In this episode, we talk to Hollis Owens, mother of a first, sixth, seventh, and ninth-grader in Richardson ISD. Hollis is also the founder of To Be Like Me, a non-profit that provides interactive experiences to create awareness and break down the barriers that exist for those with different abilities. Hollis walks us through creating structure at home and having different expectations for each child. She also helps us talk through potential ideas for connecting students to one another.
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
To Be Like Me: Tobelikeme.org/news
Learning Ally - Learningally.org
Dallas City of Learning: Dallascityoflearning.org
Education Opens Doors: Educationopensdoors.org
Education Opens Doors Student Guidebook
The resources mentioned in this episode are for informational purposes only. It is incumbent upon the listeners to vet all resources mentioned in this podcast.
Education opens doors is a college and career readiness organization focused on activating all students to determine and pursue an informed future. We do this by partnering with school districts to bring them a ready to go interactive curriculum that is plug and play for our teachers who implement it during the school day. While we have a variety of partners, we are deeply invested in the middle school space to provide students the opportunity to develop the necessary college and career skills for post secondary success and their path to high school and beyond.
In Episode One, education opens doors host, Jorgie Marin talks to Hollis Owens, mother of a first sixth seventh and ninth grader in Richardson ISD. Hollis is also the founder of To Be Like Me
A nonprofit that provides interactive experiences to create awareness and break down the barriers that exist for those with different abilities. Hollis walks us through creating structure at home and having different expectations for each child. She also helps us talk through potential ideas for connecting students to one another. Let's get started.
Hi, good afternoon, Hollis. How are you doing?
I'm doing well. Thank you.
Thank you so much for joining us today. And during this time, parents are really reconfiguring kind of what learning from home looks like, from setting up structure in their household conducive to learning to supporting their social and emotional needs. So we're excited to have you here today to kind of give us a little bit of insight as to kind of how you're navigating that transition. But to give our listeners a little bit of context on the information you'll be sharing with us. Can you give us a brief background on how many children you have their age group and the school
districts they attend
I think I cover almost every area with my with my girls. I have four daughters, and they are 15, 13, 12 and six. So my oldest is a freshman at Richardson High School. And then my next daughter is in seventh grade at Richardson North junior high. And then my 12 year old is in sixth grade at Prairie Creek Elementary and my six year old is in first grade at Prairie Creek. So all of my girls are in the Richardson ISD. And so yeah, I have one in each school area.
You really have all of the spectrums. How are you kind of navigating that providing support to different age groups?
I don't think I'm doing it very well. I really don't I, you know, I think this is giving my girls an opportunity to find independence with all of their work. Because I'm struggling. It's a lot. And I think Richardson ISD has done a really good job of not putting too much stress on parents.
It seems like the the workload is pretty manageable for my girls. And so I don't see that they're stressed or overworked. And I appreciate that so much that they're really they're really being mindful of parents and our own mental health during this time, so I really appreciate that.
But especially my my oldest three girls, they're pretty independent with our work and what's amazing to me is that
I've been able to witness how different their learning styles are, because they all have taken a different approach to how they're organizing their time. So my oldest daughter likes to take one or two subjects a day and complete them for the week. My next daughter likes to take each subject and do a, an activity for each subject each day.
And then my third daughter is more laid back and she just kind of goes with the flow and, you know, whatever she feels like doing that particular day, she'll do it and then hopefully by the end of the week, she will have completed everything. And then my youngest daughter, of course, she requires more one on one attention. She's in the first grade.
And so we've done you know, we've come up with a schedule for her for the week, and each hour is kind of a different activity including some walls
Some nature walks and some time to just have some downtime. And that's really helped her organize her time she does read so she can read her own schedule. And so I've done the best I can, I think, based on the girls and their different personalities. And if I would give parents any advice about how to manage all of this, it's really just looking at your child. Mm hmm. And figure out you know, how they learn best.
