Remote Learning Is Not Working For My Teen

It took me only about a week to realize that distance learning was not meant for my 9th-grade son.

He has a 504 plan, a plan devised to keep him on track academically and provide accommodations for testing or homework, aiming to address a few of his special needs. He requires frequent breaks (to address his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), time with his school social worker (to address his Autism Spectrum Disorder), and the ability to have a manipulative, such as a stress ball (to address his anxiety disorder).

Today, in the United States 1 in 54 children are on the Autism spectrum, and 3.3 million children ages 12-17 are living with ADHD — and having a comorbidity, like anxiety, is par for the course. For someone like my son, who had support in school and thrives when other adults in his life can mirror real life back to him, so much is lost due to remote learning. He needs more than what our dining room table can provide him with, or that I can provide him with, or what Google Classroom can give. He needs more than the socialization he gets from hanging out with his five-year-old sisters. 

He has two moms, and my God, does he need both of us. My wife, a former middle school teacher, understands his academic needs. She also has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), so she understands him on an even deeper level than I do. Together, we put in the work to get him what he needs — even as we all navigate our anxiety about what will come in the weeks ahead, about remote learning, about the mental health of our teenager. We also are the teachers for our five-year-old twin daughters, work full-time, and try to make it all function well. We all are trying to do our best and work with the reality in front of us.

Two weeks ago his first quarter as a 9th grader was officially behind us all, as bumpy a ride as it’s been, with the canceled school, the in-school, in-person learning. But the grades which showed up on his digital report card surprised us all — four Fs in subjects he’d once liked, like history. I wanted to scold and nag him and lecture him: “You’re able to get higher grades!” “You like history, what happened?” We all knew what happened. We all blamed remote learning for our son’s grades (and YouTube).

Like many parents of kids with special needs, at the beginning of the remote learning fiasco, I was simply in survival mode. 1,001 questions raced through my mind: How will I parent and teach my kid, how will he get what he needs socially when we can’t even go outside, how will he get to trust and know his teachers, will he learn anything this year?

Some six or so months into this new normal, I am still feeling the growing pains and so is my son. He’s a teenager, and like so many teens, he’s obsessed with YouTube, a phenomenon I am still trying to wrap my own almost 40-year-old brain around. But having access to the internet all day has quickly become a hindrance in his life, getting in the way of his education and the achievement of his goals because his brain just isn’t wired to be online all day long. None of us are wired this way, but especially not those who have trouble with executive functioning. 

In my home state of Connecticut, there are 18,716 — or 1 in 28 — students who are diagnosed with autism, emotional disturbance, or intellectual disability in our school system. My son is part of that statistic, and his special needs make distance learning almost impossible. But here we are. I imagine the other parents of these kids are feeling the same way.

In the weeks ahead we are going to need to figure out how to not only bring up our son’s grades, but how to keep him socially engaged during the quarantine. Our state’s education commissioner, Miguel Cardona, was quoted in the Connecticut Mirror, as saying, “For the parents of students of special needs: I see you and I hear you. Right now our efforts are going to be focused on making sure we are providing services and support to students with special needs, to our English learners and our youngest learners in early childhood programs.”

As a parent, I am still waiting to hear what kind of services are being put into place for my son’s education. For any student entering into 9th grade, it is a hard year no matter what — but being in school to navigate it all, a student can grasp the realities of showing up, in person, day after day. With the support of guidance counselors, teachers, social workers, cafeteria staff, principals and school custodians, our kids are stronger and more capable humans because of the variety of individuals in their lives. For my special needs son, this is doubly true.

His homeroom begins every day at 7:30 a.m.; he logs on and is expected to be marked for his attendance by his teacher on Google Classroom. Most mornings, he is distracted by YouTube before even navigating his mouse to get to his homeroom class on time. With 80-minute periods and teachers who aren’t entirely sure how to work Zoom themselves, they rarely succeed in holding his attention. By the second period, he is fully engaged in some YouTuber’s story rather than his academics.

Could I be more available for him and monitor him more? Yes. Would my work suffer because of it? Yes. Even if his performance went up, mine would decrease. And monitoring him more, sitting beside him while in science class, would drastically alter the dynamic between my teen and me.

This reality that we are all navigating is not meant to be what is normal, what helps us succeed as humans — and at the end of the day, that is what I want for my son. I want him to succeed, to be an individual who understands others, who knows the importance of putting hard work in, and how to appropriately engage with people in the world. For these experiences, I cannot depend on his school to serve its traditional purpose in the ways I’ve been able to lean on in the past. It’s up to us now, in varying degrees, to help him succeed even as a special needs student. I just hope we can figure it out.

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School Is Virtual Enough — We Need Actual Textbooks, Please

I had just picked up my seventh grader’s school supply kit. School-in-a-box, with folders, a protractor, a whiteboard, and everything else needed to successfully learn at home. But something was missing.

“What about textbooks?” I asked the harried staff member handing out supplies, who had already moved his gaze to the next car.

“No textbooks. They’ll get that online this year.”

I grimaced behind my mask.

I don’t know how many other schools have given up on textbooks entirely this year. But even before the pandemic, schools were using textbooks less and less, in favor of cheaper, more adaptive online learning.

I’m not a fan of this trend, and I suspect the pandemic will accelerate it. Over the years I have had numerous conversations with my kids that go something like this:

Kid: “Hey Mom, do you know how to do this kind of math problem?” **shows handout**

Me: “Maybe, if I look at an example of how to do one.”

Kid: “This sheet is all they gave us.”

Me: “So, um, you don’t have a math textbook?”

Kid: “No.”

Me: “Like, a book that introduces a new concept, illustrates it with examples, offers practice problems with some answers in back, like of the odd-numbered problems or something?”

