Facing logistical, emotional, learning challenges
No matter what, local families will be dealing with at least three days a week of online learning this fall, with all the questions and hardships that entails: how parents will do their own work (if they have a job) while also helping with schoolwork; what they’ll do for child care; and what so much isolation means for kids’ social and emotional well-being.
Aimee Budrow faces a particularly challenging situation. With six kids from preschool to 12th grade, she has no idea how she’ll teach that many lessons at once — even if she were a formally trained teacher. “It’s really a daunting idea to teach English, math and history to half-a-dozen grade levels,” she said.
Budrow is trying to learn from the spring, when schools closed abruptly and no one had time to prepare. They made their best effort for about one month before simply declaring it summer, she said.
So Budrow has cleaned out a closet and outfitted it with decorative cubbyholes for each kid to organize papers and assignments.
“I’m trying so hard to wrap my brain around the fact that I will be responsible for almost all of their learning in a few weeks,” Budrow said. “Three days a week is a very big undertaking.”
Budrow would love for her children to have social interactions, but worries about the risk to her entire household if someone at school becomes sick and they all have to quarantine for two weeks. “I give the school district kudos for providing as much information as possible,” but there are still so many unknowns, she said.
One parent of two high school students said that compressing classes — an arrangement the district devised to avoid overwhelming students and parents with communication from eight teachers a day — will make it impossible for students to learn and retain the material.
The parent acknowledged that the district is in an “unprecedented and tough situation.” But “the school is now expecting students to take an entire year’s worth of a subject in one semester. For math, languages and other core subjects, this plan is untenable. Foundational learning that builds on previous material needs to be steady and incremental.
Another parent with a student attending the Independent Learning Center is optimistic that the school’s flexibility and individualized programs will be effective.
Everyone recognizes that the school district is in an extremely difficult situation, but some see this as part of a broader societal failure to address the pandemic, exacerbating a systemic lack of affordable, high-quality child care.
“I do not blame the local school district for the chaos going into this school year. It’s an impossible challenge to make everyone happy, but I am disappointed that, as a society, we did not put our kids first as part of our response to the pandemic, and have completely failed our kids and communities,” said Sarah Jo Lightner, who has two children at Methow Valley Elementary School.
“Schools are not babysitters, and to look at them as such is to discredit the importance of education. To demand schools open and risk the health of our community so families have ‘free daycare’ is a failure of our system — not of the school district,” Lightner said.
For some students, it’s not just the challenge of having to do so much learning on a computer, without the usual guidance from a teacher. With so many normal aspects of life in upheaval, some kids are too scared by COVID to go to school. “My child is afraid of the virus and worries about his family getting it and dying. He doesn’t need that stress,” said another parent.
The Methow Valley has been extremely lucky, Budrow said. But the virus could take off and become very widespread. “There’s no right decision,” she said.