Maybe their movement learners maybe they learn best when they're moving. So this is a great time to maybe incorporate exercise into their learning or encourage them to break up their time with with walks around the block. They don't get to do that in school and Sometimes our kids who need to move in order to learn don't get that. So I think parents are willing to tune to the way their kids learn best. And
Maybe this is a good opportunity for us to practice that as we help them navigate their schoolwork. Yeah, I think that's a very strong advice. Because I think right now, there might be pressure thinking that we need to have students go from 9 to 12, and then have a lunch break, and then again, and so I know a lot of our parents are actually only doing half of day of school, if you if you will.
Um, so I think it's incredible that you're adding in those breaks for your daughters, and that you're saying to start with figuring out what is going to be successful for it for your child. And if it means like movement, if it means creating an hour by hour schedule. That's pretty great.
Well for you
I really, you know, I think that schools are doing a good job of putting out their academic curriculum to the kids. I think that one area that's missing a little bit is the social emotional learning aspect. They sometimes get from counselors
and learning about friendships and social awareness, bullying, things like that. So I would encourage parents to incorporate that if they can, sometime during the day.
There's a great resource. Dallas city of learning. org has a lot of free resources for parents, including some
online learning activities in there. They're not necessarily academic.
Some of them are research based, some are have some social emotional learning components.
But depending on the interest of the child, they can go to that area that they're interested in, and then they they can search their resources. So I highly recommend that. That's incredible. Thanks for bringing that up to our conversation. I think right now it's so important to, to kind of give parents access to those really great websites. So we'll definitely be checking that out after this as well.
What does the teacher and parent communication look like for you right now? Have you found any particular way that's been most most effective to communicating with your daughter's teachers?
That's a great question. I think the teachers have done a good job of letting the kids know when their hours are for asking questions. I think they still have office hours. And so if kids have questions during those times they can reach out to their teachers and I think each of my daughters
has a time on their schedule for a zoom call with their class. And so they've opened that up as a way you know if anybody has any questions or concerns they can ask during that time.
My youngest daughter in the first grade her teacher, I mean, she responds right away, if I email with a question. So I have not had any trouble at all, communicating with teachers. Like I said, I think with Richardson ISD they're really being mindful of
our time, and our stress level. Mm hmm. With trying to work at home and help our kids. So I think they've done a good job of making sure our kids know if they need any help, where to find help. And yes, our teachers are literally on the front lines, making sure that everything is set up. So they're doing it
such an incredible job. And that's what I keep hearing, which is just really incredible. We're doing kind of the shift to online learning and how do you think that this could or couldn't not affect your students trajectory?
In terms of motivation and agency, do you see it affecting kind of that intrinsic motivation or do you feel like, like, they're, they're really great and responsible on their own.
You know, it's really interesting because I was I worried about that a little bit. I worried that they would not be interested with the online curriculum. But I've noticed something really cool about my oldest daughter, Charlotte.
She's, like I said, a freshman at Richardson High School. And she's taking an AP course right now. It's the AP human class, which is
a really different
class and she had really struggled with it in the fall. And so she has been going back through some of the curriculum from from the fall. And she has, you know, been kind of re studying all of that. And then what we've been doing is every Friday, we are having a family discussion on what she's learning, just as a way of communicating and opening up about what the, you know, what she's learning about. And the discussions have been awesome. And so, we didn't really do that before. I hate to say it, but we just, you know, we made sure that, you know, she was doing turning in her assignments on time and you know, that her grades were,
where they should be, but we haven't really incorporated family time with
With really having in depth conversations about what she was learning, and now we are. And that's the way you learn, because we've been wrestling with some of these topics that she's been learning. And when you wrestle with ideas, you tend to go back and do more research and learn more. And so I feel like she's gained more learning from our interaction about the topics. And so I think for her, it's been really great. And if anything, she has a new, new and revived interest in what she's learning. So
I think that is a good thing that has come out of it. And then my other girls, I feel like they're also taking the learning online and stride. And
I think that what I'm finding that I need to do is incorporate that a little bit into the real world, whatever they're learning
Because I think there's a tendency to learn it online, do whatever assignment you need to do, and then move on to the next thing. And there's not a whole lot of relating it to the real world. And so I feel like that's kind of where I'm doing more of my, my helping.
