Back to School – COVID-19 Style

August 17, 2020

As part of our ongoing conversation on homelessness, we asked members of the Family Promise network and individuals working to serve families experiencing homelessness to share their personal thoughts and reflections on Family Promise and the issue of family homelessness. These writers are true thought leaders, using their skills and expertise to develop and implement creative solutions that are changing the lives of parents and children in their communities. This post is by Caroline Lamar, the Executive Director of Family Promise of Blount County.school supplies

This post was originally published on her blog. View it here.


I’ve gotten several texts and messages asking how school is going since we were one of the first districts in our area to return to class. We’re two weeks in so I’ll share what we’ve learned so far.

Things Change – We chose the virtual learning option presented by our district. Things were very clear as far as what was expected of the virtual students and our district even had a sample schedule for the week of a virtual student. That helped us explain to our kids how things would work. I will confess we waited until the 11th hour to make our selection in case the options before us changed. Then, the week after we made our choice, the district altered the plan for in-person learning. Make an informed choice as best you can, but understand that things are evolving very quickly and things can (and will!) change.

Dedicated Learning Space – Since our kids are doing virtual five days a week, it was very important for each of them to have a dedicated learning space in our house. Previously, the kitchen table was the go-to spot for homework but we knew virtual learning would require more strategic placement. Each child has a desk and supplies. They decorated their spaces with things that would bring them joy as they worked. One burns Christmas candles, another one is set up next to her record player. The point is to create a space conducive to learning, but also one that puts your student in the right frame of mind. Headphones for each child are also a must!

Expect the Unexpected – Here’s the thing, most school districts have had a virtual option for many years but it is used by a very small percentage of their students. The pandemic has required a HUGE shift for our schools so it’s fair to assume they weren’t prepared to deal with virtual options on such a large scale. Just know that going in. Patience, patience, patience. Oh…and a lot of grace!

Don’t Rush – We are two weeks into the school year and our youngest child hasn’t really gotten started. She’s checked in diligently each day on Google Classrooms, but as far as full instruction, we aren’t there yet. She popped out of bed on the first day of school, eager to get started, but things aren’t moving as quickly as they would in a regular year. Please don’t hear this as a criticism of her teachers. These educators have been tasked with teaching kids both in-person and online without much time to prepare. They are AMAZING. I recommend preparing your child for a slow start, even if they’re learning in-person. This school year will be unlike any they have experienced. You don’t have to scare them with that fact, just prepare them that the rituals they are used to won’t necessarily be in place right away. Help your child understand that their teachers are in a growth mindset, just like them! Teachers are learning to adapt and innovate as they present this year’s materials. Flexibility is a really great lesson for our students. It will serve them well in the future both in school and their future career path.

Patience – I can’t stress this one enough. Your school district will get things wrong. You will get things wrong. Be patient. None of us have ever experienced a pandemic before. Personally, we were faced with several problems with our high school schedules. We talked with the school counselor and worked through them as best we could. Then our principal (who has been on the job for less than a month!) called us personally as we worked through even more challenges. The school is on your side. They want your child to succeed. Period. You and your student will very likely get frustrated. There may (probably) be yelling and tears. Be patient, both with yourselves and the school. Everyone is doing the very best they can.

Grieve – Take time to grieve the school year you thought you would have. This is important for parents, teachers, and students. Our choice to have our kids enrolled virtually meant the older two did not get to participate in their sport. We grieved that. We talked about how sad we were at not seeing friends every day. We talked about how much we hate doing so much on screens. Remind your students that it’s okay to be sad, and even angry about the current school year. Also, remind them that this won’t last forever. We will get through this pandemic even if we don’t have a timeline for that just yet. It all feels very big and uncertain, but this is happening on a global scale. We are not alone with these feelings and experiences.

Embrace the Positives – Make a list of the good things about this school year. Maybe it’s more flexibility in schedules. Maybe it’s the fact your high schooler can enjoy a cup of coffee with her lesson for the day. There is good in every day. Every day might not go exactly the way you want, but there is good in every day. For our family, one of our positives is the freedom to take a break from schoolwork and go for a walk at the park across the street. For our youngest, PE class looks like a 6-mile bike ride with me as I run each morning. We LOVE this time together and definitely wouldn’t be doing it if we had to get up and out the door for in-person learning.

So those are my observations after two weeks of school. We have much more to learn and are continuing to adapt as each day unfolds. We have found that tackling two weeks at a time is a helpful strategy. Things change so fast and that makes it difficult to plan too far down the road, so we set goals and tasks that we want to complete in the next two weeks. Then we will prepare for the weeks after that. Hang in there, parents & teachers! We can do this!

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