By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
I’ve been at this mom gig for 18 years now, and I can tell you from experience that this is the weirdest back-to-school week I’ve ever seen. I find myself missing all those years when our biggest decision was what color lunchbox to get for the first day of school.
This year, because the coronavirus is like a bad rash that won’t leave, we’re in this bizarre back-to-school season full of decisions, new guidelines and “learning options” most of us don’t yet fully understand. But the upside is that our three kids were more than willing to go back to school – if for no other reason than it gives them a chance to see humans other than the parents they’ve been stuck with since March.
The learning options most schools are offering this year are: 1) In-person on-site instruction (aka regular school plus masks and safety precautions. 2) Blended learning (aka half regular school and half online classes). 3) Online only (aka, sit in front of your laptop and see teachers and classmates from the neck up.)
We didn’t plan it this way, but it worked out so that our three kids are each doing a different option. Here’s how it’s going so far:
In-person version: Even though he’s been going to school for a decade, our middle kid tells me school looks and feels different this year. With almost half his classmates learning from home, the students who attend in person must bring laptops or use a computer the school assigns to them. Instead of being on the same page, students are on the same screen. When teachers have two audiences to teach at the same time – one in person and one online – what else except the Internet can connect them and keep the class learning as a unit?
Even though lunch conversations and laughter in the hallways aren’t as doable this year, our son says it feels good to at least be in the same building with friends again – a welcome dose of normal after a summer of surreal.
Blended version: Three days a week, our 13-year-old daughter does school via laptop from her bedroom. The other two days, she goes to campus with her older brother. So far, this option seems to be the “happy medium” choice. On days when she’s learning from home, mornings are less hectic because the commute time is zero. And the only “classmates” who might distract her are our two dogs who wander by and ask for a belly rub.
But on the days when she goes to campus, she says it’s easier to ask questions and get help from a teacher who’s across the room instead of across town.
Online only: Our oldest son, the 18-year-old, didn’t choose it, but he is starting his freshman year of college online. The “independence day” he’d been looking forward to all summer hit the skids when his college announced it wouldn’t be bringing students to campus for the beginning of the fall semester because of the summer surge in Covid numbers.
Even though we understood it was the safest option, we were so disappointed that our firstborn – the one who’d already been robbed of a proper high school graduation ceremony – would have to once again miss out on a milestone. All those cool things we ordered for his first dorm room? They’re still sitting in Amazon boxes stuffed into a closet. Just waiting for the viral storm clouds to pass.
We’ve tried to make the best of it. We set up a makeshift office for him in the bonus room, so he’d have a dedicated place to Zoom into his online college courses. He says that, so far, the courses are interesting, and the professors are making it as interactive as possible. But I know it must be tough for a guy who was so ready for a new adventure to go to “Covid college” at a desk located roughly six steps from the bedroom where he’s been sleeping since he was a toddler.
No walks across a beautiful campus. No hangouts with new friends at the cafeteria. No parties. Hopefully, he’ll still have those experiences – eventually. But for now, he’s stuck here in pandemic purgatory, probably wondering if he’ll ever be rid of us.
With all three options, school is definitely different this year. But with reading, writing and a fast computer router, we’ll find our way through it.