I really I love that that how you brought to light that there's there's space for conversations or space for for more real, real world application who can't talk today. But that's incredible. I think like what type? It sounds almost like your daughters are kind of doing this self exploration. So what type of resources would be helpful during this time to kind of aid that self exploration
and help kind of them begin this process of exploring and going beyond what is online or in their textbook?
Well, I think that you already said it, and that's space.
mean how often especially before the Coronavirus,
you know, came about and there wasn't a whole lot of space. There were activities and, you know, sports events and, you know, extracurriculars. And so I feel like kids were so scheduled that there wasn't space to really explore learning beyond what they were academically learning in school. And now there is space. And I'm so thankful for that.
I think I'd already mentioned the resource of the Dallas City of Learning. And that is a really good resource for learning outside of thinking outside the box, based on, you know, wherever your interests are. So I think finding resources like that,
that can really you know, take your science
Lesson and expand it even further
into areas that you wouldn't have even
considered for that lesson. So
I don't know, for my girls, it's more just talking about what they're learning. And maybe that's on the family walks, you know, we we asked, you know, what did you learn today in science and then talking about it. And I just feel like, that leads to more and more learning from there just having conversations. Right. I know you mentioned you, you mentioned this idea of like extracurricular activities and having clubs after school, and those aren't present right now, which is creating the space to have more conversations and that that's great. I hope after this we're able to find almost like a happy medium, where we can continue to incorporate both what was there before and like what we're learning now, but since you do have an interest
At home, you know, we start talking about post secondary options in college and career as early as ninth grade, watching the GPA, getting involved in clubs and being a well rounded student. How are you still finding space to make sure that your ninth grader gets that during this time?
While Wow, that is an excellent question.
Because we have always encouraged
developing areas of leadership going beyond,
you know, the academic part of things. We've been involved in organizations for traveling outside the United States, and it's called CISSP.
Children's international summer villages. And obviously those programs have been cancelled. But my oldest girls have been involved in CISSP for the last few years.
And that has allowed them to meet people, kids their age from all over the world. And it's a really amazing program. And I think it's through programs like that where you're really getting out and meeting people who are different and have different cultures.
That that really expands your
you know your world
empathy and compassion for other people. And so I am concerned about that I am concerned that here we are at home and when we don't have that opportunity to be able to, you know, my girls, obviously aren't going to be involved in that program this summer.
We are looking at maybe the possibility of doing online zooms with some people from other countries.
I know there are resources out there to help with that.
But as far as
expanding, you know, their extracurriculars without actually having extracurriculars.
I think that, you know, they're, they're doing the best thing they can my, my front yard is a jungle gym. I mean, we have maps and, you know, an obstacle course set up in the front yard and, you know, just trying to incorporate being active and
maybe incorporate learning into some of our some of these
obstacle courses. We're just doing the best we can, but yeah, they do miss the outlet of having those extracurriculars. You know, in high schoolers, I just, there's so there's so many of them, you know, crave that social interaction.
And they don't have that. Luckily, you know, I'm, I really can't speak to those who only have one child. I have four. And so it's kind of a built in social. You know, we're, they're their friends for the most part. And so they have a social outlet each other. But for many families, you know, they don't have that. So
I'm sure that's really difficult. And I think I think what you're saying is, is real and it's okay, right. It's just you're doing the best you can and it's going to take some time. And I think that's so important to kind of allow yourself grace.
And I think these things will come with time, right? If we continue this kind of online learning, these resources will will begin to be created. It's kind of, kind of,
I don't know our it's our call right to create these resources and figure out
How can we continue to reach and give opportunities like this to our students?
And I think I really like your idea that you mentioned about making sure that your daughters kind of maybe have setting up some zoom calls with others, both in their each group and, and not, I think that would be a really cool experience to create.
I think you hit the nail on the head. I mean, we have got to give you give ourselves some grace in through this whole process. I know that there are some parents out there who are very anxious. I mean, this is a very stressful time financially for many,
many are losing their jobs. So there's there's already the stress of what it's doing to many businesses and, you know,
JOB, security, you know, there's just already a lot of stress
And so, in regards to school and learning, I just think we need to
stop beating ourselves up about, you know, not not being able to get it, get it done. I think that our kids will actually rise to the occasion. Mm hmm. I think if we give them a little more room to, to try to explore on their own how they're going to get their work done. I think they surprise us. You know, even the strategies that they have, I mean, just
that they use
to get their work done, I think
without us saying anything or getting involved.
