Kids,  Personal

Why We Decided to Return to At-School Learning

Jer is a teacher in public school and one of our children is in special education, so we’re all for the socialization and valuable services that school provides. Unfortunately, it’s also a “cesspool of disease” haha. Not a very good combo for my family who are high-risk for COVID-19.

Jer has asthma and high blood pressure, and all of my kids have had respiratory issues in years past. Our children were all born before 37 weeks (when lungs fully develop), so their symptoms are more severe for viral infection. My kids required breathing treatments with medication, multiple visits to the hospital to manually clear fluid and mucus from airways, staying overnight as a machine pumps oxygen into them because they were working too hard to breathe. I know what it feels like to be a terrified parent with a loved one on a ventilator hearing them struggle and wheezing. Already having these experiences with how a simple virus (or multiple at once) could lead to a scary hospital visit, I wasn’t going to risk them catching this new one.

It was a source of great distress for me worrying about my little family and not feeling like I could do anything about it. I took my concerns to the Lord, and asked Him what we should do. He comforted me with a wonderful promise that has given me hope. My children would be protected and it would depend on me—my obedience, my following the spirit, my diligence. This promise was predication on my actions; I had not received a promise like that before. I felt a big responsibility in figuring out exactly what was best for my family, with the faith to overcome my fears.

We decided to put L into remote learning to lessen exposure to our family. L is our 9 year old daughter who is a very good student and independent learner. She had already ended her 3rd grade year virtually, so she was used to it; however, most of the year she had been in class and had an established relationship with all of her classmates and school staff. The transition to online learning was a little rough since the school district was still figuring the technological aspects out, and I am a poor substitute for an actual teacher.

I finally wrote an email towards the end of the term asking for a switch in teachers, which I had never done before and was a last resort for us. Our experience in online learning was SO negative compared to our friends in the same district. We didn’t crack her math book open once, Zoom sessions kept getting canceled last minute, L was getting discouraged with how long her assignments were taking and having to redo everything because it didn’t save or submit correctly. I spent hours with her redoing math word problems that all built on each other, and got little to no support or feedback when we asked about technical questions like blank pages or broken links. We felt alone in it. At one point, Zoom classes had not been held for 2 weeks and we had no idea what to expect for the day, what assignments L was supposed to complete, whether L did them correctly, nor any social interaction with her class or teacher. Online learning requires being on top of things, and I figured it would get better if we just had a different teacher.

My request for a change in teacher was denied. The district was hiring new teachers (no kidding, they had way too many students assigned to each online teacher so there was no way the kids were getting the help they needed). Even after they hired and trained all of those new teachers, they still said we couldn’t have a new one. Although we knew it was not a good fit from the beginning, it wasn’t until months of failure and frustration where we stuck it out for another term that I went to them again and they finally listened.

Our new teacher was seriously an amazing instructor. Not only did he have a ton of experience, but he also was well-versed in technology and super fun. L’s homepage was splashed with Peanuts cartoons and daily encouragement. He got to know L individually, held Zoom sessions daily plus they had small reading groups, they did interesting projects like researching their favorite animal which L loved, and he showed them exactly how to submit assignments and practiced math with them so that she knew what to do. It was wonderful!!! The parent teacher conference was him gushing over what a model student L is, and that she does amazing work and any teacher is lucky to have her.

Right as the term was ending, L opened up to us. She basically had a breakdown and we became concerned with her emotional well being. She seemed to be having the internal struggles that most kids who are isolated feel. Even though the deadline was just past for switching to in-school learning, we called around to try to get her back into school for next term. I’m so grateful how accommodating and understanding the staff has been.

We realize now that moving during the pandemic took L away from all of her friends. She told me she missed seeing familiar faces. It’s true that everyone was a familiar face to her at her old school! Her cousins ate lunch with her; the principal, all her past teachers, the lunch ladies, and even the janitor loved her since Kindergarten and knew her by name… We regularly played with neighborhood kids because we lived only a building over and shared the green common areas. She made a lot of special memories at our old home. Isolating in a new place meant she didn’t get to meet any new friends, not even neighbor kids since we were rarely out at the same time as others as the weather got cold. We only attended church digitally, so she didn’t get to meet anyone there. Turns out our occasional digital playdates with old friends wasn’t enough for our Social Butterfly’s needs. Friends and being included are your whole world in 4th grade.

Evidence came out that kids were getting sick from home and interacting in places outside of school—they weren’t catching COVID-19 at school, especially where everyone wore masks and social distanced appropriately. I felt the confidence I needed to safely send her back.

I know now that school is not just about academic learning, and I’m trying not to let my practical and protective side deprive our daughter. For our daughter’s mental and emotional well being, in-school learning would give her the chance to be with other kids her age and make new friends—safely.

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