It takes a village to raise a child, but how does that adage work in today’s pandemic society?

With more families opting for online learning during COVID-19, conversations swirled among faculty and staff members from the UCF College of Community Innovation and Education — many of them parents.

One theme kept coming up: Parents and students needed help.

So they came up with a partial solution: The Parents as Teachers Hotline, which is available free for parents who may need assistance in their child’s K-12 education this school year.

“We aren’t taking the place of teachers by any sense, but if we can support the parents as they’re working with the teachers during this time, we want to help and be part of the process.” — Pamela “Sissi” Carroll, College of Community Innovation and Education dean

“We want to be a resource for our community’s school systems,” says Pamela “Sissi” Carroll, the college’s dean, a professor and a former K-12 classroom teacher. “We aren’t taking the place of teachers by any sense, but if we can support the parents as they’re working with the teachers during this time, we want to help and be part of the process.”

A parent whose child is struggling to understand a concept or remain motivated or focused while learning online can contact the hotline by phone at 407-238-0687 or email at [email protected]
 to be connected with one of 35 UCF faculty members. These faculty members have expertise across all K-12 subject matters, as well as in special education, student behavior and education for gifted students.

All questions received through the hotline Monday through Friday will be answered within 24 hours. Questions received after 5 p.m. Friday will be returned on Monday.

Stepping Up to Serve

Once the idea of the hotline was green-lighted, administrative coordinator Sandra McCall, who helped spearhead many of the logistics of the project along with executive assistant Kelli Morales, sent a survey to faculty and staff members to gauge interest and availability in volunteering for the project.

“The response was overwhelming,” she says.

McCall says some faculty members offered their assistance every day, whenever needed.

One staff member offered to help translate for Haitian-Creole families and another said he could help advise in Navy Junior ROTC assignments. A communications professional offered to monitor the phone line. Everyone wanted to play a part in answering the call to serve.

“UCF is Orlando,” McCall says. “We don’t want parents and students to feel like they are alone. We recognize that our schools and educators are on the front lines providing support to families, and our goal is to provide an added resource as everyone responds to the pandemic. Our college has always partnered with Central Florida schools. The hotline is continuing that work. We are here to help.”

Advice to Parents

Associate lecturer Taylar Wenzel ’11EdD, who specializes in elementary education, is one of the faculty members involved.

She says her friends and family members without education backgrounds often turn to her for advice on how to best help their children succeed, so she knew immediately she wanted to be part of an initiative that could have a larger reach.

“The idea of using our resources to help families during this time aligns with the goals of our college,” she says of the hotline. “I think there is real potential for support and impact.”

In addition to the classes she will teach this semester at UCF, she is also the mother to two toddlers and a 13-year-old, so she can empathize with parents juggling multiple roles.

“We know as educators that teaching in general is a demanding profession; to teach in a pandemic is exceptionally demanding,” Wenzel says. “Taking on that new role as a parent can really be a challenge, especially while also supporting the household and maintaining a job. There is certainly potential for parents to feel discouraged or overwhelmed, and we don’t want parents to feel that way.”

Her advice to parents as they get started this school year: Focus on one goal at a time, create a calm work space, build a schedule that works for your family, embrace open dialogue with your child’s teacher, and remember to breathe.

“As teaching and learning at home becomes more routine and we see the success of the goals we set and meet, we’re all going to feel more confident,” she says.

And if all else fails — have the hotline on speed dial.