I think that's when we really see the magic happen.
If we don't insert ourselves too much, and I think right now
All of those skills are being built at a much faster pace. So whereas time management before was so crucial now it's even more. And and I think I think you're right in letting them explore that.
And I think, what are two to three ways that you're, you're kind of helping your children create that time management?
Well, you know, they're all different in the way that they decide to organize their time. So I really been hands off with that.
And they've been creative with how they decide they want to use their day. I've noticed with my first grader
if I carve out, you know, time where, you know, I know that I need to be working. I make sure that that's kind of downtime for her
where she can watch show or
Maybe she reads a book on her own or does something, you know, plays in her room
and maybe works on a puzzle.
In that way, I can get my work done. And she's not saying Mom, Mom, mom, and I'm distracted and not able to give her my attention. So, it just makes me feel better to know. Okay, I've carved this time out for me and my work. And, and, and she's
being creative, which is an important thing. You know, being a self starter, that's a life skill. So, that's an important thing to learn, you know, you need to be able to go to your own space and keep yourself busy for this certain amount of time. And so I feel like that's an important thing to learn. Absolutely. Hollis. I know that in in your work. You will
I actually work with students with some disabilities and we really want to be able to reach our parents out there who might be listening or struggling through this. Can you tell us a little bit about the work that you do?
And kind of what that looks like now supporting parents in this new phase?
I just can't even imagine.
I really can't.
And it makes me emotional thinking about it, because
you know, there are so many students who are getting the help that they need at school
with dyslexia teachers with pts, OTS speech,
you know, and and
those goals for those therapies are being worked on during the school day. And so to all of a sudden be at home and not be able to have those therapies and not be able to have
The, the special teachers that I, I just can't even imagine what that must be like.
So in my work, I'm actually a physical therapist, and I have a nonprofit, and it's called to be like me, and we're a disability awareness program. So we're really a field trip destination for schools. Kids come to our facility and they learn about different disabilities. We are entirely led by people who have those disabilities. And it's a two hour program. So kids get to come in and ask questions and interact with people with all different types of disabilities. And it's a way of just opening doors for conversation and questions. And it's through those conversations that kids really learn about interacting with others who are different and understanding and accepting differences.
So I love what I do. We, of course we educate students but the other awesome part of our program is our leaders who have disabilities find purpose in what they're what they're doing.
And I think a really difficult part of
the social distancing is not being able to be with our leaders
or leaders felt,
you know, they had something to look forward to every week by being a part of our program. And so it has been difficult I think from a from a mental health standpoint, to all of a sudden be at home and not have that outlet for purpose. And so we are trying to on a weekly basis, come together and see one another. We are doing interviews with our leaders online and you can
Find those actually through our website Tobelikeme.org in the new section. Every Tuesday, we have a new interview with one of our leaders. Today, actually, our interview was with one of our leaders, Michael, Susan's, and he has autism. And he talks to a young lady about autism and
what life is like with autism. He also shares some of the things that he's passionate about. And there are a lot of fun. So I would encourage you to watch those videos and learn about different disabilities. I think that'd be a great resource for even our parents who have like children with disabilities to go and watch. I'm sure they did really gain a lot of insight from those interviews. And as you were talking, I mean, I maybe this is already in the works, but I started to connect the dots you were talking about setting up your daughter's with like, experiences with others different than them and you talked about
How you do that already with school districts? And do you see a future where you would do that and offer that online where you could continue to have those field trips, but maybe just interviews online? I think that would be so neat. Possibly, you know, we're
really just letting things happen.
The way it feels right, you know that if it feels right, then we're going, we're just being led through this. So, if that's where we end up, then that's where we end up. But
I think we have been, I think this pivot of doing online interviews has been very well received. And so we'll just continue doing that. And just kind of see where that takes us. But our organization is very much about personal interaction. And, you know, getting that face to face conversation going and so
We're not, ideally we don't want it to be online, we want it to be face to face. But considering where we are right now, we're just trying to continue our mission and do what we can to stay true to our mission during this time. So that's what we've come up with.
