Motherhood comes with a boatload of decisions. I knew that when I signed up for the job. Typically I rely on science, recommendations from experts, advice from trusted friends, relatives and the best online mom group ever. Now, in the age of COVID-19, I'm making decisions I'd never thought I'd need to make with little direction. And, on top of it all, I know I'm not alone.
Currently, I'm choosing what my upcoming first-grader's education will look like.
Do I send him to school in person?
Do I keep him home and attempt to help him with e-learning?
What about choosing to homeschool independently?
Should we try an established virtual-only school?
Making this decision is the epitome of being between a rock and a hard place.
I always thought decisions regarding his education would be simple—whether to send him to public or private school and maybe which electives to participate in. Now, I'm balancing his mental, emotional and physical well-being. Now, I'm weighing educational opportunities against the risk of sickness. The weight of making this decision is crushing.
I'm privileged that I have a choice to make. I work full-time for a progressive company, which allows me to choose what's best for my family. That includes being able to continue to work remotely. My boss is understanding, providing me with the flexibility to meet the demands of being a professional and a mother. Also, our local school district is doing an amazing job at giving us choices. They're doing everything in their power to ensure all the children in the district receive an education.
Personally, I immediately ruled out homeschooling because I'm not meant to be a teacher. To put it very bluntly: I do not have the patience. I also ruled out full virtual schools because they require daily parent interaction. Even with all the flexibility, I cannot realistically work while also teaching.
So, I'm left with two choices: Traditional school or e-learning.
Our e-learning option has three major flaws: limited education, limited social interaction and time constraints. The district will only cover math, English, and language arts through the program. They will provide free learning materials for other subjects, but it will not be a comprehensive education. E-learning also presents a limit to socialization. Young children learn and grow through play and he'll miss all of that. Then there is the issue of time. Like homeschooling and virtual schools, e-learning with a first grader requires a lot of reliance from an adult.
I can send my son to the babysitter's house, where she also has an upcoming first-grader doing the exact same work. I know her family is being safe and she will offer supplemental work for classes not covered by the school. The downfall here is that socialization doesn't grow beyond the sitter's children.
Alternatively, I could send him to his old day care, where they're trying out a new classroom, providing a licensed teacher to assist up to 10 kids with online work. I'd have someone to help him with school, he'd get social interaction, but would be exposed to more children, though much less than an entire elementary school. Both options come at a financial cost and sacrifice. And the cost to his education would mean losing the opportunity to join a gifted language arts program he was invited to participate in.
The other option is in-person school. It would provide comprehensive education and socialization, but it would not be the same. There will not be big groups on the playground. Classroom group work will be limited. Even lunch isn't going to be very social with distant seating or classroom lunches. Most of all, it comes at a cost too—his exposure to other children and, potentially the virus..
Our district has buses with three kids to a seat. Classrooms hold close to 30 kids. The school board has required masks for all students and staff, in line with the local mandate, but it may not be enough with this amount of close interaction. Beyond the limiting time in hallways, encouraging more car-riders, and staggering lunches, there is not a lot more the school can do. The exposure risk feels high.
While my immediate family is low-risk, what about my mother-in-law? She is one of the few people we've allowed in our circle of people, but she is high-risk. What about the sitter's family, who will still be exposed to his little brother daily?
Each option feels like I am sacrificing something important. It feels monumental for his education as first grade is an important foundational year, especially after losing half a year of kindergarten. But health and peace of mind are equally weighing. I'm not making the decision alone, but it plagues me daily, crushing me with anxiety. How do I get him the best education while keeping everyone healthy and happy? Factoring everything in, we still don't have a decision, and school is back in session very, very soon.
I know I'm not alone when I say, I don't know what to do, and that is something that keeps me up at night right now. Parenting is full of decision-making that we are not always certain on, I just hope I make the right decision for my son.