Kid: “Still no.”

Me: “So…how exactly do you learn math?”

And that is where things grow murky. Seems that my kids have learned much of their math, science, and other subjects from a combination of online apps, some type of workbooks or journals that they leave in the classroom, and a bunch of handouts that end up crumpled in their backpacks.

My kids think it’s weird that I have an opinion on their learning materials. After all, I’m not the one in school, or the one teaching school — I’m just the occasional tutor or study buddy. But when I step into that role, there’s nothing more useful than a textbook to yank me up to speed quickly on what the kids are supposed to be learning.

Surely textbooks have advantages for students, too, especially this year. After spending a good chunk of the day staring at screens, reading on paper is a soothing break for kids’ eyes. And unlike a tablet or laptop, a textbook isn’t a glittering gateway to a universe of distractions.

Research suggests that kids learn better from actual books, in part because they read hard-copy text more slowly, which lets them pick up more details.

But I suspect the learning benefits go beyond that. The beauty of a physical book is how easy it is to flip around and find things. If you’ve ever tried to locate something in an online textbook — say, how covalent bonds work — you know that it can be a cumbersome process. In fact, you’re tempted not to do it at all. But seeking out and reviewing information is how we build knowledge. It’s how our understanding of a topic, like molecular bonding, eventually clicks into place.

Textbooks spoon-feed information to kids, in a good way. They take the universe of content on a given subject, put boundaries on it, organize it, and walk the learner through each step. This keeps kids on track. Some of my kids’ best teachers have “taught to the textbook”: it was always clear what their students were expected to learn. When course materials are a mishmash of online sources, handouts, and notes, it takes college-level organizational ability to keep track of things, which most school-age kids don’t yet have.

Of course, textbooks don’t do everything well. They can be biased (also true of online sources) and outdated. This is most likely to be a problem with social studies and history textbooks. So perhaps we can do without those, or at least supplement them heavily with other sources. But other, fact-based subjects are perfectly-suited for textbooks: basic science, math, foreign languages.

It’s also true that textbooks can’t adapt to the needs of individual learners, as educational apps using artificial intelligence claim to do. So why not use both, reaping the advantages of each?

My opinions may put me out of step with current educational thinking. As my kids like to remind me, I’m old. How old? Well, let’s just say that in my elementary school, handouts were cranked out on a purple-ink ditto machine.

No one wants to go back to those days. But as technology continues to reshape every aspect of our lives, we are going to discover that some things have unique value in their analog versions.

The other day my middle-schooler was struggling to grasp a new concept using her math instruction website. When I checked in with her a little later, she looked pleased. “I figured it out,” she said. She showed me a thick stack of paper; explanations she had printed out from the online program. “Look,” she said. “I can follow along with this while I do the problems. It makes sense now.”

She had, in essence, made her own textbook.

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There’s A Lot I Don’t Miss About Teaching — Especially This Year

I’m a teacher who was forced to “find something new” during the pandemic. The truth is, I didn’t really want to find something new — it’s just what happened.

Earlier this year, my husband accepted a position with his company that required us to move. Wanting to let my children finish their school year and wanting to fulfill my teaching contract, we decided that he would move first, and we’d follow once the school year finished.

I knew it would be stressful. I knew it would be tough. We enlisted our mothers to help us and began our plans.

Then COVID-19 happened.

My husband had already begun in his new position. Our mothers could no longer come help us. School became distance learning. I found myself suddenly working from home, packing that home, preparing it to sell, and helping my children with distance learning. All with much less help than I’d originally expected.

Long story short(ish), we sold our home, moved, bought a house, and I (finally!) found a job—but not as a teacher. I applied for every teaching job I could find and got one interview. Not one to sit around, I applied for a retail job, and got it.

After a few months living the retail life, I’ve learned a few things.

Teaching is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Retail is physically exhausting. I haven’t been this tired in a very long time.

As a teacher, I often felt isolated from my peers. Yes, you’re surrounded by a room full of students, but you’re not on the same level. You have to be the one in charge, which can be a lonely experience. At least as a teacher, I had lunch time to relax, talk with my colleagues, and take a moment for myself. In retail, I rarely get that opportunity. Once I clock in, I am working every moment. I might have a second or two here and there to interact with other workers, but that’s it.

People are rude. This isn’t news. I already knew this from teaching. I already knew this from all the summer jobs I had when I was younger. But it’s a startling reminder. As a teacher, I expected a certain amount of attitude and rudeness from the teenagers I taught. They are still learning how the world works, not to mention all of the hormonal changes they’re experiencing.

But that’s not who’s rude in retail. Most of the rude customers are probably 50 or older (but not always, so slow your roll, Karen). And they’re rude about inconsequential things, like the store being out of the soap they want. The young people I work with are the best. They have shown me so much grace as I’ve learned the job. They’ve never once belittled me for not knowing how to do something. They’ve gone out of their way time and again to help me. They are polite, gracious, and friendly.

So far, I’m enjoying the retail life. But I do miss teaching. I actually miss it a lot.

I miss my teacher friends. I was lucky enough to work with the best group of people. They are my family.

I miss my students. Working with teens is not for everyone, but I loved it. They are funny, curious, idealistic, and genuine. They can tell when you don’t know your shit, but will cut you slack if you admit it. If you show them that you see them as human beings, they’ll respect you and possibly love you forever.

I miss reading Shakespeare with them. I miss diagramming sentences with them (yes, some of us still teach that and some of the students love it). I miss laughing at Giles Cory in The Crucible when he says, “A fart on Thomas Putnam!” Because farts are always funny.

Mostly, I miss standing outside my door and saying hello to them as they entered my room. I miss the interaction. I miss them.

There are so many things I miss about teaching. But there are a lot of things that I do not miss at all:

The constant grading.

