As we approach the end of summer here in the Midwest, it typically means an end to vacation and pool season, and a return to routines, bedtimes and school. This year, as we all know, is looking a little different.
Late last month, our children’s school asked us to make a difficult decision between sending them for a traditional in-person experience or spending the first semester in virtual learning. Despite our nervousness, electing to send them for in-person learning was the right decision for us. Our children thrive on interaction with others, enjoy their teachers and find comfort in this traditional routine. No one in our immediate family is particularly high risk, so we were able to make this choice.
Alas, our heavy decision was a moot point in the end, as a change was made about a week later to begin the fall term entirely virtual for all. I fully appreciate the health concerns and teacher ambivalence that went into making this difficult determination. So, that is where we are now.
Of course, this presents more decisions to make.
Many of the families in our school are households with two working parents. In fact, many are teachers themselves. We are now all busy weighing options for how to best navigate our career obligations and our children’s education taking place in the home. There are options like daycares and private programs with supervised virtual learning being offered in our community. We have been in discussions about pods and neighborhood groups working together to allow for a work and school balance. Many families will rely on extended family in the area (grandparents for the win!). Some parents will just buckle down and attempt to Do. It. All.
After evaluating all of the resources out there for this virtual learning time, we will likely do a combination of the last three. Leaning on our school community will be a viable option for us, as we are fortunate to have a great group of parents and friends. We will certainly rely on a grandparent or two in the area, perhaps having them take a day each week to supervise the virtual learning. I definitely recognize how fortunate we are to have grandparents locally, especially ones that have volunteered to help us out. We have not always lived near our family, and so I am fully aware that it is not always an option. Finally, on other days, we will just have to juggle both school and work. We did it this spring, and we can do it again…right?
Like with all things, practice makes perfect. So, I have been practicing the last few weeks what it will be like to have my kids back in school. I get up early, which is completely against my nature, by the way. The coffee consumption in our home has skyrocketed! I knock out email and one hard project before the kids get up and moving. In the nice weather, I take my laptop to the back patio and begin my work as the sun rises and the birds chirp, and it's actually pretty great.
During the school year, once the virtual learning begins, I am hoping to be email responsive and working on projects that require short bursts of focus during the school hours. I can simultaneously be available to keep the kids focused and provide technology support as they participate in the various types of virtual learning. Then, when the school day ends in early afternoon, work meetings will be back on and bigger projects can steer my focus until 5 or 6 p.m. This process will be a shared juggle with my spouse depending on the day and tasks at hand. I admit, it sounds like a long, tiring day for everyone. And then, somehow, dinner must appear!
All of this is challenging, but manageable, for us. For those essential workers, this is a much more difficult time to navigate. For those caring for sick family members, each day probably feels impossible.
However, even in our fortunate situation, this plan does not take into account the emotional impact of all of this. The new school year was always such an exciting time for me as a kid—the excitement of the list of classmates, the brand new school supplies, a fresh clean backpack and new sneakers. I have already seen the disappointment when we shared with our children that they would be starting off virtual, meeting their new teachers on a computer.
They are ever-resilient, though. They are hopeful for a return, and have been quick to adjust. We have tried to keep it positive with a new (old, but painted) desk, new backpacks and new school outfits. They want to look good for their Google meetings! I’m trying to plan something fun for first day of school—a small gift, fun breakfast, pictures on the front porch. And we just keep wearing our masks and washing our hands, hoping for a return to friends, teachers (and recess!) soon.
As school schedules around the country are so varying, I know some of you are already back in the thick of things. If you have tips to share, please post on our Facebook page or Instagram. It really does take a village, and we’d love to help our And She Writes community as much as possible!