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They Wolney-Sczmak family is preparing for distance learning in their home school

Anxious Parents Weigh Back-to-School Options

Charting a path with creative planning and low expectations

by Trilby MacDonald

Published in September, 2020

It's "preparation week" for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, as schools and families gear up for the virtual start of classes on Tuesday. But with any return to the classroom depending on progress controlling the pandemic, some parents are considering creative ways to balance their work schedules with their children's education this fall.

For parents looking for small group, in-person instruction, the FaceBook group Ann Arbor Area Mama's Network has threads about education "pods," helping parents connect and share perspectives.

Informal interviews with local mothers reveal different experiences. For six years, Beth Celeste-Eitzen homeschooled two of her three children, ranging from 16 to six years old. She will draw on that experience as she oversees their remote learning through AAPS this fall. She will also include a small number of students from other families. "My house is calibrated for homeschooling," she says. "I have the art area, the electronics area, the reading area..." She welcomes the opportunity to earn some income while staying home with her kids. "I'm getting paid as much to educate two kids as I was to educate a whole classroom of kids as a substitute teacher," she marvels. She understands the need for devices but is concerned about the effects of too much screen time on children: "They've got to be interacting and stimulated with the natural environment too."

Angie Wolney is dubious about Forsythe Elementary School's plan to have her 6th grader in front of a screen for 300 minutes a day. She briefly considered enrolling her three children at Rudolf Steiner, which is offering in-person instruction, but decided against it when she realized the increased risk level would mean her family would have to isolate from her parents. "I want to think that if the kids are struggling with too many hours of screen time that we can modify the schedule," she said. "I'm hoping (AAPS) will add some mental and emotional health activities, but so far I haven't heard a word

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about that. I'm not worrying about grades this year," she says.

Sarah Ala is a graduate student in her last semester at EMU with a son at Burns Park Elementary School. She has enrolled him in the AAPS's self-directed A2 Virtual + distance learning academy plan. "We're waiting to hear if EMU will go100% virtual this year," she said. If in-person classes are cancelled, she and her son will return to their native Saudi Arabia where family support will allow both of them to finish their school years online.

Robbin Pott has two teenage boys, a senior at Community High and a freshman at Skyline. She's not worried about their education during quarantine so much as their mental health. "Both of my teenage boys have experience with the virtual A2 program and are able to navigate remote learning with very little involvement from us. They know how to learn and I'm secure in their development. The lack of contact with their friends is the hardest part. They miss seeing their friends and the independence of leaving the house and being on their own during the day." Pott is glad that her kids are older, and feels for the parents of younger children. "Younger kids need a lot more attention, support, and engagement and that's draining," she says. "We're all exhausted."     (end of article)

[Originally published in September, 2020.]


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