But one of the areas that we really
talk about and to be like me is our learning differences. That's one of our experiences during our program. And so participants get to learn about different areas of, you know, learning, differences and learning like dyslexia and dysgraphia. Also, communication difficulties like stuttering.
And so we talk through that, and kids get a little bit of a simulation of what it's like to have a learning difference. And so, anyway, my good friend
Mine, Marian Nichols, she's a dyslexia teacher at our elementary school. And she had some excellent resources for parents. If they don't feel like they're getting the support that they need right now at home, specifically with dyslexia or other learning differences, she recommended Learning Ally. And there are some audio books
that may be helpful. So that's Learning Ally a Ll y. And then also reaching out to teachers and asking about their child's accommodations and how they can be used with at home learning, reduced work assignments, possibly extra time on deadlines, things like that. Just really communicating with with your child's teacher. She also mentioned there's an app called Nessie ne SS y and they are offering free subscriptions to
Schools right now for for online learning and their games. So kids enjoy them. They're a lot of fun. And then finally, her recommendation was if the work is bringing the parent and the child to tears,
just take a step back, take a break, and come back to it later. Because Later, we'll probably be better.
And the last thing you want to do is work through tears. So
those were some of the resources that she had shared with me. I'm a physical therapist. I'm not
a dyslexia, dyslexia teacher. But I do think those are pretty good resources that she shared. Yeah, thank you so much for kind of being this wealth of knowledge and joining us and giving us all of these will definitely look into them and link them to make sure that our listeners have access to them, but
I mean, just hearing from you all of these resources that exist is already even for myself kind of a learning opportunity to realize how much there really is out there. So thank you for making it a little easier for us to access that.
As we kind of come to the end of our session, just want to ask a final question. As a parent, you know, there's this new normal for online learning in our districts or teachers, we're all trying to figure out
this new normal. And so what do you hope that districts and teachers are keeping in mind as they design online learning experiences?
I think just making sure to keep human interaction a part of the learning.
I think we crave that, you know, we really do crave it and we crave connection
and that's really taking a hit right now.
Now, and so really incorporating that my sister in law has been doing something that I really love. She has been making calls with her daughter, to people who are experts in different areas, friends who may be really good gardeners or
you know, my husband, they called him the other day because he knows a lot about Argentina. And so they called and said, Hey, can you can you educate us a little bit tell us about Argentina. And he did. He shared some of some knowledge and some stories about his travels there. And that was a great way of providing interaction but also learning. So that's another good tip. I think just to keep in mind that just reaching out to people and knowing maybe where they
Shine their light and how can they help educate based on where their interests are.
So I just think keeping interaction in mind as it is important.
My, my first grader, one of the things that her teacher has her do is check in every day just with a little video telling her about maybe if there's anything exciting that happened. And I think that's my daughter's favorite thing is just being able to to share and interact. So
I guess that would be my biggest piece of advice. Yeah, that's, that's great. And that's what we keep hearing. So I love this idea of calling almost experts who have expertise on whether it's travel or a different skill set. I love that. That is something I'm walking away with after this call. Thank you so much for sharing.
I'm joining us today
and being vulnerable. I do hope that you know, it gets easier as time goes on. But I'm just want to say and express my gratitude as you navigate this new normal. Thank you Georgie. I really appreciate you having me. And I guess if there's any closing, important theme it would be just to give yourself some grace. And
yes, I know this is a really difficult time for everyone, but take a deep breath, and just try to do the best you can. I think I always just tell my girls, did you do your best? And if they say, Yes, I did, then all right, then you know you did your best and just really try to
remember and be mindful of the important thing and that's keeping each other safe and well during this time. Absolutely. Thank you for
So much for sharing and being here today. Thank you.
For all of our parent and community members listening today. We hope that today's message resonated with you. Our hope is that you found at least one piece of applicable insight. Just starting with one small change can make all the difference. Remember to lean into self compassion during this time, you are not alone. At Education Opens Doors, we believe in supporting our community. by navigating to education opens doors.org you will find a resource hub for teachers, parents and students around at home learning, college and career readiness, course subject areas and much more.
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