This post was written by Liz Faria.
For the past few months, every parent I know has been anxiously awaiting an announcement from their district on what school will look like this fall. This “hold your breath and panic” mode has been on full display in my social media feed, in my group texts, and when I bump into other parents at the grocery store. It’s all anyone’s talking about, which is not surprising with so much conflicting information and constantly changing plans. Last week’s school committee meeting was practically Must-See TV in my town, and tonight, there is a protest – and counter protest! – related to our school’s re-opening plans.
In my district, they announced that there would be two options for the fall: hybrid and full remote learning. The hybrid model will be two days a week in school, with masks and social distancing, and the other three days will be remote. We’ve heard that remote learning days won’t be like what we had in the spring. This time, attendance will be taken, teachers will be live-teaching for part of the day, and grades will be given. In short, it will be real school, just not in school. We know the kids will be broken into two groups, but nobody knows what “cohort” their child is in, which makes it hard to plan for little things, like, say, your job and child care. The hybrid plan is also assuming there is not a last minute surge in cases, or that the teacher’s union doesn’t block the plan. Everything feels very unsettled, and it would not surprise me at all if at the 11th hour everything gets changed.
For the fully remote option, the school was planning to hire an outside vendor, but after parents complained, the district reconsidered. The town is now offering a fully remote plan taught by local teachers, but since this is a new development, it seems like local teachers will be pulling off some kind of magic trick to make it happen.
For every parent who is mortified that anyone would consider sending their child into a crowded building, there’s another parent who cannot fathom keeping their child at home next year, and sees no legitimate reason to do so. Nobody can agree on the best course of action for our kids. My head spins every time I think about it, but we needed to make a decision for our family.
We are going with the hybrid model. Here’s why…
My husband and I decided to do the hybrid plan for our 1st grader (about 85% of local families opted for hybrid, and 15% for remote). COVID case numbers in our town are relatively low. We live in Massachusetts, which has generally done a good job of containing the virus (although with so many colleges in Boston, I fear that numbers will start to surge again soon). Our town’s numbers are low enough that it meets the threshold considered safe to open schools, so I feel good about that.
We also have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, and for the last 5 months, we’ve gone without any childcare, trying to work from home while managing three young kids. It doesn’t feel sustainable, practically speaking or financially speaking (my work hours are way down), and it’s certainly not good for our family’s mental and emotional well-being.
Plus, my 6-year-old loves school. When the shutdowns started, he was just at the beginning of his school career. He never even got to finish Kindergarten, a fact that saddens me in a way he’s too young to appreciate. I want him to have an in-school experience, and I feel that the local data indicates that it’s safe enough for him to have that. Plus, I don’t have that same apocalyptic vision of school that some parents are imagining. I think it will look different and there will be challenges, but kids are resilient and adaptable. I think my son will enjoy being in school, amongst his peers, masks and all.
I hope I’m right.
Here’s how we’re planning to make it work.
The hybrid plan comes with its own challenges. We don’t know what days my son will be attending school, which, as a parent, I really wish the schools would announce. Parents have very little time to cobble together child care, and the clock is ticking. With the district making it clear that school expectations will be higher than in the spring, I realize that I can’t just wing it on remote days and hope for the best. It was one thing for my son to miss a few months at the end of Kindergarten, but it’s another for him to miss a year of 1st grade.
1) I’m setting up designated work spaces.
I’m busy getting organized so that we are in a good spot to handle the year. For starters, I created a portable student work space involving a bit of foam core (pictured above) which is just what we needed to create a special ‘room’ within a room for my 6-year-old. He’s very excited about it and I figure, whatever we can do to make this abnormal situation feel special, I’m all in. I also decided to set-up a designated classroom in the basement. The basement isn’t finished, but there’s still a lot we can do to make it nice and functional. Having this as a project is actually really motivating for me. I think if it’s a nice, cheerful space, it will be much easier to spend a lot of time there, and to feel enthusiastic about school.
2) I’m teaming up with a neighbor whose kid is in my son’s grade.
We’re teaming up with a neighbor whose daughter is in my son’s class, and is one of his best friends. My friend and I are planning to tag team the supervision duties, so that we each take on one of the remote learning days, and split the third day. That will really help in terms of getting our other responsibilities taken care of, and allow us time to work. The local YMCA is also talking about offering a program to supervise kids on the remote days, so that might be something we consider for one day a week.
3) I’m putting my younger kids in daycare and preschool.
My younger kids are re-starting day care and preschool this week. I kept them out over the summer to track the case counts, and my feeling is that this is about as safe as it’s going to get until there’s a vaccine. I can’t fathom keeping them home this school year, while trying to work and also help my older son with his remote learning days. I know I don’t have the ability to manage all of that, and I don’t think it’s in their best interest either.
4) I will continue working, but scale back hours as necessary.
My work schedule is luckily flexible, and I’m going to try to do as much work as possible while I’m overseeing my son’s schoolwork. It’s hard to say how much is actually doable, but there’s really no way for me to know until we get going. One unfortunate side effect of the pandemic is how many parents – largely moms – are having to either stop working or reduce their hours, which will impact families for years to come.
5) I’m treating remote days as much like normal school days as possible.
I am fully planning to have my son get up, dressed and ready for school every day, whether he’s going to be in the elementary school building or in our basement. We’re going to be packing his lunch box every day regardless, and he will eat with his friend, on a schedule, just like in regular school. I think I’ll lose my mind if I have to cook meals in the middle of the day, and I want it to feel as routine and normal as possible. I think these little details will help with that.
None of this is going to be easy, and I’m really not sure how full days of remote learning will go for a 6-year-old. This isn’t ideal for any of us. When I start to think too much about it, I feel sad for the things that I know my kids are going to miss. But all I can do right now (all any of us can do right now), is try to make the decisions that work best for our family, and then carry out our plans with as much of a can-do attitude as possible.
We’re still in a marathon. And even if our stamina is flagging, there’s no way to go but straight ahead.
Liz Faria is a Mommy Shorts contributor and a licensed independent clinical social worker. She’s been working with children and families for 19 years and chronicles her own tales of motherhood on her blog A Mothership Down.