The angry parent emails.

The school nightmares.

The back to school nightmares.

The never-ending stress and anxiety.

The politics.

The feeling that I am not doing enough.

I could make this list a lot longer.

While I miss my teacher friends and students so much, I do not miss any of the things above. Now, I come home from work and do what I want rather than grade, or feel guilty for not grading.

Now, I check my email without a sense of dread.

Now, I take naps. On a weekday. In the afternoon. Because I can. It is glorious.

I can say these things because I’m no longer in the trenches. Teaching is hard. It is so damn hard. Often, we’re seen as martyrs; the people who will literally do everything and anything for their students. We want to be able to provide our students with the best education we can. More than that, we want to give them a safe place to learn. We want them to know that our classroom is that place. There, they will be safe, loved, and valued.

But we don’t want to be the catch-all. We don’t want to do this at the expense of our health.

Last spring, teachers were heroes. Now, they’re getting threats or being told to simply suck it up and get back to work. Many went back to work with no idea what to expect. Many went back to work out of necessity. We don’t all have the option or the desire to “find something new.”

None of us know what will happen this year. But I know that we should not endanger our teachers, or our students. I’ve had students who died. I’ve had teacher friends who died. There is simply nothing that I could say to my students to make those situations better. There was a lot of hurt and heartache. I fear that this year might cost us a lot. I am so fearful of that.

This year, please cut teachers a lot of slack. We’ve been running on fumes for a long time. I don’t know what we’re running on now.

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If Schools Are Closed, Teachers Should Not Be Forced To Sit In Their Classrooms Alone

With each passing day, we are one step closer to schools on the East Coast reopening while others have already opened and have been forced to change their plans already. Students, teachers, and staff are faced with the possibility that they are putting their lives in jeopardy, and teachers are having to learn to educate kids in a way they’ve never taught before — remotely. 

In Massachusetts, teachers are expected to teach their lessons remotely to students who, from the safety of their own homes, are supposed to learn from teachers who are in their classrooms––inside the school building–– every day.

The thought behind having teachers in their classrooms versus teaching from home? Well, according to Jeff Riley, Massachusetts’s education commissioner, “remote learning will provide familiarity for students by seeing a classroom environment on screen, and will help make the transition back to in-person instruction easier for students.”

I’m not seeing how a Zoom background is going to make it easier for kids to transition back into in-person instruction during a pandemic, when they’ve been out of school since March, and will return to the classroom with masks, plexiglass barriers and no lunchtime or peer-to-peer interactions. Kids don’t care if their teacher is in their home office or classroom desk. 

But they probably do care about their teacher’s health and wellbeing, and the lowest risk environment for teachers is in their home, isolated from other people outside of their quarantine bubble. Not only that, but what many are also failing to realize is that many teachers have children of their own who may not be returning to classrooms either. Forcing teachers to find care for their kids so they can sit in an empty classroom just increases the community spread of the virus, and lengthens this pandemic for everyone

When it’s time for everyone to return to class, teachers can transition back in as well. They are fully capable of doing that.

We have an opportunity for students and teachers alike to stretch new muscles in their learning and teaching. Ryan Stanley, technology director of Alaska’s Educational Resource Center, states in an EdWeek article, “If a school is trying to do what they did, the way they used to deliver instruction, and pick it up into the distance classroom, they’re missing the opportunity.”

As some states remain closed, and some schools open only to close back down again, many teachers are learning about what remote learning truly is (and is not), and what works (and does not) for their students. Students and teachers are learning to bond and communicate in new ways. There is a learning curve there for everyone. It’s not ideal for all children to say the least, and most teachers will tell you they can’t wait to return to normal, in-person instruction with their beloved students.

But the numbers do not lie, and in many states, the number of positive COVID-19 cases continue to increase in some way, whether it’s because of college parties or fall sports training or schools reopening. We are doing something wrong here including forcing some teachers to teach from empty classrooms to serve a purpose that can not be explained. 

The president of Massachusetts’s Teachers’ Association, Merrie Najimy helps shed some light on the issue. “Not only is it paternalistic and shows their fundamental lack of trust for a field that is dominated by women to know how to do their jobs in the best way — it’s punitive,” Najimy states in an interview with reporter Carrie Jung on Edify. 

There are safer options for all and returning to the classroom as if COVID-19 will just disappear, allows us to all wallow in a kind of purgatory that we should not be in, and just about guarantees us another lockdown this fall. If students are learning remotely, their teachers should not be forced out of quarantine and into the classroom. They deserve safety and respect, and their virtual lessons can be taught from home. 

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Our First Day Of School Looked A Lot Different This Year

The first day of school was a quiet disaster and nobody even left the house.

One of my twins attended math class while still in bed. Wi-Fi was glitchy and slow with everybody logging into virtual school at the same time. Passwords were forgotten or misspelled. Zoom meetings froze up. Servers crashed. School in the time of pandemic is strange and frustrating and, as my high school senior said to me at the end of the day: “I’m coining the word ‘Zoom Fatigue.’”

Five hours of Zoom meetings is no way to educate a child, but this is all we have so I guess this is what we’re doing. Get on board. Or rather, get online. I have three children (one in 12th grade and twins in 7th) attending school virtually, and while it’s challenging and sometimes just downright absurd (how in the world will they do P.E.?), I’m profoundly thankful that they’re not in physical classrooms right now. Even when the Wi-Fi blinks out and yet another child yells: “MOM! MY ZOOM MEETING JUST FROZE!” I’m still glad they’re safe at home.

The weeks leading up to the start of school were messy and chaotic. The communication from our school district and individual schools was contradictory and ever-changing. One day we were given the choice of a hybrid model or virtual school; the next day we were told there was no choice—everything would be online. But just three days before school started, we still had almost no information about how the kids would sign into classes, what their schedules would look like and how they would use an online platform called “Schoology.”

