By Rachel Blatt
This time last year, Imani Larrier, a longtime Coop member and New York City teacher, was preparing to be an empty nester. “I was getting ready to send my youngest child off to college. I went through that whole emotional roller coaster.” Fast forward to this spring and Imani’s son was back home, attending his college classes remotely while she taught 4th graders from her kitchen.
“I had waited 17 years for this and I’d always told him, when I send you off to college, I’m anticipating that you’re not coming back. I was very wrong!” she said, laughing.
Imani and her son both got sick with Covid-19 in March but they persevered and recovered. “We went through it. He finished his school work and I still tried to work.”
Managing all that was one thing, she says, but it’s working as a teacher and managing her 4th grade students that is “emotionally draining, more and more.” Imani says she’s established some routines both for herself and her students to get through the mornings: “I say everyone has to get up out of bed, brush their teeth, wash their face, and we all start the day off with a quart of water.”
New York City schools shifted to remote learning nearly three months ago. With it still unclear how and when schools will reopen come the fall, we talked with several Coop families with kids at home about how they have handled the new realities of sheltering and schooling in place.
On a recent Saturday morning, Miriam Fried was waiting in line to shop at the Coop, accompanied by her 14-year-old daughter Izzy, who is finishing her freshman year of high school from home.
Miriam, a college lecturer, says there was a technological learning curve for them, getting their respective remote teaching and learning setups going. They also had to purchase another laptop to make it work.
“It’s funny that I get texted by her teachers if she accidentally misses a class she is supposed to be in. I sort of wish they would text her instead.” On the bright side, she says, “I do feel like I know more about what’s happening in her classes these days.”
Izzy says that since the remote school day is shorter than before, she’s been making the most of her new free time by taking long walks, making art and writing.
But she says she misses being able to casually talk to classmates. “One of the things I’ve noticed is that just talking to other people I’d see at school would get me out of my head.”
Member Mary Ellen Obias has been making an effort to supplement her first grader’s remote learning where she can. “My son had gone to a Spanish-language pre-school before his current school and he’d been starting to lose some of that. So that’s something we’re doing with the extra time now. We’ve been playing a lot of Spanish Bingo!”
“His teacher is really doing a lot to make it work, but I do worry about the social piece of it for him,” Mary Ellen says. “One morning he didn’t want to get up because he said he was having a really good dream. When I asked him about it, he said ‘I was at the library my with friends.’”
Another member on the line that morning, Hewitt Pratt, has a 3rd grader and 6th grader at home. He says it’s been difficult with his kids in two different schools. “One school has been handling the transition to digital pretty well and the other one really is not at all.”
Hewitt says he’s worried about what his older son has lost in the transition to a remote school day. “He had just gotten his own MetroCard so he could go back and forth to school by himself. It was a big deal. And then suddenly, that new taste of independence was taken away.”
For Hewitt, it’s hard to find a silver lining in the situation. “With the really sharp transition from almost no screen time and lots of social interaction to the complete inverse, alongside the larger global anxiety right now, it feels like our kids have become part of a longitudinal study and we’re all going to be finding out in the next five to 10 years how they’ve been impacted.”
Imani, the 4th grade teacher, says “there is no doubt that our students are falling behind. And when you have students who also have individualized educational plans and are not receiving the services they’re used to, that’s even worse.”
But Imani is quick to add that it’s not all bad. “This is clearly showing the haves and have-different. For some children, being in the classroom works, but it’s never been perfect for everyone…. I’m glad this has forced the Department of Education to expand on its variety of learning and instruction modalities,” she says.
Members Megan Davidson and Shawn Onsgard have exclusively homeschooled their two kids, one of whom is graduating high school this month and starting at Cornell in the fall and another who is completing the 7th grade. Nonetheless, Megan says “the pause in NYC has been a big shift for us as well, although not nearly as much as for parents who were not already homeschooling.” Up until recently, she says, their older son was regularly outside the home participating in an internship as well as other research projects.
With remote learning and homeschooling more in the general consciousness, Megan and Shawn have been hearing from lots of friends looking for insight. “Many of our friends are not happy with their online school options and are considering a switch to homeschooling in the fall,” Megan says.
For families now finding themselves playing a larger role in their kids’ day-to-day learning, Shawn emphasizes the importance of creating “positive local conditions” in your home. “That means you have a wealth of educational activities available in the home and you have reduced the amount of distractions like video games and TV watching and social media that they have access to,” he says.
“Our kids quickly learned that if they could make the argument that what they were doing was educational, then we were more likely to allow it. This meant they spent more time on creative projects like playing guitar and making sculptures and reading books because they knew these were activities we would approve.”
A good perspective to keep in mind, Shawn says, is that “education is meant to prepare children to be adults.” Thinking of it that way “enables all sorts of ‘educational activities’ like knowing how to make food or handle your own emotions or any number of other practical life skills that are relevant to your family.” ◾️