Education, at home, in the time of COVID-19

Amid forced isolation, families find comfort in each other

Bridie Bereza holds Éamon while playing Monopoly with Oisin, right, and Maeve. This was minutes before the game ended with cheating followed by tearful shouts and money-throwing

Editor’s note: Bridie Bereza covers Godwin Heights Public Schools for School News Network and is the mother of three children, two of them in school. She offers her reflections on what it’s been like for her family navigating the first week of having the kids at home during the school closures, and about the ongoing anxiety felt by all of us as the coronavirus crisis escalates each day.

I’ve not wrapped my head around the enormity of what we are facing and frankly, I’m scared to write about it. 

This rapidly evolving situation may render what I write today trivial or irrelevant tomorrow. Ten days ago, our strategy to fight the novel coronavirus was good handwashing. One week ago, schools across Michigan closed. Today, we’re largely confined to our homes. 

Students are missing out on prom and athletic seasons. They’re fearing that the curtain may never see opening night after pouring their hearts, sweat, tears, hours, and dollars into a show. Some students are missing a warm building and a caring teacher. Uncertainty, anxiety, and weariness loom large. 

Sure, bright spots abound and there is so much good, smart work being done. Most of us will get through this, but some haven’t and won’t, and we must acknowledge the heaviness of that.

Oisin Bereza has not tired of creating things with LEGOs this week. Here, he’s holding a creation he calls ‘The Red Baron.’ (Also, hairbrushing has been optional this week)

Not the Same as it Ever Was 

I’m often tempted to understand situations through comparison: Is this akin to last year’s polar vortex? No, it isn’t. We can’t go sledding with friends then get the free snow day kid’s meal at The Grand Coney. Way more important, it’s miserable for many, and lethal for some. 

So it’s more like the 2009 H1N1 influenza emergence? Not one bit. I managed communications for the Kent County Health Department at that time and it was a big deal, but nothing of this magnitude. 

So this school closure thing. Kind of like homeschooling, right? Not at all. Most parents aren’t well-equipped to do what teachers, with their education and experience, do. Many adults are figuring out how to work from home with children in their midst. Others have lost their livelihoods, and teaching science is a bit out of reach on the hierarchy of needs.

All this to say, the spread of the novel coronavirus is unlike anything we’ve seen or experienced in our lifetimes. This makes it difficult to know what to do. Follow the social distancing guidelines – yes. Be kind, be reasonable, don’t hoard the toilet paper – yes. Grant grace to yourself and others – yes. But what else? What is the right way to do this?

First grader Maeve Bereza watches a movie called ‘Song of the Sea’ while brother Eamon, nine months, chews on things

No Right Way — or Wrong 

I remember during a particularly devastating loss in my life, a nurse said something very poignant to me. She was speaking about grief – which this isn’t strictly either, but it shares elements of grief like isolation, anxiety, and wondering when it ends. That kind and wise nurse said simply, “There’s no right or wrong way to do this. However you respond, it’s OK.”

That means you, parent whose child has played Xbox several hours a day this week so you can earn a paycheck. That also means you, parent who has created a daily schedule on a whiteboard that includes “down time,” “math activities” and “crafts” to keep order in your home. You too, teacher who is worried about your students and upcoming testing and who isn’t sure what a return to the classroom looks like.

My first and second grade children were disappointed to learn they would not have school for a month at the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center. They miss their friends and teachers. Both my husband and I can work at home, so we are doing that. We’re only five days in at this writing and so far, we’ve managed.

Through the isolation, connection has helped. We’ve met a small group of neighborhood friends in a large parking lot. The kids ride bikes, which helps them maintain distance, while the adults stand six feet apart and chat. The combination of sun, fresh air, exercise, and conversation has been, as the friend who arranged it said, “a lifeline.”

Maeve Bereza uses her mom’s phone to video chat with her friend, Penny, who has cleverly turned herself into a dragon

Technology Helps. Also, Climbing Trees  

We use video chat to talk to friends and family. Our fixation on phones and tablets can rob us of time; scrolling through carefully curated photos can make us feel inadequate; and headlines can fill us with anxiety. However, technology has been a boon this week and will continue to be in the weeks to come. 

Both of our children connected with friends virtually. They did a little math online, too. I talked to my mom, who is hearty, healthy, and social. She’s 70, so social distancing is important for her safety and that of her friends. She’s also widowed, so limiting how she can socialize worries me. FaceTime will have to do for now.

Our school has emailed non-technology opportunities for learning in every subject. I looked through them and they’re fun and practical and don’t require much from me. We may do a few of these next week, but this week, we settle in: Play. Write letters to friends. Dance. Climb a tree. Color. Build with LEGO (always leaving one for an adult to step on.) 

I didn’t need permission for this lax agenda in the time of COVID-19, but I desperately wanted it. It came in the form of a Facebook post from our school director, Lisa Heyne, who encouraged parents to slow down … “enjoy our children.”

We may be six feet apart and not really seeing much of each other, but we are in this together. And we don’t know how or when it ends. So truly, in this uncertain time, I hope that you know: However you respond, it’s OK.*

* Unless you’re congregating and hoarding the TP

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Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza hails from Lansing and has worked in the Grand Rapids area as a reporter, freelance writer, and communicator since graduating from Aquinas College in 2003. She feels privileged to cover West Michigan's public schools and hopes to shed a little light on the amazing things happening there through her reporting. Read Bridie's full bio or email Bridie.

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