It felt like everyone was scrambling. The school superintendent, the principals, and the individual teachers were all trying to figure out how to do this thing called virtual school. Nothing felt organized. Communication was lacking. Two days before school started I finally called the school office to ask some questions and was told to just wait until the first of day of school, that things were still being finalized. For a moment I considered abandoning public school entirely and becoming a full-time homeschool teacher. But then I remembered I’m not good at math. Or science. And my high school Spanish is, well, no bueno.

So, we stuck with our school. I tried to put on a brave face for the kids. It’s not like I was pretending everything was fine, it’s just that I didn’t think it was good for morale if they saw me freaking out and melting down. I was frazzled and frustrated, but told myself that probably everyone else was, too.

I went on long walks with my husband and we talked about our options for the school year. When the school gave us the option of a hybrid model, I agonized for hours about whether it was worth the risk. What if one child got sick; did that mean the whole classroom went into quarantine? What if a teacher got sick? Did that mean all his/her classes went into quarantine? How would the school handle an outbreak? And if an outbreak resulted in death, was in-person teaching worth the loss of life? My answer: no. It wasn’t worth even one life lost.

I talked to my high school senior about the risks involved with going back to his physical school, because I felt like he was old enough to have some say in his education. He preferred to attend school in-person. He missed his friends and his theatre arts class. He missed rehearsals and after show parties. He’d already spent a summer quarantined with his little sisters and wanted interaction with his peers. But he wasn’t adamant about it. He’s a thoughtful kid, and after I shared with him my concerns about in-person schooling, he said he would be fine with virtual school if I thought it was best. In the end, the Governor of California made the decision for us and online “distance learning” became mandatory.

In the face of so many not-normal things, I tried to focus on the things I could control. I ordered school supplies like normal. I upgraded our internet so that we would have reliable WiFi. I bought the kids new school shoes, even though we weren’t going anywhere near school. I instituted an earlier bedtime and tried to wean them off their summer schedule of sleeping in until noon. Earlier generations have been called to do hard things and I took some pride in trying to handle this new reality with grace and dignity. It wasn’t easy but this is life during a pandemic. Might as well strap in and march onward.

By the second day of school, things were already better. We’d worked out the kinks in their student portals, figured out how to use Schoology, saved all the passwords for the Google Meets. Things fell into a (somewhat) predictable rhythm. About mid-morning I walked into the twins’ room to check on how they were doing. One of my twins waved me away: “Mom, my mic is on. Go away.”

It almost felt normal. Almost.

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Now’s The Time To Remind Your Kids Of A Few ‘Zoom Rules’

I tease my high school teacher husband about basic Zoom etiquette. “You know you’ll have kids juuling onscreen,” I laugh. He rolls his eyes, but he knows it’s true. Even high school kids don’t necessarily know how to behave onscreen — they don’t have a sense that of what it means to have a serious virtual meetup. And when school time rolls around, you’ll do your kids’ teachers a favor if you practice some rules with them now, before they seriously embarrass themselves. Because the potential for serious Zoom embarrassment is high. 

1. Dress for the Classroom

Parents, you play a part in this. You know Zoom etiquette dictates you look decent from the waist up. So make sure your 7-year-old has brushed his hair and teeth. No pajamas allowed. We here at Scary Mommy know teenage boys and feel that we have to say this: you must wear a shirt, and you must wear a different shirt every day. Do your kid’s hair. Wash their faces. Make them, in general, look like presentable little human beings.

2. No, You Cannot Finish Breakfast During Homeroom

No one wants to see your kid slurp up their Lucky Charms while the teacher is keeping track of housekeeping stuff. Food stays— well, we all gave up the battle of keeping it in the kitchen a long, long time ago, but keep it off camera. Zoom etiquette dictates that we don’t have to hear your kid captain crunching.

3. Charge Yourself

Worst Zoom etiquette ever: suddenly diving for the outlet. Even worse Zoom etiquette: raising a hand and saying, “I need to go look for my charger, because I think my brother/dog/space aliens stole it.” Worst Zoom etiquette: absently wandering off camera, then diving to plug in the device. During the diving, the entire class is treated to a view of your kid’s derriere, and remember the Zoom maxim of “decent from the waist up”? Who the f*ck knows if they’re even wearing pants? 

4. Zoom Etiquette Dictates One Device At A Time

You think we can’t tell your kid is on their phone? We can tell your kid is on their phone. They are not sneaky. They are not stealthy. They look like they are trying to be sneaky and stealthy and failing in a a stupendously teenage manner.

5. Sit Down and Shut Up

No, really, tell them to sit down (we don’t want to see your kid’s Star Wars tighty-whities) and shut up (we don’t want them talking over the teacher or other kids). Hand-raising rules still apply. Teach them not to speak unless someone asks them to speak. There is a mute button and if your their teacher asks them to use it, they need to use it. 

Zoom etiquette dictates they become familiar with the location of that mute button now. 

6. Pick A Space and Stay There

Arrange a neat little space for Zooming. Doesn’t matter where it is, as long as it’s not supremely distracting to other people in the classroom (i.e. not in front of a TV screen). This is not the chance for your kid to carry their classmates through the house, or take them on trips to the bathroom (remember that girl?) or show off the kewl posters in their bedroom. They should be situated, preferably at a desk, with a place to take notes and a plain background. No field trips.

7. Zoom Etiquette Dictates A Firm “No Visitors” Rule

Remember how we all went “awwwww” when those kids wandered into an interview? That’s not cute when it happens in the classroom. No one cares about your kids’ siblings. No one cares if your kid got a new puppy, gerbil, kitten, hedgehog, ferret, kinkajou, etc., and even if the other children do, your child’s teacher really, really wishes they wouldn’t. So stow the livestock, please.

