Our First Day Of School Looked A Lot Different This Year

by Elizabeth Esther
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.