What People Fail To Remember About The Hybrid Model Of Learning

by Nikkya Hargrove
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and Mayur Kakade

We know we can plan; that’s part of our job description as parents — to plan shit out. And, hell, we’re good at it. But one thing we cannot plan out is how to appropriately prepare ourselves or our kids for this school year.

Each day, it seems like school districts are shifting schedules, canceling sports for the fall, loosening their mask policies. Some schools have begun and things don’t look good for their in-person plan; kids are already getting sick, and schools are shutting down (again).

The popular plan, the one that my kids will be doing this year, is the hybrid model. This model allows kids to attend school for a few days a week, usually on alternative days. The rest of the week, kids are home, or in childcare. Though my kids will be going to in-person school a few days a week following our district’s hybrid plan, I have a backup plan to keep them home all year (when this plan fails). I am not a cynic; I am quite the opposite, an optimist through and through. But this hybrid model screams “fail” to me.

My five-year-olds are slated to start kindergarten this fall and my son, 9th grade — two very pivotal educational experiences — yet, I know this year will be memorable for all of the wrong reasons. My daughters love touching shit they aren’t supposed to touch, even licking surfaces they aren’t supposed to lick … like the windows at Trader Joe’s (I know, I know). And then there’s my teen who thinks handwashing is an optional activity 99% of the time. I don’t see this hybrid model of schooling lasting for my household or anyone else’s, and here’s why.

We have over one million kids returning to some kind of hybrid model in the New York City public school district alone. There is no way that this is the best option for our kids. What we know about COVID-19 is that we don’t know enough. Dr. Fauci himself expressed concern (as he so often does) about how we, as a nation, are handling this virus. In a detailed breakdown of some of his most poignant quotes reported in The Guardian, Dr. Fauci says, “We’ve got to have a delicate balance of carefully and prudently going towards normality and opening up at the same time that we contain and not allow these surges.”

Families, mine included, want normalcy back into our lives, and school is very much a part of that normalcy. And while I am caught somewhere between wanting my kids to have a normal life again and wanting my work life to look like it did before March, it is just not going to happen. Life as we knew it will never look the same, and that includes school.

The hybrid model is forcing something too soon — a false sense of normalcy that we, as a country, are not ready for. I mean, look at the states that have already opened and the very different choices towns have made, forgetting about the health and safety of teachers and students alike: I’m looking at you, Georgia.

Every single choice we make within our schools, for our kids and our teachers, matters. What we don’t want to do is fail them, but with this hybrid model, that’s almost certainly what we’re doing. The two days in-person and three days home, or alternating days and sending kids back to school in cohorts, opens the Petri dish of germs right back up again increasing the likelihood that a surge will take place this fall yet again — closing down schools and sickening more people.

Klaus Vedfelt/Getty

Think about it: most working parents don’t get to pick and choose which days they go into work. That means there will be kids needing a babysitter on the days they are home because parents need to work (increasing their chances of contracting COVID-19). Teachers must also send their babies to daycare to keep a roof over their heads and head back into the classroom (also increasing their chances of contracting COVID-19). All of these scenarios expose both teachers, kids, and everyone’s families to more potential carriers of COVID-19. There is no win-win situation here.

The entire goal of the quarantine was to 1) stay inside 2) go into public minimally — supposedly, only to the grocery store and stay socially distant, and 3) and to wear a mask anytime you’re in public. That was it. Those were the things that we were told to do into order to slow the spread. Now, we have kids who will be entering school buildings two or three times a week, and going everywhere else the other days — to daycare centers, to aftercare programs, to babysitters’ or relatives’ houses — and bringing those exposures to their peers and teachers on the days they’re in school.

We are forcing teachers into a corner, to teach in ways they were not taught to teach in, in environments new to them as well. One Connecticut-based high school teacher shares her fears with Scary Mommy: “While at school, I expect I will feel heightened anxiety and fear every minute of the day. But I will do my best to allay those same feelings in the kids. I expect that fear will have me crying in the car some mornings and afternoons. I am utterly sure that this emotional and psychological strain will affect my work,” she says.

Teachers’ fears run deep; they have families, they have bills, they have lives outside of the classrooms that they want to lead in healthy and safe ways too — something many districts just aren’t getting. And they too must make a choice, get on the proverbial bus and go along with what their district is mandating, or lose their jobs.

Another teacher we spoke to, from a small private elementary school in Philadelphia, offers an alternative, one that is not widely accepted or even discussed: teachers signing up to go to the homes of students and teach them, a slight twist on the “pandemic pod” idea in that districts would support such efforts. She shares, “I’ve read on parent forums and in the news that many parents are looking to set up a homeschool situation among a small cohort of their children and they are looking for teachers. … I would love to do this with my current students, but that is not what my school has in mind. And the reason I am not doing it with new students is that I would like to still have a job at my school when this is all over.”

We are all making difficult choices, planning for what we cannot possibly yet know as schools release their plans, and we just can’t know how this will all turn out for any of us. An elementary school teacher in New Hampshire tells Scary Mommy, “It’s not safe and I don’t support it, and I think it will be a far less meaningful or enjoyable experience for the students than what we could do more safely if we were willing to be bold … but I want to still have my job when it’s over, so I’m trying to bite my tongue and make the best of it since we start in a couple of weeks.”

And yet, we are hesitant to learn from other countries and choosing an option that will likely continue to fail. As a country, we’ve not gotten a handle on this pandemic; we’ve perhaps flattened the curve for now, but must prepare for it to spike again this fall. We’ve already seen reopened schools here in the States struggling with COVID cases and the resulting quarantines of students and staff.

“As soon as you open classrooms, within two weeks, teachers and students will get sick, bus drivers will get sick, and staff will get sick,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told NPR. “And all it’s going to take is one teacher admitted to the hospital in the school district and that’s it, it’s going to be lights out and no one will show up to work.”

Let’s learn from others and not force our kids and teachers to risk their lives in the name of supporting a “normal learning environment.” Those days are long gone.

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