As a frontline healthcare worker, Lola Alade knows all about the challenges COVID-19 brings. She works in the field, sees it on a daily basis and has had her profession turned upside down as a result of the virus.
As a parent, Ms. Alade has also had her schedule turned upside down. Ms. Alade and her husband, Larry, have three children in the Mashpee Public School system and are used to jampacked schedules filled with sporting events, birthday parties and playdates.
Now their schedule is just as busy, but in a different fashion. They are in the midst of navigating the new world of hybrid and remote learning with their children.
With this school year, the second to be affected by the pandemic, now at its halfway point, Mashpee families are continuing to find methods and strategies to adapt to the challenges of balancing work, home life and schooling. While the pandemic has impacted some families more drastically than it has others, the resilience of all families is being tested in new ways.
To illustrate how families are adapting this year, we reached out to several Mashpee families, two of whom agreed to share a little of their pandemic schooling stories.
A Difficult Choice
Before even discussing the day-to-day life in a hybrid or remote learning model, the first thing that needs to be discussed is the choice. As a parent, do you allow your kid to go to school, just learn remotely or participate in the hybrid model?
“Being in healthcare, you know a lot more, you see a lot more,” said Ms. Alade, a clinical pharmacy manager for Cape Cod Healthcare. “I think I definitely had concerns probably similar to other parents, but I wanted to trust the science, trust the system and was hoping that everything would work out the way it should.”
Fortunately for parents in the Mashpee schools, the choice was theirs to make.
“They [the school administrators] didn’t view it as a one-size-fits-all. They made it very flexible. Parents had the opportunity to make choices that they are comfortable with and choose what’s best for your own family,” Mr. Alade said.
At the Kenneth C. Coombs School, prekindergartners through 2nd graders all have the option of 100 percent in-person learning if they choose. At the Quashnet Elementary School, 3rd graders have this option as well while 4th graders through 6th graders have the option of a hybrid model or fully remote. At Mashpee Middle-High School, students again have the option of hybrid or fully remote learning.
The Alade boys, Daniel (age 12, 7th grade) and Nicholas (age 10, 4th grade) are in a hybrid learning model at the middle-high school and Quashnet school, respectively. They each attend school in person for one week, and the next they are at home learning remotely. Their sister, Gabrielle (age 6, 1st grade), goes to K.C. Coombs fully in-person with no remote learning.
“The Mashpee school system, and maybe we are biased, is ahead of some of the other school systems as far as information, making sure we are well-informed, making sure the parents, teachers, faculty and students all feel comfortable with the plan and recognizing the struggles and the challenges and anxiety people had around all of that,” Ms. Alade said. “I think they’ve done an excellent job making sure they had the right measures in place.”
A Day At School
When the students are at school, numerous precautions are in place to ensure that the students can attend each day and feel safe about the environment they are entering.
For starters, there is an expected minimum of six feet of distance and no real physical contact between students.
While this is sensible from a safety perspective, it can be hard for some students, including Evan Diaz, a 5-year-old kindergartner at the Coombs school.
According to his mother Maravelisse Diaz, Evan is a very affectionate kid, and not being able to hug, give high fives or shake hands has been hard for him.
However, in a COVID-19 world, maintaining this distance is just one of the things students need to do to ensure they get to come to school the next day, week or month.
Another precaution is regular hand sanitizing throughout the school day, which occurs on entering the school building or a classroom, before a mask is taken off or put on and again before dismissal.
In addition, visual markings are placed through the schools where necessary to maintain distance, classes only operate at 50 percent capacity, seats are assigned at lunch and windows remain open on the bus ride homes.
Despite all these measures that now occur daily basis, the Alade children feel it is worthwhile if it means getting back in the classroom.
“They would prefer to be in school versus not in school,” Ms. Alade said about her kids’ learning preference. “They’re always looking forward to the in-person learning versus the at-home learning. Just the camaraderie with their peers and the student-teacher interactions is much easier than at home.”
As A Parent
So what challenges do students face when they are at home for the week or for those who are learning remotely?
“I think there’s a numerous number of challenges. Just the simple fact of adjusting to working from home,” Mr. Alade said. “There’s always technological challenges that you have to get over. With time it’s gotten better.”
Aside from the student’s challenges, parents have their own issues to tackle during remote schooling as well.
“For us [as parents], it means rearranging your schedule. We actually have to be in the know of what’s going on,” Mr. Alade said. “Not only being their technological help, but also helping them with the things that might be related to their curriculum that may not translate at home properly.”
In the Alade household, Ms. Alade goes to work while Mr. Alade, a research fisheries biologist at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, has the flexibility to work from home. Despite the fact that their dad is home, Ms. Alade said she always encourages her kids to reach out to their teachers with questions instead of just going over to see their father.
In addition, there are so many small details that go into planning the remote learning environment. Mr. Alade said the setup of an at-home classroom is just as crucial as it is with in-person ones. He mentions that his kids each have their own bedroom and can sit at their own desk during the school day to sit through class and get work done. However, not every house is the same, and some students may not have the luxury of their own space to do remote schooling.
On the administrative side, Mashpee Public Schools Superintendent Patricia M. DeBoer also recognizes the challenges that families have faced during these trying times and has had only positive things to say about them.
“From March 16, 2020, through now, and probably ongoing through the end of this school year, our families have been amazing,” Ms. DeBoer said. “The plans we put in place for this school year are working because of our staff, students and families—all working together—doing the best we can for our children.”
Ms. DeBoer said that parents have also taken on the role of “co-educator” in addition to their other parental duties of keeping their families financially stable and healthy.
In the case of students who still may be struggling to maximize their learning during the pandemic, Ms. DeBoer wants the families and students to know the district is there for the students.
“Extra counseling support is provided as needed, students are given extended time to turn in assignments, strategies are shared for improving remote learning and extra help blocks are built into the MMHS schedule,” Ms. DeBoer said.
She added that each school is very aware of every student’s academic progress and the schools are frequently communicating with the families.
In the event that a student does not achieve grade-level progress for advancement, the schools are in the planning stages of a summer academy for those who need it. However, Ms. DeBoer believes those who are struggling have plenty of time to turn it around.
“We have communicated this opportunity to our families and anticipate that many students will make adjustments during the second half of this year so that they finish strong,” she said. “Collaboration, communication and positive relationships are key to ensuring that all of our students are motivated, are learning and are equipped with the tools and strategies to achieve their goals.”
Beyond The Classroom
In normal times, going to school is simply one part of the learning that goes on for children. A large part of socially developing comes outside the classroom whether it is through sports, clubs or playing with other kids. Due to COVID-19, these crucial parts of development have changed.
In the Diaz household, Evan and his sister, 3-year-old Rhonwen, cannot go outside to the park or play with neighborhood kids because, Evan said, that is “where the germs are.” When he stays inside, playing with his Hot Wheels is his favorite activity in addition to playing with his sister.
In the Alade household, they also noted that despite not having normal activities to fall back on and the ability to see other freely, the closeness of the family has grown over the past year.
“Pre-COVID, we were one of those overscheduled parents. We had lots of activities. Then that happened, and it forces you to slow down,” Mr. Alade said. “You get to know your children a lot more, get to know them better. We didn’t have that opportunity to have those real conversations, and there’s a lot of that taking place.”
Now the family spends more quality time together, playing board games, watching television and conversing. Even though it has been different, they have still been able to take some positives away from this time.
“We as a family are reprioritizing what’s really important. The time together is important because they grow up very fast,” Mr. Alade said. “They’re going to be out the door, and they’re going to be off to college doing big things in the world, so we felt that we’ve learned some really good things about being connected together.”