It’s Wednesday as I start to write this essay, which means my newly-minted third and fifth graders are sitting in separate rooms on Google Meet and Zoom calls. From my cobbled together office space, I can hear one of their teachers asking whether everyone has the book they brought home from class yesterday. I can hear other students complaining about video or sound, and my own children whisper-arguing with each other over who gets the pencil with the good eraser. (Side note: all the pencils have the exact same “good” eraser.)
This is school in 2020. More accurately, this is hybrid school in 2020. After a long summer of surveys and town hall meetings and watching the number of positive cases in my area stay at zero, my school district decided to open on a hybrid basis.
What that means is that Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday are half-day in school days. Wednesday is a virtual day.
Four days of the week, my children wake up, eat breakfast, slip on their masks, and head to school. They enter through a door designated for their grade only and follow arrows to their classroom. They sit at a desk facing the teacher, three feet away from other students. A plexiglass shield at each desk finishes out the look of their COVID-19 classroom.
They eat snack outside, sitting with an appropriate amount of distance between them.
At pick up, they walk out of their designated doors and wait with masks on. They hop into my car, tear off their masks, and declare they are starving because in hybrid school, on in-person days, there’s no lunch period.
On Wednesdays, they wake up, eat breakfast, and sign into their Zoom or Google Meet. This week, their second Wednesday of the school year, both kids brought school work with them from the physical classroom, which they completed while in their respective virtual classrooms. From 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., our home is their virtual classroom, their questions belong to the teacher, and (theoretically) their behavior is classroom appropriate.
The schedule is not easy on them. On any given morning, they have no idea what day it is and what they’re doing. Some days they wear a mask and sit behind plexiglass and I’m sure that’s scary. Some days they are home and on Zoom for hours and I’m sure that’s tedious. Some days they are left to entertain themselves while I’m holed up in my room working, and that’s just the best I can do.
We’ve had hiccups. Just before I started writing this essay, my son had a meltdown about a video he had to record. He chose not to do the assignment. In class the next day, the teacher was better able to explain the assignment and he completed it without issue when he got home. My daughter ran circles around the kitchen while I was trying to meet a deadline, because they had a ten minute snack break and she had too much energy from sitting and staring at a screen for too long. She ran for ten minutes and I lost my train of thought for forty. Hiccup.
But so far, a few weeks into the hybrid school year, I feel pretty confident to say: my kids are rocking it. They are learning while wearing a mask and also while clicking links to a Zoom. They are safely socializing during outside snack time and while showing each other their pets on a screen. They are smiling and laughing and full of life and energy in a way that gives me hope for the future.
There are a few truths that need to go along with my conclusion. First, I cannot write this without acknowledging the privilege that I have. My children each have a device that connects to the Internet and neither has to worry about Internet access. I am a solo parent, but I have enough flexibility in my work schedule to allow for a school schedule that requires noon pick-ups and middle of the week days at home to be possible. My kids can rock hybrid school because we have a lot of things going for us that many do not have.
Second, my kids are rocking hybrid school and a huge reason for that is because the teachers are rocking hybrid teaching. The level of patience I’ve heard in just the two Wednesdays we’ve had so far has been superhuman. Between kids interrupting a lesson to show their new puppy to troubleshooting tech issues that have my head spinning, the teachers have been incredible, and that has made it easy for my kids to find success in this unprecedented school year.
And third, last spring was a nightmare for us (and millions of others). Two kids with a few dozen links with one parent trying to manage two careers without even the promise of help on the horizon was borderline traumatizing. We struggled. We rocked nothing except making it through the spring in one piece—which was enough–but even for that, we only barely scraped by. This organized, thought-through hybrid school experience, while misfiring here and there, is a breath of fresh air, and my kids are excited about it.
But the majority of the praise and recognition goes to my kids, who are donning the masks and sitting behind the plexiglass and remembering what to bring to school for in-school days and what to bring home for virtual days. Who are adapting to a life that changes faster than any of us can predict. Who aren’t complaining when they hear “no” more often than “yes” when it comes to things they want to do and are nevertheless excited for what the school year will bring.
Time will tell whether hybrid school keeps them and the community safe (I hope it does), whether its efficient and effective (I hope it is), whether the consequences of today will reach longer into the future than any of us could imagine. But what I know, now, is that this generation of kids, who are adapting to distance learning or in-person with virus precaution learning or a mix of the two, may just be the most resilient of us all.