Bedford schools will open for the new academic year on Wednesday, September 16, a week from today, and hundreds of households throughout the town are confronting unprecedented scheduling and safety variables — thanks to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Yet a sampling of residents indicates that there’s a spirit of resilience and even optimism as the challenges are addressed.
“You have to be hopeful in this situation and hope that everyone continues to do what they have to do – that we are safe and kids will learn,” said Ashley Poor. “Worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet is a waste of energy.”
Poor, a single mother who works from home, knew from her experience last spring that having a seven- and five-year-old at home during remote learning days was unrealistic. So she has enrolled her younger daughter in a private in-person kindergarten in Billerica. Poor also was concerned that “she wouldn’t get enough of an education through a hybrid model.”
Last spring, when the pandemic moved instruction from the classroom to the screen, “was very difficult for interpersonal relations in the household,” Poor said wryly. “It was difficult to play both roles — as a mother and a teacher. Kids like their parents to read to them; mine weren’t excited about reading to me.”
Poor even hired a tutor for her second-grader because “I was afraid she had regressed in her reading. The tutor said she doing great.” She noted that she and another parent are planning to supplement with a tutor during the three weekly days at home. “You get nervous for your kids,” she acknowledged.
She said it was difficult waiting for decisions on school configuration for 2020-211, but “I understand why they needed to take so long. I think they’ve done a great job communicating.” Around the region, there is such a variety of plans – alternate weeks, alternate days, half days, full remote – and they change at the town boundaries, she added.
Sometimes the varied plans infiltrate a single household. Todd Nichols teaches in Waltham and his wife Renae is a library paraprofessional in the Arlington schools. Their twin children are entering grade 7 in Bedford.
“Schools are hard on everyone right now,” Renae Nichols said. “Anyone with school-age children is trying to find the very best options to work for them.’’
The best option for the Nichols household is the fully remote learning option in Bedford.
Their children “are handling things very well. They see how hard we are working and, unfortunately, they see how stressful this is for us as we try to figure out the pieces. When I am at school and working with others, I will do everything I can to be safe. And they know we a going to make efforts to keep them in touch with their friends.”
“The kids know that we want everyone to be as safe as possible. Our feeling is that the fewer number of kids and staff at school, the safer it will be for the community,” Renae Nichols said. “My hope is that the hybrid plan with thrive. If there are fewer kids in the hallways, fewer kids eating without masks, I hope those things will keep it safe.”
“As teachers, we have been given extra time for planning, but that also means 10 additional days where our children will not have school but we will have school.” Indeed, it is difficult to make solid plans because school districts are still releasing information, such as schedules for professional development days, she noted.
“We are fortunate that our kids are middle school age,” Nichols continued. “If they were below fifth grade it would not be an option to be at home alone without an adult.” Even so, “Through our church community, we found some people to spend time at the house. Safety-wise, it makes me feel better if somebody is checking in.”
“We have guidelines, but how do we really keep safe? Some people feel that going back to school is not a big concern,” she said, adding: “The other extreme is that our kids are hearing all these messages and hard for them to navigate.”
“That was part of our decision in choosing the remote option,” she said. “But the biggest reason is we have three different school districts we are juggling. So the kids being home every day gives us one less thing to juggle. That consistency is what drove us to make that decision.”
Uma Kaundinya said her children – Grades 11 and 8 – will be enrolled in the Bedford hybrid model. “I am cautiously optimistic that we will not regress, but actually move to more days in winter if we do this right,” she said.
“The complexity at one level is logistical – it’s a challenge at home of four people working and schooling,” Kaundinya commented. “The house is not necessarily structured for that, and we have to make those accommodations.”
That’s easy, compared with other challenges on the horizon, she continued. For her high school junior and eighth-grader, “there is only so much that they can absorb through an online format. We will have to augment it so they really understand.”
She emphasized that she has no issues with the school system or the teachers. “The challenge is about the children. They absorb a lot through peer learning. They solve problems together. That will be missing in online education.”
“We are trying to adjust our work schedules so both of us can be there to help our kids,” said Kaundinya, who is a scientist in the field of biotechnology. Her husband is an engineer, and “we can work earlier in the day. That’s what the situation requires.”
Kaundinya is also concerned about the loss of social scenarios for her children. “My daughter is a lots-of-friends, activities type of person,” she said. “I want to arrange for some healthy but safe opportunities for her. How can we be safe hanging out together?” Swetha Kaundnya is active with Bedford TV, both on the air and handling a camera, including at BHS graduation.
Her mother feels that “you can be with two other friends, both wearing masks. We don’t know how long this is going to be here so we need to accommodate ourselves. The kids need it.”
“If we make some common-sense decisions – no hugs – and follow common-sense guidelines, we can get through this.”
Sandy Morvillo remarked that “I am a little nervous about sending them back into school, but I trust that the teachers will do their best to keep them socially distant.”
“We have a house with four of us,” said Morvillo, who works as a fitness instructor and massage therapist. She continues to meet with clients – some outdoors and some virtually – “so there’s a little bit of juggling, but we have made it work.”
“I think having older children makes it a little bit easier,” said Morvillo, mother of a junior at Arlington Catholic High and an eighth-grader at John Glenn Middle School, who is following the hybrid model. “I will adjust my schedule with my clients so I can be home as much as possible when they are Zooming from home.”
“We set up workstations for the kids and expanded the back yard to give extra space on the patio,” Morvillo said. “The kids are used to wearing their masks now. There is lots of printing out of schedules — my fridge looks like a smorgasbord.”
“In some ways, it streamlines things for us,” Morvillo acknowledged. “Not being able to have sports has scaled our scheduling back. We’re spending more family time, doing more hiking.”
One decision was to find alternatives to the school bus for their middle school son, a distance runner. “We are choosing to drop off our son, or he can ride his bike or even run home.” Their older son will drive to Arlington Catholic, where he is beginning his career as a junior. “We’ve practiced the route a couple of times,” his mother said.
She noted that the model at Arlington Catholic is one week in person, one week virtual. “Everybody is trying to do their best – doing every other day has good and valid points.”
Morvillo serves on the PTO Board at the middle school. Parents, she observed, “seem to be optimistic”. Noting the tents that have been erected near the rear parking lot, she said, “I love that idea. In that environment, they’ve really got to focus. And it’s important for them to get outdoors.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763
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