Remote Learning - "Back" to School: Now What?

The second article in a three-part series on what is missing when children are "learning virtually."

Methuen High School

This article was originally published in High Profile.

As we enter a varied approach to education this fall, parents who work at Finegold Alexander Architects reflect on how we got here…

As a continuation of our series on kids and education in Covid-19 era, we spoke with more parents in our office, some of whom also happen to have older children. They talked about the challenges of navigating teenage boredom, the inevitable desire for more freedom intertwined with a summer marked by social distancing, and the lack of Individual Education Plans (IEP’) when students are remote.

We also spoke directly with our children about the effects of Covid on their lives. We asked questions such as “What have you learned about yourself during this time?” and “Where do you get your news about Covid and do you believe it?”

John Lavoie, father to two boys, T(16) and J(18) talked about the summer being “the perfect antidote” to spring isolation and minimal online instruction. Masks in hand, his sons found work as dishwashers in a local restaurant and spent time driving and camping with their friends. With the boys’ newfound responsibility and social outlets came the risks of being in an environment with many other people. As T said, “I have learned that I do care for others around me and I try not to get close to others since I have been surrounded by a lot of friends and don’t want to risk getting older people sick.” Now the fall is again upon us, and the boys (and John and his husband Ray) are faced with the prospect of two different hybrid/remote models of school. As John states: “I don’t agree with all of the decisions that the school district has made. But as J and T’s parent, I’m slowly learning to let go of my control. Isn’t that the point of cultivating independence in our teenagers? The pandemic has accelerated many things, and this is one of them.”

T getting ready to drive

Christopher Lane, stepfather to O(14) and M(18), talked about the frustrations of attempting to motivate teenagers without the structure provided by school. As Christopher notes, “This spring, they might have had breakfast at 1:00 PM, and then spent most of the day on social media or gaming.” As O noted, “I’m pretty lazy without school!” Fortunately for Christopher, the summer brought some relief. His family has a small house on a lake in New Hampshire, and better weather enabled the boys to spend some time mountain biking, jet-skiing, and hanging out with friends. M also got a surfboard and joined Christopher in one of his favorite hobbies, which he noted as a highlight of the summer. Christopher and his wife Deb had their own work to juggle, and mostly let the boys navigate their own way through. They both appreciated that freedom and mostly understood the need for their parents to focus on work. As M said, “We have been able to get through this together.”

Gibbs School; Taken before the COVID-19 Pandemic

Rob Law, father to three girls, A (9) and younger twins, faced a different set of challenges. His wife, Phyllis, works in veterinary medicine, working most days at her clinic. This meant attempting to manage projects from his living room and schooling over iPads for the girls. Due to his wife’s occupation, general health concerns, and an IEP for one of his kids, they have kept themselves quite isolated. As Rob notes: “When we went remote last year, it is like the IEP just vanished and we were left to try and find creative ways on our own to continue to move and practice these skills that our child needed to learn.” Fortunately, Rob’s district has adopted a hybrid model, and his children will be going to school most days, resolving the challenges of the spring.  However, the loss of those spring months has been evident in terms of confidence and the family worries about other children in the same situation due to the lack of IEP resources in the spring.

And now the school year is upon us. The models for their children’s education for the parents at Finegold Alexander are fully in-person, fully remote, and everything in between. A universal sentiment from all our children was that what made things bearable this summer was being able to see their friends sometimes. All were looking forward to being with friends and teachers in the fall. With many districts and schools opening all remote, that opportunity is gone – at least for now. Frustrations and triumphs are already apparent. Rebecca’s daughter, R, previously shy, is speaking up in in-person class. “It’s really fun to be back!” Meanwhile, Clair expressed intense frustration at having to wait until five minutes before the first school day for the Zoom link! Looking ahead there are two high school seniors in the group. Will this be another class year with lawn signs instead of a group celebration?

As we go “back” to school, we all share John’s sentiment: “I can only hope that the fall semester will bring an improved educational experience for J and for T – and for all of our children.”