Across Metro Atlanta, school has been in session for nearly a full semester and many parents have had to scramble to find alternatives to traditional in-person schooling if they opted to not send their children back to school or their local school district chose to adopt a virtual learning strategy.
Living through a pandemic has changed various aspects of life as many have known it. Wearing masks, social distancing, and working from home have quickly become new normals for millions of people in the region. Children’s education and learning arrangements seem to be no different.
Finding the right option for their families while also factoring in demanding workloads and other new duties have also added difficulty to working parents.
Now, that Atlanta Public Schools will reopen with the option for in-person learning in January 2021, with students returning to schools in phases as early as late January through early February, many Metro Atlanta parents now have the option of whether to continue with virtual learning or to send their children back into schools where they can continue virtual learning on-site or meet for face-to-face instruction in classrooms.
Parents who intend to send their students back into the classroom must submit an intent-to-return declaration form to the district by Monday, Dec. 21. Otherwise, students will be enrolled in the learning model most recently selected by their parents.
“We know that some students have a greater need for face to face instruction than others,” said Lisa Herring, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, in a Dec. 4 letter to parents. “Virtual learning has been successful for some while challenging for others. We trust that each parent or guardian will make a decision that best fits the needs of their child and the safety of the community.”
Like most parents, Ciara Glover researched and weighed all of her options before ultimately deciding on something that would work best for her son and her family while also balancing the complications of working from home.
Granted, homeschooling and virtual learning are not entirely new concepts; however, these two practices have emerged as the trend for parents continuing their children’s education while also practicing the recommended CDC guidelines for COVID-19.
“I had to weigh the benefits and the costs,” she continued. “I found that not all child care services are not the same. Some sites had a higher rate of canceling at the last minute, but I was very fortunate to find one that had a very good reputation.”
Paralleling and drawing similarities from traditional in-person learning and adapting them into virtual learning and homeschooling is a method that has been working for Glover.
“Schools closing really forced us to adopt something that would work at home,” Glover explained. “We tried to stay as close to the school’s schedule as possible and then adapted it to fit our child’s needs. We kept things like the same morning learning time, snack breaks, and lunch breaks. We kept the general routine to the school.”
Getting children to adapt to a new way of learning and interacting with one another, especially when they’re already used to one way, has been tricky at times; in fact, the whole ordeal has had its share of discouraging moments and has oftentimes presented Glover with unforeseen challenges.
“(My son) is at an age where social skills are really important, and they’re developing, and I can find support for teaching him academics, but I can’t find a substitute for peers. It’s something that keeps me up and I’m constantly trying to think of safe and creative ways to adjust,” Glover admitted. “(We have scheduled) virtual playdates and one friend he would play with outdoors, with masks on. I welcome hearing what other parents are doing because this presents one of the strongest factors in why going back to school should be on the table.”
Like Glover, many parents have even opted for hiring in-home learning assistants to help navigate their children’s learning day or to help guide their children’s learning pods. Learning pods are small groups of students, normally no more than three to 10 that learn together in person yet still outside of the classroom.
“Finding a learning assistant during COVID-19 was way different than it was pre-COVID-19,” Glover said. “I was extremely apprehensive to let someone into my home when there’s a serious airborne disease out there.
Glover admitted that she also considered enrolling her son into a learning pod but found it difficult to connect with already formed groups, especially when many groups had been formed across class lines.
“I was open to the idea of the pods but I found that when people were scrambling to get a plan in August, pods were easily formed by families that were already connected to other families that they knew and trusted, families that were better resourced, families with similar schedules or families clustered in neighborhoods made it easier to find pod members.
“Some neighborhoods had Facebook pages that required you to enter your zip code before being approved to find pods in that area. Watching that and knowing racism and classism are factors, were added stressors.”
Even as Glover considers allowing her child to return to an in-person instruction setting, she admitted that she worries whether young school-aged children like her own will be able to properly social distancing and that school personnel will be able to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Trusting children to follow a task as simple as keeping on a mask while out in public or at school can be burdensome. They’ve never had to experience anything like this just as most adults haven’t experienced anything like this, so motivating them by incorporating ways to help them follow through can be helpful.
“Back in August the cases were still really high and I wasn’t convinced that my child could keep a mask on all day,” Glover said. “I was concerned with him catching it or one of our family members catching it and bringing it to the house.
“We did explain the importance of wearing his mask. We talked in age-appropriate ways of keeping people healthy and keeping himself healthy,” she added. “One of his play friends was further along in understanding that so she was a really great role model in that aspect. Family members also found these fun masks that he really liked. We started with small stretches and then built up to longer stretches at a time.”
In her letter to parents, Herring assured them that the district has adopted a four-point plan of action to inhibit the spread of the coronavirus. Those steps, which is a part of her vision she has themed, “Return + Learn,” include Plan, Process, People, and Protect.
“‘Plan’ involves our three learning models: 1) Site-Based Virtual Learning, 2) Face-to-Face, and 3) Atlanta Virtual Academy,” she explained. “‘Process’ is our deliberate schedule in how we bring staff and students back into our buildings. ‘People’ involve providing our teachers and staff with the guidance, work conditions, and information on health and safety measures that will prepare them for a successful reopening in January. ‘Protect’ means we will continue to work proactively to keep our students and staff safe in this COVID-19 environment.”