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April 15, 2021

Welcome Back

It’s been a year since we first heard about COVID-19 and the first lockdowns were instituted. Living in Kansas, the center of the country, the extent of the lockdown was different than what the East and West coasts experienced. Nevertheless, both my boys, our youngest finishing up 8th grade and our first born, a 2020 senior did not return to school after Spring Break in March 2020. An all-virtual learning environment was instituted, and we muddled through the final months of the 2019-2020 school year hoping to return to in-person in the Fall. It would not be so.

An all-virtual learning environment was instituted

Before the 2020-2021 school year began, the school district asked parents to select the preferred learning environment for their student(s) for the first semester. We could select either in-person or all-virtual, with the caveat that in-person learning would be limited based on the community COVID-19 case numbers. We chose in-person believing that our youngest son may have the chance to go through a hybrid model, with just half of the kids in the classrooms and the rest of the time remote. The school year began late, in September, with all students being taught virtually. The district followed the guidance from the CDC and county health department, tracked the number of cases, and eventually they began a hybrid model of classes for those who chose in-person. Our son was in Group B, on Mondays and Tuesday (while the other group was in-person) he received his work from his teachers but did not have direct instruction, on Wednesdays and Thursdays he went to school and on Fridays, everyone was remote, so they had all classes taught by the teachers.

As the sibling of a child on the spectrum, our youngest son has lived with structure, routine, and occasional drama. Fortunately for him, he is a fairly easy going, understanding, and he genuinely cares about others. He’s also a pretty smart kid who had always gotten A’s and B’s in the private school he attended through 8th grade. Despite our best efforts to create a balance of school and home life, we became concerned about the limited teacher instruction and his motivation to excel and not just get by. As the mother of a Latinx male, I was concerned by comments made by one of his teachers during our Virtual Parent Teacher Conferences assuming that he was not motivated. I definitely did not want him to fulfill a negative stereotype and kindly informed her that although he is a quiet kid, he is quite a good student and not to misinterpret his lack of talking with lack of interest. As we have always done, we stayed engaged with his teachers, followed his work and encouraged him to ask for help when he needed it. We have always set high but reasonable expectations with the reality of his learning environment. We eventually sat down with him to talk more about the one class he had a C in, band. In a normal environment, I think being with other kids would have kept him motivated to get better but, playing the trombone remotely was not the same. However, the only thing keeping his grade down was participation. After our talk, he rallied and got a B his first semester and was on the honor roll. It’s amazing how that recognition can be a motivator. Our school set up a social distanced event for them to receive their certificate and take a photo. We left, with our son telling us that next time it would be High Honors. At our second set of  conferences the same teacher who thought he was going to be a slacker, said he was a leader in the class, that he was mature for his age and he did great work. All of his teachers spoke highly of him and several were encouraging him to go into more leadership roles and honor classes and to be thinking of college. I could not have been prouder.

We began 2021 with the hybrid model

We began 2021 with the hybrid model, then in March 2021, he started in-person learning, Monday though Friday. Honestly, I never thought he’d actually have to go full-time back to school. As a parent, it’s been difficult to not know just how to prepare your child for such a huge transition. Our son is already going to a much larger high school than his father and I attended, although only 2/3 of the student body is attending in-person, it is over 500 students in the freshman class in the oldest high school building in the district. Although he has an easy going personality, I have to remember he is  still a teenager, and as many other teenage boys, he sometimes has trouble expressing and dealing with anger. He has seen countless meltdowns from his brother, and I hope learned some self-soothing from what he saw modeled. But he’s broken a couple of things during home-learning out of frustration. We had to focus on thinking of strategies he could use when he was angry. I wanted him to know that it is okay to feel frustrated and angry, but that he needed to have constructive ways to deal with it, not destructive.

As a parent, it’s been difficult to not know just how to prepare your child for such a huge transition

During our second set of parent teacher conferences, we tried to prepare for the return of in person learning. We asked each teacher how many kids were in the class and how far they would be sitting from each other. Most would share they would struggle to meet the 3-foot apart guideline, with the exception of band. Each teacher had a plan but the number of children in the class still worried me. Fortunately, the vaccine rollout had begun and teachers had been prioritized. Many of the teachers had shared that they had received the vaccine. My husband and mother-in-law had both gotten the vaccine as well, so at least I had some hope that we could prevent COVID from impacting our family again (my husband works as a Pharmacy Technician, got COVID for Christmas and thankfully recovered without hospitalization).

When I picked up our son that first Friday of in person learning, he said he thought that everyone was trying hard to social distance, but it was almost impossible, especially in the hallways. He also told me that during his final class that day, the teacher took off his mask to read to the class, saying, “I had the vaccine, it’s fine.” Our son said he didn’t know what to do, it wasn’t his regular teacher but someone who came in occasionally to help. He didn’t even know the teacher’s name. That evening, I wrote an email to the vice principal, informing him of what had happened. I thanked him for all their efforts to make it possible for them to return to school. I asked that he remind the teacher and the rest of his staff of the new guidelines and to remember that they are not only protecting our children but our community. I received a response the next morning, the teacher and all the staff were reminded of the guidelines. I think it’s important to advocate on behalf of our children, and for them to see that you are going to address problems when they arise and that you can do it in a respectful way. Although our son was convinced that he would be returning from Spring Break 2021 to an all virtual environment, on April 12th they returned to school in-person. Thankfully, community case numbers have stayed down, and the vaccine distribution has ramped up.

So, we survived a second Spring Break with COVID-19, and I am hopeful that the vaccines will be approved for 15 and under before the Fall. I look forward to a more “normal” sophomore year and beyond.


DeeDee lives with her husband, two teenage sons, and mother-in-law in Mission, Kansas. Her eldest son, 18, was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder at age 4. She was fortunate to have a background in social work to guide her advocacy efforts but continues to learn and grow as a parent with both her children. DeeDee received her Master Degree in Social Work from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and is the Patient Services Manager for Qsource ESRD Network 12 serving Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska working to improve the lives of individuals living with chronic kidney disease. She enjoys spending time with her family, baking and decorating, reading and taking her dog for long walks. 

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