In this special three-part series, Northeast Ohio Parent magazine continues its coverage tracking the back-to-school experiences of four Ohio families: the Hopkinses, the Mions, the Rawsons and the Hawks.
In Part Two, we learn how the families are adjusting to a new normal of learning, whether it’s virtual, hybrid, in-person or at home using a traditional homeschooling model. (Click here to read part one of this series)
Hopkins Family Update
Virtual school option
As Sally Hopkins, a preschool through eighth grade art teacher for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, prepared to return to teaching Sept. 8 for the first day of school, she was also battling feelings of defeat as she realized the Bitmoji interactive classroom she spent hours creating was all for naught and couldn’t be supported by most of her students broadbands. On top of that, her two school-aged children, Juliana and John-Michael, were fighting back-to-school emotions of a vastly different kind: sadness and struggle.
Juliana, 15, a sophomore at Eastlake North High School, said she feels disconnected from her teachers and class instruction. John-Michael, 13, an eighth grader at Willowick Middle School, is balancing a loaded class schedule that barely leaves time to stand up, stretch and look away from his computer screen.
Hopkins says she chose to sign her children up for the offered virtual learning model because she believed it was only a matter of time before schools shut down again.
While there are pluses to remote learning, such as not having to get up early to catch the bus, it’s not desirable, Juliana says, though she understands why she’s home and not in school.
“I would rather be as safe as possible than risk my life for going to school,” she says.
Juliana summed up her experience with remote schooling in three words: irritating, stressful and boring.
“I’m sitting and staring at a screen all day, and not only am I on a screen all day for about six to eight hours, then I have another maybe four hours of on-screen homework,” Juliana says. “When I’m on-screen, I’m sitting there and observing the class and it doesn’t seem very inclusive for online students, unless the teacher is actually talking to us through the screen. It’s not very interactive. We don’t get to work with people in the classroom. We could talk amongst each other, but that doesn’t really work out. We could get into trouble for that. It’s not very fun, it’s very boring.”
John-Michael begins his middle school day at 8:30 a.m. with six back-to-back virtual classes followed by a late lunch after 1 p.m.
“Being online, you don’t feel as connected to everyone,” John-Michael says. “You’re kind of just there. I will say that you’re probably not as focused as the in-person students. It’s very easy to get distracted. I miss being around people, just seeing people together. It’s sad to see (people together in class) because you’re not a part of them.
“You feel a bit lonely,” John-Michael says. “You don’t really get acknowledged either, or not as much as the in-person students. It’s been a big change for everyone. It’s a lot different, a lot crazier. It’s just hard, you know? But we just gotta get through it.”
If things don’t begin to turn around for her children, Sally Hopkins says she’ll work to get them physically back into the classroom.
“As a parent, I feel bad, like, did I do the right thing?” she says of her decision to keep her kids home when options to attend in-person were offered. “They both very clearly and very strongly have said that they want to be back in the classroom at school. Obviously, I don’t want the schools to close, but if they do, then at least I’ll feel like I did the right thing.
“The way I’ve been balancing this process is to make sure that I check in with the kids throughout the day and make sure they are on task and actively engaged in their classes,” Sally Hopkins says.
“I also encourage them to get up, walk around, and take stretch breaks in between classes,” she adds. “It is important that I check in with them to see how they are feeling. I know it’s hard because they feel isolated, so I try to remind them that it’s important to communicate any concerns or challenges they may have so we can get through them together.”
Rawson Family Update
Virtual school option
Tweens Mayla and Lilah Rawson are at their home desks by 8:45 a.m., ready for online instruction from Cuyahoga Falls City School District. Their mom, Stephanie, who works as an artist and a school cafeteria cashier, says things have gone better than expected.
“Their classes are each 30 minutes of live instruction,” Stephanie Rawson says. “They use Google Classroom to click on teacher codes to sign in and also to get their assignments, see topics and go back to look at prior items. ‘Grace’ is probably the all-around, key word here. I’m lucky, my kids are patient and they’re rollin’ with everything that’s happening.”
Mayla, 13, is an eighth grader. She tried out virtually for basketball cheerleading and made the squad, but she’s not sure how the basketball season will begin.
“I feel like I can concentrate very well at home without the outside distractions,” she says of her experiences with remote learning. “I feel safer at home than I think I would at school right now. It is definitely different, but I know it won’t last forever.”
Lilah, 11, is in sixth grade. She plays travel softball along with Mayla.
“I think virtual learning is both good and bad,” Lilah says. “I think it’s good because I feel safer. I don’t have to worry about getting sick. I don’t like that Zoom crashes and sometimes it glitches and it is hard to hear my teacher.”
Stephanie Rawson says three of her friends have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic started in March, and one of them battled a high fever for 14 consecutive days.
