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Single, working mother of 5 juggles full-time overnight job and distance learning

Machelle Hamilton said after a full night's work, she comes home at 7 a.m., cooks breakfast, then gets right to helping her kids with online learning.

PORTLAND, Ore — Limited in-person instruction will be starting for some kids soon. But the majority of students in the Portland area are still distance learning.

The pandemic has been tough on many families, but it’s been especially hard on single, working parents who have had to juggle their jobs and helping their kids with online learning.

Despite the difficulty, Machelle Hamilton is managing to get it all done.

“I am 43 years old. I am a single mother of five. I have two children with disabilities and I have four currently in school,” she said.

She works the graveyard shift at a group home so she can be home with her kids during the day. It’s imperative for her to be available to help her kids with distance learning.

“My 9 and 7-year-old don’t really understand the breakout rooms," she said. "They’re not computer-savvy.” 

Credit: Machelle Hamilton
Machelle Hamilton with two of her young children

“If the parent or an adult is not there, it’s almost impossible for the smaller kids to be successful.”

To help her kids be successful, she helps create calendars for each of them, and she’s turned her hallway into a classroom-type area.

“They can go into the hallway and everything they need is in the hallway," she said. "Everybody has a calendar. I’m trying to train them to write down what their teacher needs them to do, due dates for things, because visually they see it and it’s easier for me to stay on task.” 

So on a typical day, after she gets off work at 7 a.m., the family has breakfast together, mom logs everyone into their online classes, then she’s slammed from about 9 until noon.

“Sometimes I’m in four rooms just going, trying to help my kids stay engaged,” said Hamilton.

Credit: Machelle Hamilton
Machelle Hamilton and her five children

She said her key to success is scheduling everything in her day. She said her kids are typically doing online school until noon. From noon until 1 p.m., the family gets to relax together.

Then the kids do some independent learning and homework while Hamilton plans dinner from 2:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.

“And there’s no TV in my house until after three o’clock,” Hamilton said.

By the time four o’clock rolls around, Hamilton said she is done with her day and goes to her bedroom to wind down. She uses her time before going to sleep, to make sure she knows everything that’s happening the next day.

“I make sure I’m in the bed at 6. I sleep ‘til 10,” said Hamilton. “I don’t navigate away from anything. You navigate away from one thing, it gets bumpy.” 

After she goes to sleep, her daughter helps with the other kids, but Hamilton is careful not to overwhelm her.

“These aren’t her children,” Hamilton noted.

Credit: Machelle Hamilton
Machelle Hamilton with her 18-year-old daughter

Despite the difficulty, she is making things work as best she can

“Especially single parents, it’s lonely,” she said.

But Hamilton is getting through it with her positivity, motivation, and help from community organizations like Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center. It is one of the community organizations involved in the Community Healing Initiative, known as CHI.

Hamilton said CHI has helped her family by bringing food, so they wouldn’t have to go to the food bank. The organization has also provided her with a laptop and internet gift cards to make sure she and her kids have connectivity.

She said she has relied on CHI’s help and because of the support, she doesn’t stress as much as she might without CHI’s assistance. 

Hamilton said if parents who are more privileged want a way to help others who are less privileged, an easy way is to give to organizations that help families that are in need.