By Claudia Amaro | September 15, 2020
Since COVID-19, changes have already been a constant in our lives, new statistics every day, unimaginable events happening worldwide, and chaos in each of our homes with school-age children over the return to classes this fall. In a few days we have witnessed changes in decisions made by politicians, community and school leaders, and even those of us who are parents, we had to face making a decision that could affect our children's education, at least during this new school year that began last week in Wichita.
The use of face masks, daily temperature checks, different schedules, spaces inside and outside the home, physical and mental health; these and many more things had to be considered before making the decision either to send children to school in a traditional way or decide whether to study from home this semester.
The different school districts gave options, almost none of them perfect for the needs and commitments of each family. Most private schools did not even offer an alternative and only allowed back to school in person.
Wichita Public Schools offered three different options for children attending from kindergarten through 5th grade this first semester of the 2020-2021 school year. The first option is a return to face-to-face or traditional classes, in which children must show up at their school to receive their daily lessons like before the pandemic. The second option, My School Remote, in which students obtained an electronic device to attend their classes from home, connecting to the internet in the morning and working within a schedule with a teacher on the other side of the screen. The third option is actually for self-taught children who do not need the advice of a teacher to complete their tasks and to learn, in this option they don't have to follow any schedule, they just have to complete their tasks. Unlike elementary schools, Middle and High school students in Wichita had to settle for the only option they were given, to attend classes virtually from home.
Photos and social media posts about the first week of school were quite different from other years.
Brenda Zarazua tries to get used to her new situation. She is the mother of four children, the eldest who is in high school, a third grader, one in Kindergarten and the youngest in Pre-Kindergarten. The eldest has to complete the semester from home as there was no other option for her, however, Brenda and her husband had to make a decision for the little ones who attend Park Elementary School, located in the north side of the city. "We decided to enroll them in My School Remote first of all for their safety," says Brenda, "We thought we'd send them to school, but when we heard about the second outbreak we decided that the best option was to leave them at home."
Despite the different situation, the little ones were excited to see new faces, meet their teachers and talk to their friends again, even if it was virtually. It was a long summer for them. "After many emotions and happiness; it all ended on the third day of school because they were tired of spending so much time sitting by the computer." Brenda tells us and added that at times they were all frustrated because they faced technical problems with the internet and the school's computers. Brenda's family has had to learn a lot in just one week, for example, she shared that they need new ways to get organized at home, she now understands that she can no longer do everything she managed to do in a day before the pandemic, and recognizes that they will have to learn to be more patient. Her eldest daughter, who could also support her with the little ones now has her own responsibilities because she also must be present in her online classes and perform tasks that are usually longer when they are virtually. Parents who have chosen to enroll their children to take their classes from home now play a very important role in the process as Brenda tells us, "There are times when I have to sit down with them to advise them on the computer or assist them with the things they need, sometimes I feel like I'm the physical part of the online teacher." Still, Brenda doesn't regret her decision because she understands that changes are difficult and it's a time of adaptation and especially teamwork and she says, “it's time to ask husbands for support whether it's with children or household chores, as well as teachers to train parents who don't know how to help their children or even don't know how to use the computer.”
María Esparza has four children, three of them of school age: one in 2nd, one in 3rd and the eldest in 5th grade. She and her husband decided to send them to school in a traditional way, so in the mornings a small school bus stopped by them to take them to Minneha Elementary, a School located in east Wichita. Making the decision wasn't easy for this family, but one of the things they considered at the time of making it was the experience they had with the kids at the end of last school’s year when face-to-face classes were suspended because of COVID-19 and it was very difficult for children to have the discipline of finishing their work at home. "When we talked to our children about back to school this year they looked sad, because we told them that everything was going to change and it wasn't going to be like it used to be" María was trying to mentally prepare for the changes they would have to face however she realized that the little ones were feeling an extreme fear of going out and seeing people with face masks, "When I saw their reaction I decided to take them out a little more , because they had to learn that the virus although is dangerous cannot paralyze them, I also saw the opportunity to be able to teach them the correct use of the face masks and disinfectant, more discipline when they are out the house and help them manage self-control so that they would not touch everything they saw."
One of the things that surprised Maria this first week of classes is that many parents of the Minneha school chose to take their kids to face-to-face classes and the things she has noticed is that her children acted more independent, "I had to trust that everything I taught them would work, now they remind me that they should wear their face mask every morning" last week her kids told her that now everything is very different but they came home happy and she even noticed they were more talkative during family dinner time. One of the things that made Maria feel confident this first week was the communication the school has had with her. She and her husband are satisfied with the decision they made because, although there were times when they doubted it, the only thing she misses is being more involved than before in her kids’ school, before she could visit her children at school and get more involved at any time, something she can't do at the moment.
The homes of Brenda and Maria, as well as those of many other families faced one of the most difficult weeks in recent times. Changing and adapting to the "new normal" has not been easy and will require time, patience, and teamwork as they shared it in this interview. Many parents are turning to their creativity to help their children have a productive semester. Families are revaluing their priorities where many are placing their mental and physical health as the most important thing on their list, this also requires communication and teamwork. Without a doubt this first week of classes will be a critical moment and part of the resilient training of this new generation of students who with no doubt will achieve their goals.
Superintendent Alicia Thompson said in a recent interview with The Wichita Eagle that during her visit to different schools on the first week of school she observed that both students and faculty members did a great job on wearing face masks and took proper precautions to make everyone feel safe.