This school year is a confusing one for parents, to say the least. Stamford Public School students will return to school following a Hybrid Model, allowing for approximately half the number of students to attend school in-person every other day. However, families have also been given the opportunity to opt for 100% distance learning. Meanwhile, many private schools are heading back to school five days a week.
Faced with these options and the decision on how we want our children’s school year to look, families across Stamford and across the country are having to ask, “What works for our family?” It’s a question that certainly doesn’t always come with an easy answer and one that doesn’t have a “right” or “wrong” answer.
Jackie Mullins has a daughter entering fourth grade and a son in pre-k four. After much consideration, she and her husband decided to send their son to pre-school 100% in-person and their daughter back to school under the hybrid model. “Socialization and mental health were the biggest factors for us when making this decision,” she explains.
Stephanie Bakis has a son entering first grade and a daughter entering pre-k. They will be participating in 100% distance learning this school year. “My youngest is high risk so we have been super cautious during this time,” she explains.
“I also feel that since this type of education is so new, there are some kinks to be worked out (both for distance and hybrid). Effective sanitizing, adequate classroom ventilation consistent mask use, and social distancing are things students (especially at the elementary level) and educators have not had to tackle before. I feel like there is still so much work to be done before I personally would feel comfortable sending my children back into a classroom,” Stephanie explains.
Diana Ruszkowski’s daughter is starting kindergarten this year. She has opted to send her daughter to a full time distance learning program that will be implemented through an in-person program at A Place Like Home Daycare. She says that both personal and professional uncertainty led to her and her husband’s decision.
“My husband is starting to go back to the office more regularly and I will be starting a new job in the fall. We were concerned with our ability to balance the hybrid schedule with our work schedule and also concerned about what the environment will be like at school with all of changes being discussed,” says Diana.
Diana’s daughter Mia has attended A Place Like Home Daycare since she was a baby and she says there is comfort in the familiarity of the school. “Our daughter will be in a safe and loving environment, with people we have trusted since she was a baby and she will be taught a curriculum that aligns with the public schools while also implementing distance learning,” she says.
“We knew she would be safe and that all precautions would be taken to ensure her safety and well being while also allowing her to be a kid! One of the huge benefits is that the program will follow daycare hours. So it works perfectly because we can work a normal workday and pick both of our daughters up at the same place (our youngest is in the 2 year old classroom),” Diana continues.
Kelly Fazzino is planning to make changes to her career as a result of what’s happened over the past six months. She has children entering fourth grade and eighth grade. They are planning to follow the Hybrid Learning Model because she says that with both her and her husband working full-time, 100% Distance Learning wasn’t possible.
“I have a small start up business, Slim Pickings Grazing Trays. This entire year has made me think long and hard about balancing what I want to do with what is best for my family. I think what is best for my family is what keeps us all physically and mentally healthy and feeling good about ourselves. Which is why I am actively working to transition this side business of mine into a full time operation,” she explains.
Jessica Agovino also plans to send her sons who are entering fifth grade and a second grade to school under the Hybrid Model after she says she saw them tune out during distance learning in the spring and give up on their school work.
Jessica explains, “My boys thrive off of routine and being out of school for so long has had a negative effect on them. They are excited to see their teachers and friends and be in the school environment once again.”
On the days her kids are not in school, Jessica has set up a pod so that her boys are engaged in their school work in a small group setting. “Of course, this option has a cost and one that my husband and I were not prepared to take on, but as a two-working parent household, we had no other choice,” she says.” Both my husband and I work outside of the home, he owns a pharmacy and I am a teacher, so we do not have the option to stay at home. This financial strain is one of the biggest impacts on us and many other families that are just expected to “figure it out”.”
As a teacher, Jessica says she understands both points of view. “Teachers want to be back in the classroom just as much as kids and their parents want a return to school as normal. Administrators and school boards have a very difficult job of trying to please everyone and its a lose/ lose situation most of the time. I feel it is important to make the decision that feels most comfortable for you and your family. As parents, we know our children best and we know what is best for their overall health and well being,” she says.
Zuleika Gil is sending her daughters who are entering eighth grade and fourth grade back to school under the Hybrid Model, which she says she is comfortable with because of the lessons she’s taught them at home. “I trust that my children will practice what I have taught them (washing hands and social distancing) that they will be safe,” she explains.
Just like Zuleika, parents are looking for ways to make their children comfortable and used to not only hand washing and social distancing, but also wearing masks while at school.
“My boys get uncomfortable wearing their masks after only a few minutes so we are starting to practice wearing them more often so that they can get used to them,” explains Jessica.
Jackie explains, “Our son doesn’t have to wear a mask at pre-school (the teachers do) which is why we decided to send him back five days. The classroom sizes are small and they have safety protocols in place. He loves school and being with his friends and right now we feel it is safe for him to be there. While we don’t like the idea of our daughter being in a mask all day, we feel as if she’ll do better in a classroom even if it’s only part time then she would at home.”
But for many parents like Jackie, there is always a chance that later in the year, we will want to re-evaluate our decision. “So far we feel confident about our decision but if that changes, we can always reevaluate,” she says.
Giovanna Lorch has a daughter entering fifth grade and a son entering second grade. They will do Pearson Online with a coach through the end of January. “I am hoping that the openings in this area go smoothly and that there are no mandatory shut downs so that both of my kids will be able to go in-person in late winter,” she says.
No matter the decision, supporting one another might just be what gets every Stamford family through this unusual school year. “Each family has to make the best decision for themselves, we should support each other in the decisions we make none of this has been easy,” says Diana.
“I am looking forward to the day that classrooms can go back to “normal” and children can learn in a traditional setting; with friends, sharing, and activities,” says Stephanie.