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Gilbert parents of 12 manage online learning during COVID-19 pandemic


This story is part of KTAR News’ “Pandemic in Arizona: One Year In” special report on 92.3 FM, online and our app.

PHOENIX — Many Arizona families had to adjust to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. But one Gilbert family had to transform their entire house into a school so 11 of their kids could learn from home.

“I think we went into it trying just to have the best attitude we could and do what we could with what we had,” Kate Hursh told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Kate and George Hursh have 12 adopted children, ranging from 5 to 14 years old. All but one are in school. They attend four different schools within Gilbert Public Schools and started out the academic year doing online learning.

“At first we tried everyone at our kitchen table,” Kate said. “We have a really large kitchen table that can seat all 14.”

They also had a few desks in other parts of the house and even somewhat of a principal’s office.

“If you weren’t doing your work when you were supposed to be doing it, then you got to come and sit in mom and dad’s room and do it with a little bit more supervision,” she said.

The schools provided all the kids’ laptops, but there were issues with the internet.

“The Wi-Fi was a big challenge for us,” Kate said. “As you can imagine, 11 online simultaneously — my husband trying to work from home and do his Zoom calls. At points in the day, we were like, ‘Okay everyone needs to log off right now because it’s really important dad has a job.”’

Kate and George tried boosting the internet speed multiple times, but there was only so much they could do.

Another challenge was keeping the kids engaged, despite teachers putting forth great lesson plans. It was tempting for the kids to go off and play games.

After a few months of online learning, the Hursh kids transitioned to hybrid learning and alternated the days they attended classes in person. They’ve been back in the classroom full-time as of Feb. 1.

“Now that they’re in person and able to have a little bit more accountability for actually doing the work at the school, things have improved dramatically,” Kate said.

Lizzie Hursh, Kate’s 13-year-old daughter, said seeing her friends and teachers was what she missed the most about going to school. She also feels like she’s learning more now that she’s able to be on campus.

“The online schooling was a little difficult for me because some of the assignments our teachers assigned to us was confusing, and they weren’t there to explain it more,” Lizzie said.

Kate has only been notified once that one of her children might have been exposed at school to someone who had COVID-19.

“This tells me the safety measures that they have in place are working,” she said.

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