“She’s still not back to normal and she’s not compromised whatsoever,” she says. “That’s why I’m as cautious as I am. We’re in Summit County, and I know we were in the red color category for a while and we’ve just recently gone down to yellow. I just hope it doesn’t go back up. I hope everyone is safe.”
Hawk Family Update
Hybrid and school options
Celia Hawk, 16, is getting a taste of what it’s like to be a college student. The Chagrin Falls high schooler is following a hybrid schooling schedule that has her dividing time between in-class instruction and virtual learning at home on the computer, says her mom, Carrie, who works from home as a community engagement specialist. Celia drives herself to school Monday through Thursday for two 90-minute classes. She then leaves school, picks up a bite to eat or makes herself lunch at home, then logs on to her computer for additional classes online. On Fridays, it’s all remote instruction at home.
“It’s interesting,” Celia says. “The teachers are doing a good job adapting when they see something that needs changed. We’re still learning, even though it’s harder than before.”
The school year brings a host of new expectations.
“She has to be very responsible,” Carrie says of her teenage daughter. “Driving herself to school is a big thing. When she gets there, they take her temperature, she’s in her mask while she’s there, the desks are far apart and there are no lockers or lunch periods. And because it’s simultaneous instruction with the virtual students logged in at home, some teachers are handling the class like a Zoom meeting. It’s weird to send her to school to potentially expose herself (to the virus) and she’s still sitting there in a Zoom-style class anyway.”
Carrie’s son, Theo, 14, registered for virtual instruction. Though he’s on his computer for hours at a time, he doesn’t seem to mind, Carrie says.
“Every once in a while, the students will all be logged into Zoom before the teacher has joined, and it’s so refreshing to hear them chatting with each other while they’re waiting for the teacher to hop on,” she says. “The first week was very stressful and we had to figure out the routine. I’d try to talk to him during the day while he’s just sitting there staring at the screen and he’d be like, ‘Mom! Stop! I’m trying to listen to my teacher.”’
There is one upside of a virtual education.
“I don’t have to go to actual school,” Theo says of his at-home learning. “It’s OK. It could be better.”
Mion Family Update
After a 10-year hiatus from the classroom, Medina mother and preschool teacher Sara Mion returned to the classroom in September to teach at Medina Weekday Preschool.
Mion is implementing a traditional homeschooling program for her elementary-aged daughters, a district-provided online learning platform for her two middle-school boys, and in-person preschool where she teaches for her younger son.
She began her daughters’ homeschooling curriculum in early August. Mion, who was homeschooled as a child, says her children have had to adjust.
“They’re learning that school won’t always involve sitting at a desk for six hours a day,” Mion explains. “They can do math for 30 minutes and then go outside in the garden for a science lesson. We did a unit on meteors, and that night we stayed up really late and sat outside to watch a summer meteor shower and discussed what we learned. They can learn in all kinds of different ways. Since I was homeschooled and I’m a teacher myself, it comes naturally to me to see learning in what we’re doing as opposed to having to create a learning environment for them.”
Mion reported for duty to her preschool classroom just after Labor Day. She’s implementing the building’s new sanitation protocols, distancing and class size requirements, along with nuances like removing classroom sensory bins filled with rice and sand.
She prepares her homeschooled children the night before, giving them a schedule and instructions on how they should divide their time when she’s out of the house working. The assignments can be done independently. Sara returns from work by 12:45 p.m. to continue teaching her children at home and assist the boys with their online platform. Her husband, Anthony, an engineer, works from home and is available to answer questions and provide supervision.
“When it comes to homeschooling, he has more of a hands-off approach, as that is an area I have a lot more experience in with my previous history of being homeschooled and being a pre-K-3 teacher,” Sara says. “But he’s been available if one of the girls has a math question while I am at work or has enjoyed helping plan some hands-on trips or activities to enrich their schooling.”
The pandemic has prompted the family to work together more. However, they’re still finding their footing each day with new routines and they make sure to maintain a “one day at a time” mentality.
“For all of COVID, we’re realizing that we’re really a family unit and not just a bunch of individual people who have things to do,” Sara says. “It’s been a good experience for my older children to gain responsibility at home. Before COVID, it’s not that they weren’t helping around the house, it’s that they didn’t really have time because of school and their activities. The kids are realizing their day goes smoother if they remember things like cleaning up their breakfast dishes or picking things up around the house. It’s a give and take and they are realizing that they have to pitch in to help others out.”
Sara Macho Hill is a journalist living in North Royalton with her husband and three daughters. A contributor to Northeast Ohio Parent Magazine, she also serves as a staff reporter for the Royalton Recorder local newspaper, writing feature articles and penning a parenting and family lifestyle column. She enjoys reading, spending time with her family at the Lake Erie Islands and exercising at her local YMCA. If she’s lucky, she catches a 20-minute power nap each afternoon and frequently spends her time reheating the morning coffee she was too busy to drink.