the world of homeschooling began long before the pandemic, nearly a decade ago. Her choice to homeschool her young children was spurred by her desire to share her Hispanic heritage with her children and give them a culturally diverse curriculum that public schools were lacking. 

After moving to a small farming community away from family, Monica wished to nurture her children’s knowledge of Hispanic heritage and culture but struggled to find resources. She never planned to homeschool her children, but living in a failed school district where the state had closed one school and taken over the other, homeschooling seemed like the only option available. 

“I was terrified,” Monica said. “But I quickly grew to love it and realized that it provided the perfect opportunity to teach my kids about their heritage.” 

When searching for resources for Hispanic homeschoolers online proved to be difficult, Monica decided to start her own blog as a way to share what she was finding with other Hispanic homeschooling families. Soon, she began creating her own downloadable materials and her unexpected business took off.

“The cultural experiences of my childhood completely shaped my business. I wanted to pass on my heritage to my own children, and that passion grew until I one day realized that I didn’t want a great education with an emphasis on heritage just for my kids, but for all Hispanic children,” said Monica. 

Over the years, Monica has expanded her knowledge and appreciation beyond her own Spanish Mexican American heritage to encompass all Hispanic cultures and share the beauty of Hispanic heritage with a greater audience. 

“I love learning about and creating materials about other Spanish-speaking countries and cultures,” she said. “Helping children learn about and embrace their family’s heritage benefits everyone. Teaching non-Hispanic children about the culture also nurtures appreciation and breaks down stereotypes.”

MommyMaestra.com provides hundreds of resources for Hispanic homeschooling families.

Why homeschooling increased during the pandemic 

For parents who have recently embraced homeschooling due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are a variety of factors that led to their choice, the pandemic of course being the most prominent one. 

However, while homeschooling has been most commonly found among White, religious families in the past, the recent increase in homeschooling has been seen among Black, Latino, and Asian families. For Black and Latino students, the homeschooling rate of increase has been dramatic. Between 2019 and May 2021 the homeschooling rate went from 1 percent to 8 percent for Black students and from 2 percent to 9 percent for Hispanic students, the Washington Post reported. 

This jump was influenced by more than just the pandemic. Other factors such as racism, discrimination, and a lack of cultural diversity in school curriculums influenced parents in their decision to homeschool their children full-time. 

You might be interested: So-called ‘good’ suburban schools often require trade-offs for Latino students

Many parents, like Monica, were inspired to use homeschooling as an opportunity to teach their children about their culture and heritage and provide them with a less biased curriculum. For many, the pandemic was simply the catalyst they needed to take the plunge into homeschooling. 

The Latino Family’s Guide to Homeschooling is a comprehensive guide to help families get started on their homeschooling journeys. (Photo courtesy Monica Olivera)

“I wrote my first book – The Latino Family’s Guide to Homeschooling – completely unaware that a pandemic was coming,” Monica shared. “When Covid hit, Hispanic families began flocking to homeschooling, especially when they realized that it was an opportunity to nurture their children’s bilingualism.” 

Monica’s book and printable downloads of reading passages, games, and activities that feature Hispanic figures, holidays, and traditions have been sought after by families across the country. 

Creating a community for Hispanic homeschooling families 

As more and more families embark on their homeschooling journeys, Monica’s resources continue to provide Hispanic families with the necessary tools to navigate homeschooling with ease. 

It’s never too early to start homeschooling. This guide helps caregivers homeschool the youngest of students. (Photo courtesy Monica Olivera)

For Monica, each of her own successes in her business means children across the country are learning to appreciate the beauty of Hispanic cultures and to be proud of their heritage. 

“I know that by helping parents help their kids, I’m helping individuals and families succeed and be happy,” she said. 

“I think what I love most about my business is reading the testimonials/reviews made by people who use my education materials. I also love hearing from parents and educators who write to me asking for help or guidance to find materials or asking where to start with homeschooling. I’m especially proud of the active Hispanic & Bilingual Homeschoolers group that I started on Facebook. There are so many great parents helping each other in that group.” 

When Monica started out, she was alone searching for resources to help teach her children. Now, a decade later, Monica has built a community for Hispanic homeschooling families to share and grow. 

For those who are at the beginning of their own journeys as homeschooling parents or entrepreneurs, Monica encourages that you continue to persist. 

“It’s okay to get discouraged from time to time. And you will most likely have days that you consider giving up. But if you believe in yourself and what you can do – especially if others try to convince you otherwise – you can achieve greatness. Always be honest and always help others. It will come back to you in abundance.”

schools reopen

Schools reopen this fall: Is it safe? 

New Jersey announces students will be back for full-time, in-person for the 2021-2022 school year as schools reopen statewide. 

It’s time to say goodbye to virtual learning as schools reopen this fall. According to the official site of the state of New Jersey, schools will be reopening full-time and in-person for the upcoming school year. Schools first closed back in March 2020, when the pandemic began and instruction moved online. Throughout the 2020 – 2021 school year, the majority of NJ schools remained virtual or offered hybrid learning options, with a mix of in-person and virtual students. Now, officials say parents or guardians will not be able to opt children out of in-person instruction for this upcoming school year. 

Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

The closing of schools last year led to mixed responses from parents and families. Some welcomed the opportunity to spend more time with their children. Others worried about the quality of their children’s education and wondered if virtual learning would be enough to keep children on track. Many working parents also struggled, juggling homeschooling and working from home. And parents who did not have the luxury to work from home faced the challenge of finding childcare for their children amid the pandemic. 

Now, schools are reopening, and feelings are once again mixed. Some worry that it’s not safe, especially with new, stronger COVID-19 variants spreading quickly across the globe, such as the more contagious Delta variant that has been particularly infectious among the young and unvaccinated–aka the prime population of students. Other parents are glad to see a sense of normalcy return to their children’s lives and routines. 

Regardless of where you stand in the debate, without the option to opt out of in-person learning this year, it is important for NJ parents to familiarize themselves with the new rules, guidelines, and safety precautions that will be in place for students this fall. 

Safety precautions for returning students 

According to NJ.gov, all students, educators, staff, and visitors will be required to wear face masks inside of school buildings, regardless of vaccination status, for the start of the 2021-2022 academic year.  Effective Monday, August 9, 2021, masks are required in the indoor premises of all public, private, and parochial preschool, elementary, and secondary school buildings, with limited exceptions.

Exceptions to the mask requirement include:

  • When doing so would inhibit the individual’s health, such as when the individual is exposed to extreme heat indoors;
  • When the individual has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance;
  • When a student’s documented medical condition or disability, as reflected in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Educational Plan pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, precludes use of a face covering;
  • When the individual is under two (2) years of age;
  • When an individual is engaged in an activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask, such as eating and drinking or playing an instrument that would be obstructed by the face covering;
  • When the individual is engaged in high-intensity aerobic or anerobic activity;
  • When a student is participating in high-intensity physical activities during a physical education class in a well-ventilated location and able to maintain a physical distance of six feet from all other individuals; or
  • When wearing a face covering creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task.

Additionally, the Department of Education, in partnership with the Department of Health, has produced a health and safety guidance document detailing recommendations designed to provide a healthy and safe environment for students and staff during the 2021-2022 school year.

These strategies are recommendations, not mandatory standards. The absence of one or more of these strategies should not prevent school facilities from opening for full-day, in-person operation.

You might be interested: Reopening schools during Covid-19? Educator and activist Maria Santiago-Valentin weighs in

Vaccinations, social distancing, and more: Will it be enough? 

Alongside the mask mandate, schools will also be enforcing social distancing, promoting vaccinations and testing, and encouraging parents and caregivers to monitor their children for symptoms. 

Vaccinations are currently not required, however strongly encouraged for students and staff who are eligible to be vaccinated. Since most K-12 schools will have a mixed population of fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and unvaccinated individuals at any given time, schools will require the layering of preventive measures to protect individuals who are not fully vaccinated. This will include social distancing within the classroom and an effort to screen and report when children are displaying symptoms. Caregivers are encouraged to actively keep watch of their child’s health and report symptoms to the school. Students who are sick should not attend school until symptoms subside. 

All these precautions are crucial to ensuring the safety of students as they return to full-time, in-person instruction. It is unclear if schools will remain fully open throughout this upcoming school year, however, for now, we can say goodbye to virtual learning as schools reopen for this fall. 

For information on the status of school reopenings in other states, be sure to visit your state’s official website. To check for your state’s mask mandate, see here

homeschooling your kids during quarantine

5 Tips for homeschooling your kids during quarantine

If you’re a parent of school-aged children, then you, like many others have suddenly been tasked with the challenge of homeschooling your kids during quarantine. Luckily, you’re not alone. And together, we can help each other navigate these uncertain times. 

Most parents are good with quick homework help, a school project, or the occasional book report. But suddenly becoming your child’s full time teacher while also juggling working from home and other household responsibilities can feel daunting and stressful. 

homeschooling your kids during quarantine

Laura Diaz-Alberto homeschooling her 5-year old son (Photo courtesy Laura Diaz-Alberto)

Homeschooling together

When Covid-19 hit, Laura Diaz-Alberto found herself not only becoming her children’s teacher, but also becoming an online student herself. Owner and founder of LaDi, a clothing line focusing on making maternity-wear fashionable, Laura was in the process of completing a business certification program with SHCCNJ when the quarantine began. Now the classes have been moved online where Laura attends virtual sessions via Zoom. Thank goodness for technology! 

