Do you have the kind of life where there’s never just one thing going on? If so, I can relate.
It’s never just one thing.
In March, I found my hands full with the loss of a friend. I was sitting in a bar with friends, sharing memories, when the news of the NBA shutdown broke.
Before we knew it, the schools were closed. New York City was one of the first cities hit hard. It only took a week or two into remote learning for us to realize everyone was in way over their heads. Kids were too distracted by trying to work the tech to pay attention to the content. Some teachers weren’t faring much better.
Summer gave us time to regroup and see where we were. During that time, our co-parenting team decided to move ahead with a change of schools that we had initially planned to wait another year for. The situation seemed to be under better control in our new school district than the limbo New York City public school students were (and still are) facing.
The change of routine was not an easy decision for three adults to make, especially in the middle of the health crisis. Still, it was what seemed right for the little dude. So we figured out logistics to make everything work for everyone, and we all agreed just in time for day one.
Our guy was ready to start third grade. We still weren’t sure if we were ready for the return to in-person learning. We got the facts and made the decision. We’ve learned a lot along the way.
Before the school year even began, the work started for teachers and administrators. That work required parents to help, so there were meetings. I mean, a lot of meetings. There were at least two video calls open to parents each week in the last month leading up to school.
During these meetings, we learned the latest details of what processes would be implemented to allow reopening to happen. Class sizes were small enough for elementary school students to go back full time and still be socially distanced throughout the building.
For a family that was new to the district, we were thoroughly impressed. Outdoor learning, upgraded cleaning and ventilation measures, and temperature checks were among the defenses implemented.
That said, they were very honest about expectations. They revealed that experts consulted in the reopening plan said that going a month without issue would be a milestone to be proud of.
We were nervous at first, but we never let the kid know it. We focused on keeping him excited about starting a new school, which was not easy news to get amid not having seen any other kids in months. To his complete credit, he came around and has embraced it wholeheartedly.
That said, it was also a little exhausting. Most new measures require a lot of effort from families as well as the school staff.
Before day one, we had to get supplies labeled and ready to go. This had additional layers to it. There were extra supplies, like masks and hand sanitizer. A backup mask had to be brought in addition to the mask the child was wearing in case anything happened to that mask.
There was also the extra step of labeling everything. Normally you just throw the kid’s name on notebooks and call it a day. This year, I broke out the label maker because everything needed to be labeled. The school couldn’t keep lost-and-found items because of concerns with sharing supplies, so they would get thrown away otherwise. That meant initialing 42 pencils after sharpening them.
Morning of, we got up and got ready. The school developed an app for parents to submit temperature and screening questions every morning. Kids taking the bus would get their temperature taken again before boarding. All kids would get another check at the entrances to the school building.
In the classroom, desks are spaced 6 feet apart. Kids keep a bin with their supplies under their desks. A bag on the back of the chair holds bags and coats. All students and teachers also have plastic desk shields, which come in handy when kids take masks off to eat lunch at their desks.
At first, it felt like a lot. But our child was finally displaying some real happiness, the likes of which we hadn’t seen in months. For our family, in-person learning difficulties were easy to deal with in exchange for some good social interaction that is as safe as it can possibly be. He was thriving, and things were getting easier for us each day.
We have to, of course, give credit to all the people at the school who are making this work, despite how hard they have to work. Our guy’s teacher, in particular, has been excellent. She had virtual meet-and-greets with each kid before the school year started. She also wrote them letters, timed to arrive on the first day of school, sharing information about her life and encouraging them to write back.
All the back-to-school events that would normally be going on are now virtual. We’ve received emails for virtual PTA meetings, a virtual open house, and more. We also had our first go at another fixture in the post-virus educational landscape: the remote learning practice day.
Once a month, for the foreseeable future, the kids will spend one Wednesday learning from home. It’s to make sure that the school is prepared to switch to remote learning in the event of any shutdowns. Kids have been practicing working on their school-issued devices during class time so that they won’t need the oversight some parents of remote learners have complained about.
I was pleasantly surprised at how it worked in practice. They stuck to the schedule flawlessly. The kids knew what they were doing and seemed as undistracted as third-graders could be.
It’s only a few weeks into the school year. We’re tired, but we’re satisfied in many ways with our experience. That said, we recognize the privilege of having a school district that can offer its students so much. Not every family around the country has that comfort to hold onto, but they most certainly should.
We’ve learned that education is so much bigger than sitting in a classroom and learning some basics. Now it’s time for us to honor it accordingly and make meaningful changes.