8. Your Child Is Not A Parrot

Teach your kid that they are not a parrot: Zooming is not a chance to stare at themselves for hours at a time. Everyone can tell they’re looking at themselves. It’s annoying and kind of hilarious. Everyone else is trying to memorize spelling words, and your kid’s in a Zoom box using the computer as a mirror. Not so adorable. Zoom etiquette means you watch the presenter, not yourself, even if you’re Timothee Chalamet.

9. Zoom Etiquette Means Quiet

If your kid’s mic is on, we can hear what’s happening in the house. That could range from their sibling watching Duck Tails next to them to you yelling, “Layla! Get back in your cell! Don’t make me get the hose!” a la Mrs. Doubtfire. No one wants to hear any of these things. Other unacceptable sounds: barking dogs, washing machines, screaming children, your child yelling at other people to shut up, you yelling at other people to shut up, your child yelling for you to bring them things.

Boil it down to this: Zoom etiquette dictates that no one hears yelling of any kind.

10. They Can See You

Teach your kid that everyone can see them all the time, and they have to remember that. They may not be in a room full of people, but 27 people can see them pick their nose. Those same 27 people can see their aforementioned Star Wars undies if they stand up, their phones if they take them out, their vape pens if they juul, their armpits if they sniff them. Those people can see them reach down to rearrange, which, on a computer screen, will look like… yeah.

Teach your children that Zoom etiquette boils down to one thing: they are watching you. This might make your teens even more insecure, but it’s a small price to pay to avoid your teenage boy sprawling in front of a computer, shirtless, juuling, blasting “WAP” in the background.

No one needs to see that.

Least of all in a learning environment.

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I Listened To The Podcast ‘Nice White Parents’ And Found Out I Am One

In the podcast “Nice White Parents,” a parent seizes upon a plan of action that he believes will yield multiple positive outcomes: It will “rescue” a struggling school in New York City, filling empty seats, integrating the school racially, and bringing up standardized test scores, and it will provide his child as well as the children of other parents in his social circle the opportunity to attend a conveniently located, highly rated school. The plan is to begin a French program, in which classes and clubs will be taught in French, allowing students to acquire the language immersion-style.

This parent has a career in fundraising. It’s literally what he does. He and other parents take over the PTA and set up a gala to benefit the French program and succeed in raising a massive amount of money.

And so a struggling school’s test score average rises, empty seats are filled, and integration is accomplished… on paper. But the predominantly Black and Brown kids who attend that school not because of the French program, but because it is their zoned school, experience no change in their schooling experience aside from the fact that now there’s a class full of rich white kids down the hall being taught in French.

“Nice White Parents” chronicles various similar efforts to desegregate and “improve” schools. A common thread is the implementation of “choice” schools, programs meant to encourage integration but which in reality often unintentionally select for high income families who have the means to attend such a school — they have their own transportation and therefore are not impacted by the lack of bussing to such schools, their parents have the time to do the required volunteer hours often tied to attending a choice school, and these parents often have the time to devote to fundraising efforts and to the parental schoolwork management that a rigorous curriculum typically demands.

NYT

I am a Nice White Parent. My children are Peruvian-American and so their presence checks the diversity box, but they are financially privileged. My daughter attends a “school for science,” a choice school that looks similar to the kinds of programs described above, though at least at her school, all students are enrolled in the same program. No one within the school is left out. However, in order to attend the school, one of the highest-rated elementary schools in the very large district, parents must provide their own transportation and must commit to regular volunteer hours. This requires a minimum level of socioeconomic stability and thereby excludes a significant portion of the population.

My son attended a similar science program for middle school in the “bad part of town.” I gave myself a pat on the back for being “woke,” for expressing my disgust at the racist comments I sometimes heard from other white parents, like, “You’re not worried about sending him to school… over there?” On the contrary, I wanted my kids to attend an integrated school. My kids may be brown, but they are privileged in countless ways, and as far as I know they have never suffered discrimination due to the color of their skin. I wanted them to learn alongside kids from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. I didn’t want them to be surrounded by rich white kids.

Except, what I eventually learned was that the “science kids” would be kept mostly separate from the “regular kids.” To be fair, the science program was populated by many kids of color, mine included, but the kids who attended that school simply because they were zoned for it did not benefit from the existence of that program the way the science kids did. It wasn’t assumed of them that they had the aptitude to succeed at intensive research, and they weren’t offered the opportunity to travel to the Florida Keys for the weekend for “Marine Lab.”

I Listened To The Podcast 'Nice White Parents' And Found Out I Am One
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I’m sure you’ve already guessed that the school is located in a predominantly Black neighborhood. The science program is yet another well-intended choice school, meant to integrate the school racially and economically and improve the school’s overall performance. But I don’t believe the kids who live in that neighborhood are reaping the benefit.

Eight or nine years ago, my county proposed a redrawing of district lines so that some neighborhoods would be reassigned to different schools, a move intended to improve integration and level out socioeconomic distribution of families across schools. My little neighborhood, where my then-husband and I had purchased a new home months before, fell into the zone that would be reassigned from the very high rated school to the much lower rated school. Based on the impacts of school zoning on price per square foot, our house could be expected to see a $25,000 decrease in value as a result of the rezoning.

I wasn’t worried so much about the school itself. My kid wasn’t close to middle- or high school-age, and anyway we were in a position to opt-in to choice schools, because privilege. But I didn’t want to go underwater on our mortgage; we had already lost one home in similar fashion during the 2008 economic downturn.