Being a student herself has given her a glimpse into what her children are also experiencing during the shift to homeschooling. For students of all ages this transition has been a learning experience. While we live in a technology-driven age, many school systems across the country have resisted changing their 150-year-old structure. Online tools have been used in the classroom to aid in learning, but aside from universities, it is rare for schools to offer full-online courses, and schools have been slow to fully take advantage of the technological resources available to them. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced this to change at accelerated speed. 

homeschooling your kids during quarantine

Laura’s pride and joy! (Photo courtesy Laura Diaz-Alberto)

As the U.S. went on lock-down in March, schools across the country had to scramble to move all their courses to virtual classrooms. Now, children and parents are tasked with navigating daily log-ins, online assignments, lecture videos, and even virtual real-time class sessions. It’s a lot to manage, and it can be especially hard on young children who are not as familiar with using technology. 

“One of our three boys is a 5-year-old in kindergarten,” says Laura, “so we have to sit with him through the entire process everyday and help him access files, upload files, and help him type and spell on his own.” 

homeschooling your kids during quarantine

Laura’s husband not only helps with boys but it her business greatest supporter (Photo courtesy Laura Diaz-Alberto)

Laura, luckily, has her husband working from home, so the two of them are taking turns with the distance learning and household responsibilities. Dividing up tasks between family members is one great strategy for tackling the issue of homeschooling your kids during quarantine. It can be stressful to try and do everything yourself, and during this time it is important that as parents you also take care of yourself.  Children will be relying on the adults in their lives for emotional support and stability, so keeping the stress down especially with homeschooling will make the process smoother for everyone. 

5 Tips for homeschooling your kids during quarantine

  1. Establish Routines: Covid-19 has completely disrupted our way of life and filled us all with uncertainty. For children, this uncertainty can be frightening. Many children thrive on routines and suddenly pulling them from their teachers, peers, and learning environments can be unsettling. To help your kids adapt to this new world of online homeschooling, try to establish some sort of schedule. It does not have to be rigid, and in fact flexibility might be more helpful especially if you are a parent who is also working from home. But a simple routine will greatly help your child adjust and know what to expect from each day. Check out some of these guides and templates available to help you get started. 
  2. Stay Organized: Along with developing a schedule, parents should keep all their child’s school materials in one organized space dedicated to their homeschooling. Most children are used to having the classroom as their dedicated learning space. This space signals to them that they are no longer at home and that it is time to learn. While it will be difficult to convince your child that they are no longer “home” during their schooling time, providing a quiet, organized space for them to learn will help them get back into “school mode” during the learning portion of their day. 
  3. Minimize Distractions: Building off the previous tip, make sure your child’s space is distraction-free when they are in “school-mode.” This includes parent-distractions. Turn off your phone or put it out of reach, unless needed for schooling. Be present with your child and set boundaries with other family members that this time is learning time. It can be difficult to stay focused when in the comfort of your own home, surrounded by distractions. But enforcing a routine, in an organized space, with minimal distractions will greatly help your child adjust to homeschooling.

    homeschooling your kids during quarantine

    Quiet time when home schooling your kids during quarantine (Photo courtesy Laura Diaz-Alberto)

  4. Take Breaks: That being said, another important tip to remember, one that we often forget, is to take breaks! Just like in school, kids get breaks for meal-times and recess. At home, you have even more flexibility. Instead of powering through hours of schooling in one block of time, consider breaking things up into smaller blocks. During your breaks, have a snack, take a walk and get some fresh air, play games, dance around your living room, stretch, do a craft project, sing songs–have fun. Laura and her family have been using this time together to take a pause from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. For them it has been a time filled with lots of movies, games, music, workouts, and food. It’s all about balance and finding the right mix of work and play to keep things interesting and engaging for your children. 
  5. Set Goals: Setting goals gives us all something to work towards and look forward to. During these times, the future feels uncertain. Your kids are also facing that uncertainty, and school may feel useless to them when they cannot see the future ahead. Help your child set learning goals to ease their anxieties and give them something tangible to look forward to, and set your own goals with them. Goals should be a mix of both long-term and short-term goals. For example, one goal could be a simple checklist of steps such as “read one chapter” or “complete worksheet assignment.” Other goals can be larger such as finishing a whole book or completing a project.

    home schooling your children during quarantine

    (Photo courtesy Laura Diaz-Alberto)

Parents can set their learning goals too

Laura has also set her own goals alongside her children’s learning goals during this quarantine. As a more creative-minded person, she has been using this time to become more oriented on the business end of things for her company, LaDi. The business certification program, along with her own projects, are helping her learn and grow alongside her kids during this time. 

 You might be interested: How MiLegasi’s founder deals with resilience in children during COVID-19

“I have used this time to do market research, to learn, and to strategize. I am also almost finished working on a brand new independent website,” Laura says. “I will be a better business woman after this and I’m super thankful for that.” 

Covid-19 has brought a lot of changes to our lives, but we can all use this time to learn together and advance our goals. Homeschooling your kids during quarantine does not have to be daunting or stressful. As parents, you can help your children continue their education by providing a flexible and fun learning environment. And you too can learn alongside your kids. Together we will make it through this time, and hopefully come out the other end with a few new skills, accomplished goals, and an appreciation for learning.

essential workers

With friends, Laura thanks essential workers for their sacrifice (Photo courtesy Laura Diaz-Alberto)