When Anne Arundel County announced its decision to extend virtual schooling through the first semester, many area families found themselves making difficult decisions about the school year ahead . . . again.
Parents are looking for creative solutions to ensure children receive the tools and support they need to thrive, while also ensuring that parents, especially those working in or out of the home are afforded the support, structures, and time they need to continue providing for their families financially. Even for families with one parent home full time, the emotional and mental toll it takes on parents who have found themselves thrust into the role of full-time teacher is enough to leave many feeling like they are teetering on the edge of complete chaos.
Suddenly, faced with another semester of schooling at home, parents were bombarded with new ideas on how to face the upcoming year. Terms like pods and microschools popped up, and home tutors and homeschooling are starting to seem like viable options, especially to the parents who need to return to work, or are already working outside the home and counted on their kids being in school in the fall.
Some families are coping easier than others, handling the news with a heavy dose of humor. When asked how they plan to approach e-learning several parents jokingly replied with things like lots of wine, noise cancelling headphones, free reign of YouTube, and the occasional sob sesh in the corner.
The biggest trend for fall is to form a pod with friends or neighbors. In these pods, a group of several kids who may be of similar ages would get together and do their daily schoolwork either under a parent’s eye, or even with a hired tutor. The groups might stay at one place every day if there’s a parent in the group who works from home or is already a stay-at-home parent. Or the families may rotate between households and adults throughout the week.
For many low income families with two working parents or single parent households who cannot afford time off or costly child care, they are hoping to find friends and community members to share the burden, and hoping the county may be able to pull through with programs to assist those who need the support and structure of the public schools the most.
Other families are looking at hiring tutors, either retired teachers or college students looking for extra income to offer private of small group instruction. The idea of forming learning pods or small groups is an intriguing concept for some however the logistics prove daunting including following county regulations, seeking same grade level students, finding adequate supervision, coordinating schedules, and ensuring the health and safety of those involved.
Tough for Teachers, too
Many county educators are finding themselves in dual roles as educator to their own children and virtual teacher to their students. Jaime Lang, an AACPS teacher, pulled her children out of preschool and plans to homeschool this year as she felt it was the safest option for them. “I wanted virtual learning this fall.” She says. “No option here feels right, but this feels the least wrong.”
Caitlyn Johnson left teaching last year to focus on the birth of her second child. Even so, the teacher in her still felt compelled to offer support to parents in any way she could. She started a Facebook group called ‘Annapolis Kindergarten Office Hours’ where she hopes to provide insight and advice, answer questions, and share pertinent resources to parents of kindergarten students, whether they are doing homeschool, private school, or county-offered e-learning. One thing she wanted to convey to parents is this, “They are still just kids, no matter what it’s going to be okay, it’s just going to be a different version of okay than we are used to.”
Brannan Armstrong, an admin of a local Facebook group for Crofton area moms, has helped organize a tutor and nanny pool where families seeking tutors or nannies as well as those interested in providing these services can connect.
The homeschool population has also become more prominent with many families choosing to withdraw their children completely and homeschool using various curriculums and programs. While other families have decided on a micro-schooling approach for this year. In a microschool, kids of varying ages and abilities are led by a certified teacher through an accredited homeschooling program approved by the state board of education. It’s one step up from pod education, in which students would still be following along with their school’s requirements.
More Challenges for Children with Special Needs
For parents of children with special needs requiring additional services, this difficult time has been made all the more challenging. Amy Stoddard, single mom of three, has one child on the spectrum and is still awaiting word on his school reopening. Her 16-year-old is able to help with the 10-year-old’s school work if needed while she works as a nurse.
Another local mom who also has a child on the autism spectrum typically relies on his 504 plan for additional in school support. “I will be using a very specific visual schedule,” she says. “This will detail times I am not available for him to interrupt.”
Regardless of what approach families take to education this year, there is no shortage of confusion and anxiety. We all want to be able to get back to normal as quickly as possible but in the interim, the best thing we can do is to rely on one another, to respect each other’s choices, to help where we can, to let go of unrealistic expectations, and to give ourselves, our neighbors, our educators, and our children copious amounts of grace.
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