We can all pretend we would happily sacrifice $25,000 for the mutual benefit of our community. But when put in that position, I’m certain the vast majority of us wouldn’t. Most of the families who purchased housing in the area in question did so precisely because they were seeking for their children to attend a particular school. They paid a deliberate premium for that.

I can’t remember if I merely complained about the rezoning proposal or if I signed some petition, or what, but ultimately, the Nice White Parents in the area made such a fuss that the district decided not to redraw the lines. I probably donated several hundred dollars to the ACLU that year, oblivious to my own hypocrisy.

What I didn’t understand back then is that rezoning schools so that more expensive homes fall into a less well-funded school zone is done with the intention of properly funding the poorer, underperforming school so that it may rise to the level of schools in surrounding higher income areas.

Listening to “Nice White Parents” made me take a closer look at my participation in the inequities that exist in the public school system. In my efforts at maintaining my and my children’s interests, I bought in fully to a system that sacrifices the many for the benefit of few. I consider myself a good person, a thoughtful, caring person, and yet I absolutely contributed to that system of inequity, even if unintentionally.

And yet, here’s the question I can’t stop asking after listening to the four episodes of “Nice White Parents” that have been released so far: Why? As in, why are we here? Why are schools so horrifically imbalanced from one district to another, often with these districts literally neighboring one another, that any parent would feel compelled to get involved in the management of their child’s school? Why is this even considered a normal thing to do? Talk to parents from other countries with school systems far better than ours, and they are not required to donate supplies, fundraise, or “get involved.” This is a uniquely American idea.

Why are American schools so underfunded? Why don’t all schools receive the same funding, the same tools, the same enriching clubs, the same quality tech equipment, the same nutritious food, the same well-stocked libraries, the same fresh art supplies and musical instruments, regardless of where they are? Why, why, why is school funding tied to housing prices?

I want all parents to listen to “Nice White Parents,” but not just because it will help us white parents to examine our complicity in a system designed to keep the folks who already lack so much opportunity out of the circle of resources. But I also hope it will get us all to question why it is that school quality and real estate values are linked in the first place. This is a system that is designed to be inequitable, and it should not be accepted as normal.

Every child has a right to a quality education, and if we really want to be “Nice” white parents, we must use our influence, not to build up an exclusive program that will benefit our child and their friends for the few years they attend a particular school, but to tear out the root of this problem where it begins, and that is with how we fund our schools in the first place.

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I Love My College Students But I’m Terrified To Go Back To My College Classroom

I am a college professor at a state school where almost 30% of the population are first-generation college students, just as I was. I never returned to my office after spring break because we began emergency remote learning—very different than distance learning—to protect the lives of our students and families. Not even my succulents could possibly still be alive on my windowsill. And I am really hoping I hadn’t left any half and half in my tiny fridge.

I have earned tenure and last year was promoted to Professor, so I enjoy a level of security and privilege not shared by the majority of my colleagues. I missed my students, but I also hadn’t gotten to know them all that well yet so I know I failed in connecting more with them.

My husband is a high school physics teacher in a wealthy suburban school outside of Philadelphia. Overnight he had to learn how to make a lab science engaging for students, mostly seniors dismayed at having their proms and graduations taken away, on technology he had barely encountered before. Having taught for 25 years, it had been a long time since he needed to stay up until the wee hours to be prepared for a lesson. For the last six weeks of the year, he went straight to our home office after putting our daughter to bed and worked until 3 a.m. while the rest of the house—including our dog—slept soundly. His frustration of not being able to connect with students brought him to tears.

We both cried a few times during those weeks. We both did what we could as professionals to be the adults in the room even though we were equally terrified, heartbroken, and confused.

Our daughter is a rising fourth grader at a small Quaker school that went to emergency remote learning at the same time as her parents’ schools. She struggles to read and was finally making good progress thanks to the many teachers who had been building momentum all year and were finally seeing the fruits of their labor. She is an only child, much loved and also very lonely. Her teacher had to watch from afar as her student’s light shone a little dimmer over a Zoom screen and we as parents did all we could to stave off a downslide in her education and mental health.

And our household is the best-case scenario: two educators that can help their child, two people with secure degrees and salaries that allow us to buy whatever we need to support our one child’s education (thank you to the delivery workers that delivered a ream of computer paper to our doorstep!), a big enough house that we could all find a place to be alone during teaching and learning, a fast enough Internet connection that two of us (but definitely not three) could be on Zoom at the same time, a yard that gave us space to breathe fresh air and plant seeds for the tomatoes we are now eating, a sweet dog that sits at my feet while I teach and attended his first Quaker meeting via Zoom, and, most importantly, an extended family that is healthy.

Our household is best-case scenario and we barely survived until June.

Here we are now at midsummer. The coming of August has always been a complicated mix of emotions for us as teachers: in a “normal” year, by August the decompression would have finally alleviated the tension of the pressure cooker of the school year, our bodies would be tanner from enjoying the local pools, our hearts fuller from spending time with friends we don’t get to see as much as we would like during the hectic school year. But we would also start to be on each other’s nerves, all three of us lacking the focus of a school day, me personally missing the adrenaline of being in a classroom and being of service to students.

Here we are now at midsummer in 2020: all three of us have no idea what our professional and personal lives will look like. My newsfeed is filled with memes demanding that Betsy DeVos be forced to spend a week in a classroom, just as Erin Brockovich taunted those with the power to drink the water from the wells the powerful were trying to convince a community was safe.

