After a five month break, the voices of kids will reverberate in school hallways again, but it won’t be a return to the way it was.
This week school districts across Chittenden County released plans for a hybrid learning schedule as schools reopen for the fall 2020 semester amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In many cases, students would go to school two days a week, have one day to participate in “synchronous” learning via video chat, and the other two days to complete assignments independently.
Parent reaction has been abundant and filling up social media spaces as families try to envision what this year will entail and how to adjust their lives around the new schedule.
Hybrid schedule puts strain on working parents
The topic getting perhaps the most comment in online community groups is how parents would handle the hybrid schedule.
Families where the parent or parents work outside the home or full-time at home — and in some cases are essential workers — have expressed difficulty managing a hybrid schedule.
“Households with two full-time working parents are in an untenable position,” Jennifer McDonald said. She is a lawyer and her husband is a business owner. Their 2nd grade daughter attends Allen Brook School in Williston and they have other children in daycare.
McDonald said remote learning assumes someone is at home who has the flexibility to teach their own children.
“Like many parents, we are scrambling to put together a plan for this year. We are looking at every option right now including additional childcare, partnering with other parents to take turns implementing lesson plans, and tutoring,” she said.
Some other parents with slightly older children have said they will need to leave them alone at home to manage their own schooling. Others are hoping an after school-type childcare option will be available.
Some are not waiting for a solution to present itself and have gone to Front Porch Forum and Facebook to find a nanny/tutor who could oversee studies. Others have proposed neighborhoods or small groups within classes create their own learning communities where children would be dropped off at the residence of an adult who has reliable internet and the ability to keep multiple kids on task.
Will cohorts accommodate friend groups?
As students will be split into two groups (in some cases the Monday-Tuesday group or the Thursday-Friday group), these “cohorts” will have to be based on some criteria.
One proposal suggests cohorts be split alphabetically so that siblings would remain on the same schedule. Another option is to keep whole grades together.
This question and others led Lauren Curry to take to Twitter to ask questions.
Curry, whose 8th grade daughter attends Westford Middle School and sophomore son is at Essex High School, wondered if cohorts could take friend groups into consideration, which sometimes are across grade levels in smaller schools.
She felt the alphabetized split is a parent-focused solution, but what she has heard most from her teens during this time is, “I miss my friends.”
“The social lives of youth are not bonus, they are a critical curriculum for kids,” she said.
Curry recognized equity issues could become a factor in separating groups this way, but said she felt part of her responsibility as a parent and a member of a solutions-focused team is to wonder and to pose questions.
Curry has felt the Essex Westford School District has had an “open and participatory process” and feels “incredibly grateful to and impressed by the educators in our state,” she said. “They are doing amazing work with a monumental lift.”
No one-size-fits-all solution
The needs of Vermont families and students clearly run the gamut. The hybrid learning schedule was a welcome compromise for some, but others want a fully in-person or fully remote scenario.
Some parents have said they prefer their children to be on the same schedule, others would like them separate so older children can help younger ones. A variety of parents said they will do remote learning 100% of the time (several area school districts have said they will accommodate these students), and still some others are considering homeschooling for the first time.
“What we learned is how variable of an experience it is even within a single household,” Curry said of remote learning with her two kids this spring.
School administrators have had to make difficult decisions and cannot please everyone. Curry is glad there’s a plan in place so she can move forward and is “hopeful we’re going to keep tweaking it” as we all learn together what works.
Contact April Barton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-660-1854. Follow her on Twitter @aprildbarton.
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