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Perspectives

Back to School Means Back to Uncertainty

pondering the return to another COVID-impacted school year

Even under the best of circumstances, back-to-school season is a bittersweet, uncertain time. For those of us with children, that swirl of emotions was magnified last year by the coronavirus pandemic. What would classrooms look like with masking and physical distancing? How would we juggle work and family schedules as children shifted from virtual to in-person instruction (and back again)? Were the steps we were taking to keep our children safe the right ones? Were any of the available steps the right ones? What about our kids’ social and emotional well-being? And, amid all this, were they actually learning anything?

It was enough to keep parents up at night.

In the case of my own family, my wife and I decided on a fully virtual option for our kids last year. As with any decision in parenting, there was – and is – no single right answer, but this is the one we chose.

We made it through in one piece, COVID-free, and I gained a new appreciation for teachers. If managing six children once a week was this hard, I can’t imagine the challenge of keeping four (or five or six!) times as many kiddos focused and learning five days a week.

Because we both worked outside the home four days a week last year, making virtual schooling a reality required us to team up with two other families. Among us, there were six virtual students, including a kindergartner, two first-graders, two third-graders, and a fourth grader. We formed a pod, pledging to keep our in-person circles tight to reduce our COVID risk, and the adults took turns helping the kids with their studies. For me, the upshot was that each Wednesday I was a  teacher/facilitator/cheerleader/counselor/short-order-cook/babysitter and, above all, a very exhausted parent. Juggling the educational, social, and emotional needs of six children in four different grades at the same time is no walk in the park – although, thankfully, we were able to take a literal walk in the park nearly every Wednesday. Snacks were eaten, games were played, memories were made, and lessons were learned – even a few about reading, writing, and ’rithmatic.

We made it through in one piece, COVID-free, and I gained a new appreciation for teachers. If managing six children once a week was this hard, I can’t imagine the challenge of keeping four (or five or six!) times as many kiddos focused and learning five days a week.

With the coming of summer, our pod dissolved, and now my kids are poised to return to in-person education: eager, masked, but still too young to be vaxxed. The pandemic drags on, and so does the uncertainty. We’ve all made the decisions that we hope are right for our families. Now, the school bells ring again, and we face the future together – or apart.


This was made by

Tom Giffey  author

Tom Giffey, managing editor of Volume One, has been an award-winning media professional in the Chippewa Valley for more than 20 years.