Every day someone texts me and asks with nothing but good intentions, “do you know anything about the fall?” because parents are scrambling to understand what their lives look like so they can plan their own professions. On a weekly basis I get an email from an entity at my university that explains some facet of campus life and I end up more confused and knowing less than I did about the fall than I did before I got the email. My husband and I sit outside while we let our daughter watch something about Roblox (I should get an Oscar for my performances: The award for “Best Mother Pretending to Care About Roblox” goes to Colleen Clemens! I also now have a PhD in Animal Crossing) for the eighth hour in the long day that would normally contain camp and playdates and pools so he and I can talk about scenarios (as of yet, he has no idea what the school year will look like, but he sure has completed a lot of surveys on the matter).

Households with children being educated and with parents who are educators are spinning. Our heads are storms of conflicting personal and professional desires. I do not want to be in a classroom with college students. I am old enough to know that they will not live by any contract they sign because they are children who have no malice toward those around them but who also want to taste their first sips of freedom. I am also old enough to die from COVID. I watch with envy as schools announce what feels to be the only sane response to science and go to remote learning for the fall. I also know that if that is to happen, some of my colleagues may lose their jobs due to lower enrollment. I know that my at-risk students may not return to college if we are remote in the fall and my heart breaks for them while I simultaneously imagine the relief of not having to worry about my own health.

We want our daughter to go back to school. We know that she is suffering academically and emotionally even though we continue to exploit our privilege and pay tutors and buy online art lessons. We know science dictates that we could not see our extended family once good weather’s departure disallows our outside, socially distant visits. We want our daughter to see her friends. We know that seeing other people means that we are at the mercy of their decisions and lives. We need her to go back to school so the educators in this house can educate again, can give our fullest attention to the students who need our support and care. We worry the elementary educators are also afraid. We worry that our wishes put the lives of fellow educators are risk. We worry, worry, worry.

***

I began writing this essay at 4:45 a.m. because while my husband finds his quiet and focus late into the night, I find it at the beginning of the day. Every morning—I am teaching and mentoring over the summer as I always do—I work frantically to grade essays, plan lessons, reply to email and today, I decided to do something for myself and write this piece, though writing it will create an avalanche of work that I will have to try to do while parenting and running a household. Every morning when I hear my daughter rouse, my first emotion is anxiety—When will I get the rest of this done! Students need feedback! This graduation clearance needs to be completed! What on earth am I teaching later this morning! I do not want to feel anxious when my daughter wakes up—it makes me feel like an awful mother (so many good essays have been written about mothering during the pandemic and I can only assume those women sacrificed a night of sleep to get those written) but by the time she comes down the stairs, I have closed my computer and am smiling to see her. For now it is still summer and I have no answers for her, my students, or even for myself. I say “good morning” and hope that the statement is true.

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Sorry, Boomers — Xennials Have Had It Way Worse

I was born in 1984 and grew up listening to the baby boomer generation laud themselves as having gone through so much in their lifetimes. For goodness sakes, they had to hide under desks during bomb drills in elementary school! They also walked uphill to school, both ways, in the snow, but that’s beside the point. In my short 35 years on this earth, I feel as though my cohort of contemporaries have been through more than our fair share of strife.

Let’s start in the mid ’90s, when AOL became popular. We all invented ridiculous screen names and logged on (or dialed up) to chat with one another. While it all began innocently enough, we were the first generation to endure cyberbullying. I can recall so many memories of classmates and friends inventing fake screen names and harassing others. Pretending to be a boy who liked a girl, only to laugh at her when she admitted she liked him, too. Calling someone out on a fault they had, setting them up to incriminate their friends; it was all just so mean. You could say anything to anyone with anonymity. Our parents didn’t even realize they should have been monitoring our internet usage – it was all so new!

Moving on, to 1999 — I was a freshman in high school and lived through Columbine. Words could never describe how terrifying it was to think about going into a high school after that happened, side-eyeing your classmates and wondering who might be the Eric or Dylan of your town. Sure, we went to school before safe corners and lockdown drills were prominent, but that may actually have made it even worse. As a public school administrator, it is very clear to me now that schools in the early 2000s had no idea how to prevent or how to respond to school shootings

Senior year of high school met with 9/11. Growing up in a New York City suburb, I can’t count how many classmates’, teammates’, and neighbors’ parents or relatives were killed during one fateful morning. Watching the towers be struck and then fall live on television, while knowing they were less than an hour away, has permanently scarred me. Imagine making your decision as to where you were going to college while the country literally fell apart – it all seemed so pointless. 9/11 was hard for the whole country, particularly in the areas surrounding New York City. Now add onto that the social-emotional functioning of a 17-year-old and imagine how well you could process it. To this day, I have trouble functioning on 9/11. A friend of mine had a bridal shower on that day many years after and I thought to myself, really … you couldn’t pick literally any other date in September to celebrate yourself? It just never felt right.

After college, we Xennials were met with the financial crisis of 2008. Picture trying to get a job for the first time in that economy… let alone trying to buy a home. Ah, the American dream. Not to mention that we are the generation that has been burdened with absurd amounts of student loans with lofty promises of high paying careers immediately upon graduation to pay them off. Luckily, I survived all of that, and even went on to earn a doctorate degree (and more loans) in 2012. I was able to buy a house for the first time the same year and began dreaming and planning for a family of my own.

Fast forward to 2020. I have two perfect children, a husband, and a great house in the suburbs of my own. But not only do we have a reality star as a president now, we have a country more divided than ever. So, of course, it makes sense to bring COVID-19 into the mix. Now, I have to decide whether or not to send my children to school in September. Do I risk their health or keep them home? Am I doing more harm than good not sending them to school? If I send them to school, am I contributing to the risk of educators’ health?

I know teachers are afraid to go back to school – I’m afraid, too. Never has a generation of parents had to make such important decisions about their children’s education and health with such limited information. I have to struggle with keeping my babies healthy, as well as not exposing my parents to the germs coming in from our schools and workplaces. The germs that could potentially kill that generation of vulnerable Americans.

