The COVID-19 pandemic required some families to make tough choices on their children’s education this year.
Families had to decide what option to pursue if they were not able to allow their children to return to the school building this fall because of circumstances.
Jacob and Samantha Graven had that decision because Samantha’s father, who had been in the hospital since April, was going to be coming home in August and has poor health. They could not take a chance of their daughter, Zoey, bringing home the virus.
Like most other children, Zoey attended public school last year, and the Gravens watched as the schools fell into survival mode, moving education from their closed buildings to remote learning with little notice. Before the schools presented options for remote learning this year, the Gravens had decided how they would approach this school year.
“After trying what they had come up with for that last nine weeks last year, we decided even if they did offer remote learning, we wanted to go with an institution that is used to this format,” Jacob said. They wanted to find a school that had been doing remote learning for years and had it down pat.
He said they want to support local schools as much as possible, but local schools are new to remote learning. “We wanted to go with something that had a good foundation if we were going to be doing the online learning.
“It wasn’t an easy decision by any means,” Samantha said. “It really came down to what’s best for and the circumstances we are facing right now with the COVID. It’s tough, whether you chose to do remote or virtual home-schooling or sending your child to school. It’s a tough decision to make.”
The Gravens chose an online public school offered through the Pearson Connections Academy, home-based in Elkhart. Zoey would still have teachers, see her classmates, do lessons and get to connect with a counselor once a week. It sounded pretty good, and the Gravens moved forward with their plan and Zoey started Aug. 19.
“It’s been a challenge. It’s different. It’s trying to figure out what is the best way for her to learn and for us to help her succeed,” Samantha said.
“I think one of the biggest challenges would have to be trying to fit into that role as teacher, and Zoey being willing to accept that mentally, ‘OK, you’re the teacher,’” Jacob said. “She likes the idea of having a different teacher from a brick and mortar school, so the idea of Grandma and Dad being the teachers definitely is different. There are times, too, especially in the beginning, where she missed the idea of regular school. For us, the fact that things were changed, the fact that things were different, the fact we all kind of expected early on for this to be all said and done with the COVID and that her third grade would start normally and it didn’t, there were all those kinds of expectations that didn’t really happen. I think that started to weigh in early on, but we’re getting used to it and getting used to a routine. Routine is definitely important.”
The fact that so much education was lost in the last nine weeks of last school year made the start of this year difficult.
“They are reviewing things that she never learned because of missing nine weeks,” Jacob said. “We tried, and the first couple of weeks we were able to do pretty well at the end of last year, and then with (Samantha’s) dad going into the hospital and all of that happening, schooling had to take a back burner. She definitely did not get as much as she would have gotten if she was in regular school. So there is a huge gap to fill there, and we’re still in the process of filling that gap to get her back to where she should be as a third-grader.”
Thankfully, the Gravens said, they have videogames for math and reading and English that are fun and engaging. These are helping Zoey to fill those gaps.
“We are supplementing with that, as even the school recommends that for filling in, so she is having a way of enjoying what she is learning and practicing in a way that she actually wants to do, versus being forced to do. So that has helped,” Jacob said.
The Gravens said they have friends choosing to do the same thing with schooling. The creates a community with whom to share the struggles.
“Everyone is having those teething pains, those problems,” Jacob said.
As time has passed, the family is finding their routine, and it is getting easier. Zoey is doing well.
“We think we’re getting the hang of it. Routine is setting in. She is asking the questions. For the last few weeks or so we can tell she is getting comfortable with it, and they are learning how to help her thorough the difficulties … and she is up and ready for school.”
Regardless, they said, while they will finish up the school year online, they are looking forward to COVID-19 being over and getting back to a school building, unless things change drastically.
“As far as her enjoying this and being able to self-motivate, they said to expect with elementary school students you are going to sit there as long as they are there, making sure they stay on task. If she becomes more self-motivated and really starts to enjoy it, we may continue on with this. But in general, I think we are all looking forward to the idea of feeling it’s safe to return to brick and mortar,” Samantha said. “This is just for this year. That is how we kept thinking about it and looking at it. With everything going on and the health issues we’re eventually having to deal with here at home, this was just the solution for this year. She talks about missing her friends and classmates, and all of that is perfectly normal, and we want for her to be able to do that next year for sure.”
“This whole experience has definitely helped us to appreciate the roll of teachers in our society,” Jacob said.
“We’ve always appreciated her teachers,” Samantha said. “We value them much more now.”
Some student were not forced to do remote or virtual learning but felt it was the best for them now.
Olivia Martinez, 15, started her sophomore year in remote learning rather than in the halls of Parsons High School.
“Basically, we asked her what her preference was. I work in the health care field, and so I was kind of iffy on it. We felt like if she wants to go that’s fine, and we will do the best we can to keep her safe. If she wants to stay home, that’s fine, too. She made the decision to do the remote learning,” said her mother, Erin Martinez, of the decision that she, her husband, Ramon, and daughter Olivia made.
“Her personality lends to that. She’s always one of those people that wants to do the best she can and get it done. She likes to excel as much as possible. … That was a big part of our decision — was she going to be able to do the work and stay on task.”
Being in health care, Erin said she anticipated that in the fall they would see the normal increase in upper respiratory illnesses, though COVID would be on everybody’s mind with that adding to the potential for illness.
She understood some people’s trepidations.
Erin struggled in the beginning with the possibility of her bringing home COVID from the clinic where she works because they never stopped seeing patients. They just tried to mitigate the risks.
“We’re still mitigating that risk. I’m, I don’t want to say used to it, but I think that initial panic has diminished, where for teachers this is a brand new experience for them. I definitely felt for people in education when school started, because they probably felt how I felt March 16 when everything shut down,” Erin said.
If her daughter felt more comfortable at home, she understood.
Olivia seems to be doing well with remote learning. She still gets a little socialization, while practicing social distancing and wearing a mask, though mostly she does FaceTime with friends to stay connected.
“Overall she has adapted, probably better that the adults have,” Erin said.
“I’m still watching to see how all that turns out. If it turns out we didn’t need to worry and we overreacted, OK,” she said. “I also understand there are some families that don’t have that option. It has to be individual for each family.”