Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles examining how parents and teachers are adapting to the upcoming virtual school year.
Working parents are feeling anxious facing a virtual start to public school in most counties.
Christy Bare is a single working mom and nurse with two kids, a rising 6th and 8th grader, at Robious Middle School in Chesterfield.
She’s scrambling to find a nanny to watch the kids and help them with their virtual schoolwork while she’s at work with Bon Secours Home Health.
“I would have liked to have known earlier. All parents are in panic mode,” Bare said. “I basically have two weeks to figure it out and locate a nanny.”
She and her ex-husband will have to dip into their savings to cover the cost.
Bare described Chesterfield’s spring-version of virtual learning as “chaotic” and poorly planned. There was no set schedule, none of the grades counted, and her kids stopped caring. She’s worried that’s going to happen again this fall.
Her daughter has an Individualized Education Plan and needs more time with teachers and studying. Bare said she has no idea how that will be addressed by CCPS in the fall.
“I feel really, really overwhelmed right now,” she said. With her job with Bon Secours Home Health, she provides home health care for patients suffering from a variety of illnesses, including COVID-19.
“I really envy the moms who get to work from home. I’m an essential worker. I can’t bring my patients home with me,” she said.
On social media, many working parents are scrambling to find tutors or assemble learning pods where families will team up to share the burden of at-home learning.
Doug Payne, who works for a local non-profit, and his wife, Lynn, who works for Capital One, have decided to team up with another family to create a learning pod for their second graders at Tuckahoe Elementary.
The Paynes have twins and their neighbors have a daughter. The neighbors will be taking the morning shift every day from 8 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. And the Paynes will take over from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“Teaching three 7-year-olds for two and a half hours a day in two households should prove interesting,” Payne said. “We all have fairly demanding jobs and know it’s not going to be easy.”
Others are questioning whether to work at all, like Sofia, a local preschool teacher, who declined to provide her last name because she was afraid it would impact her job.
“My paycheck is pretty small, but it helps with groceries and gas,” she said. Her husband works in a call center at a local company .
They have a 3rd grader and a 6th grader in public schools; Sofia wants to keep her preschool job, but she doesn’t know if it’s worth it with impending child care costs due to virtual school.
“I would like to set up something like a co-op or a pod, but it depends on how much it will cost. I have a cousin who’s willing to tutor the kids. But even if we pay her $10 an hour, that’s almost my whole paycheck. Do I stay home and not have an income? Or leave the kids here by themselves? What do you do?” she asked.
She said many teachers at her preschool are quitting to stay at home with their kids because they can’t afford to pay for child care or a nanny.
“I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said.
Others, like Regan Kain and her husband Scott, are busy turning the family sunroom into the family schoolroom in their Chesterfield County home.
They have a 1st grader at Gordon Elementary and a 3rd grader at Greenfield Elementary and plan to take turns working with their kids while fielding work calls and turning in projects. She works in sales and her husband is an underwriter, both have been able to work from home since the pandemic hit. But it’s hard, she said, to juggle both work and child care.
“I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed at the moment,” she said. “We’ve been talking with other parents in the neighborhood. It’s really hard for working parents to keep them engaged and moderated online. Right now, we have no idea what to expect. It’s just wait and see.”
Laura Griffin, clerk of court at Chesterfield Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, said she’s worried that “school is likely to be disastrous this fall.”
She has a 14-year-old daughter at Bailey Bridge Middle School who struggled with on-line learning in the spring and who she worries will struggle again.
Griffin regularly puts in 10 to 12 hour work days at her job and her husband works full time as well.
“I’ve heard school leaders state that every effort will be made so that parents who work can help their children when they get home. So does that mean that after an 10-12 hour workday, we should expect to come home, eat a quick meal, then do school for 4-5 hours? I don’t know that I will have that in me. Every shred of resilience I had in my reserves has been expended during this pandemic,” Griffin said.
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