I’ve read that kids are safe and the risk to them is minimal, but what about their teachers? I’ve read that we don’t really know the long-term effects of COVID-19 on children yet, and they may be terrifying. I’ve heard that masks will keep my kids safe in schools and not traumatize them. I’ve heard that kids are resilient enough to withstand this. I’ve heard that we will be socially and emotionally scarring our children if we send them into these schools that resemble war zone triage centers. Basically, I’ve heard it all.

All I know for sure is that no one could have imagined this kind of pressure, anxiety, or stress to hit an entire generation of parents all at once. So, I’m sorry Boomers, but this is just too much. You may have had to walk to school uphill, both ways, but at least you didn’t have to do it wearing a mask.

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Epidemiologist’s Twitter Log Highlights What Keeps Happening When Schools, Camps And Daycares Reopen

A few weeks ago, news broke that a YMCA camp at Lake Burton, Georgia, had a COVID-19 outbreak that infected 85 people—kids and counselors included. “Campers are all between 7-14 years old and staff between 16-22,” local news outlets reported, which is about 18% of the entire group comprised of 362 campers and 118 staff members.

Around that same time, a Christian camp in Branson, Missouri that served 13-18 year olds revealed that it had 82 positive cases. And another Christian camp—this one called Pine Cove, located in Texas—had 76.

But here’s the kicker—having a huge group of kids in close contact with each other wasn’t the only thing these camps had in common. They also, according to their websites, had taken extreme safety measures to combat COVID-19.

The YMCA touted their “careful planning and adherence to safety guidelines laid out by leading health experts and mandated by the state,” and went on to say that “a great deal of thought and planning went into the decision” to hold the camp, despite COVID-19 ravaging the country.

“In preparing for camp, we collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control and the American Camp Association and followed the safety guidelines and protocols of the Executive Order from the State of Georgia,” Lauren Koontz, President and CEO of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, told local news stations.

And the Missouri camp tried too. They really did. “The camp talked about its new COVID-conscious health and safety procedures on its website, which the organization claims were reviewed by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, and that he was impressed with the plans, believing them sufficient,” The Telegraph reports.

But we’re learning that even the best-laid plans are destroyed when a highly contagious virus like this one attacks.

Stories like these, as we get closer and closer to the start of the school year, should make us prepare for the inevitable when it comes to opening schools. And that’s why epidemiologist Theresa Chapple started an eye-opening Twitter thread highlighting these stories and an endless stream of others like them that show just what happens when large groups of kids come together.

Despite having a “five part preparedness plan on their website designed by infectious disease specialists, select experts in healthcare and the camps medical director, a board-certified pediatrician” that included “stringent cleaning, sanitization, hand washing, monitoring and reasonable contact reduction protocols,” Camp Ozark in Mount Ida, Arkansas, ended up closing its door and sending all kids home anyway after positive cases began to pop up.

And camps in Miami had no choice but to cancel once Florida became the new epicenter of U.S.’s COVID-19 cases.

The list goes on. And on. Gainesville, Florida; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Pierre, South Dakota; Tarrant County, Texas … all places where camps have been forced to close and kids are returning home to their parents, infected with or exposed to the coronavirus.

Okay, maybe you’re thinking camps are camps. Schools will be different.

Well, it’s August and some schools have already begun early fall sports. And guess what? Local news outlets in Detroit reported a few days ago that “Student-athletes in three different sports at Richmond High School have tested positive for COVID-19,” forcing the district to cancel fall sports for the time being.

And over 25 kids in Ohio all tested positive for COVID-19 after taking a trip to Myrtle Beach. Many of whom had full-intentions of jumping right back in to fall sports, but now, of course cannot.

Also, in Lake Zurich, IL, 36 high school students tested positive, likely related to social gatherings and athletic camps attended in recent weeks. Now, health officials are asking all 371 student athletes and their coaches to self-quarantine for 14 days.

So we can only imagine what will happen when all the kids come back to full days and weeks of school.

Dr. Chapple goes on to include child care centers as well. Not to scare parents or make them feel guilty for dropping their kids off—parents have to work. But to inform them that they must prepare for the very likely possibility that their daycare center will be closing at some point and that their child is not immune to COVID-19, no matter how many safety measures a child care center takes.

As of a few weeks ago, Texas, one of the U.S.’s hotspots, had a confirmed 1,700 cases from childcare centers—1,200 of whom were staff members and 500 of whom were children—the Texas Health and Human Services Commission reports. And California, also ravaged by the virus, had more than 1,000 as of recent reports.

It isn’t that daycares aren’t trying. Many are following the CDC’s recommendations on hand-washing, staggering drop-off times, limiting group activities to reduce spread, and setting up “isolation” rooms or areas to place a child who becomes sick, and having adult caregivers and kids over 2 wear masks. And, most importantly, they are asking parents to keep sick children home.

But again, like summer camps, COVID-19 breaks through these protective measures and continues its spread. Like in North Carolina, where eleven children and three staffers at a Charlotte childcare center tested positive for coronavirus, forcing it to unexpectedly shut down.

Or in Oregon, where another childcare center had 20 cases, eight of whom were children.

There’s a reason Dr. Chapple put this exhaustingly long list together, and why it’s still growing.  She wants us to realize and truly understand that this is what happens when people gather in groups. When adults gather in groups. When teens gather in groups. And when children gather in groups. Camps, daycare centers, and how it will be schools.

It’s admirable that schools will take such extreme measures as fitting desks with clear plastic shields, take every child’s temperature, and make masks mandatory for all teachers and students. Great. All of those efforts are appreciated. But parents need to brace for the inevitable shutdown of schools anyway, even if schools do every possible thing right. Because COVID-19 is a stubborn asshole and will find a way in.

This Twitter thread proves it.

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