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Parents' Perspectives on the Closing of School

QRKidsThough I feared schools would remain closed through the end of June, I was still surprised when I heard the Governor’s orders not to re-open. First I am saddened for all the children who are missing a vital part of their education, cut off from friends, sports and all their activities. I thought of the senior class who will miss important year end rituals like their senior prom and graduation. The end of the school year is usually a time for celebrations of all sorts at the district, and these occasions are permanently lost.

Though only about a half of residents have children in the schools, Scarsdale itself is dominated by the academic calendar. We mark time by the first day of school, Columbus Day weekend, Thanksgiving, the Christmas break, February vacation, time off for Passover and Easter and all the fun that usually comes in June. Without this calendar, it feels a bit like the Village has lost its rhythm. What day is it and what are we supposed to be doing? Without a calendar and with no end date to the pandemic in site, many of us have lost our North Star.

We asked a few parents of school age children what they thought about the closing of the schools and what it meant to their children and families – and here is what they shared. Most noted loneliness, feelings of social isolation, missing friends and the loss of a regular routine. Their answered varied greatly based on the age of their children, but these were some common themes.

First we spoke to the mother of a preschooler and a kindergartner and asked what her kids missed. She said, “They don’t seem to be missing anything at all.” In terms of the impact on their education, their mother said, “They are 4 and 6... so I don’t think there will be any noticeable long-term impact. They may become better learners from having to spend all that time on their own.” About the summer she said, “I doubt their summer camps will be in session and we haven’t signed up for any as a result. We would be interested in individual / “safe” (whatever that means) small group enrichment programs should those be available.”

A Greenacres mom with a son in elementary school noted a few bright spots of adapting to e-Learning. She said,  "Some good things have come out of distance learning. My elementary school child has had to be more responsible about managing assignments and using Google Classroom. He should be very ready for middle school in that respect. Normally he is resistant to my helping him with anything academic, but now as I am the only game in town he is less so!"

However, the mother of elementary school children in third and fifth grades reported that kids were feeling the loss of friends, teachers and their routine. She said, “My fifth-grade daughter was so sad and said that even though she know it probably wasn't going to reopen, at least she still had a little bit of hope. It is definitely the right move given the current state of the crisis. I feel so badly for my kids because they miss their friends and their teachers so much. Aside from randomly seeing people when we are on walks or bike rides, we don't really see anyone. My kids have Zoom playdates but nothing in person. We are still waiting to hear about sleep away camp. I hope there is a way that they can go because they are craving social interaction, but things are changing so rapidly that it is anyone's guess if they have camp or not! I think trying to keep a routine for the kids has given us some sense of normalcy during this surreal time. They are doing arts and crafts projects, playing in the backyard, bike riding, baking, playing with Legos, reading and watching movies. The idea of regulating screen time has gone out the window! The same with dessert … it’s a staple after every meal (except breakfast!)

A Quaker Ridge mom with a first and fifth grader and a child in the middle school offered perspectives as the mother of children with varying experiences.

She said, “I feel that the closing of school for this year was inevitable considering the magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis in New York. There is a feeling of loss; one of my children is set to graduate from elementary school this year and he often talks about everything that he and his classmates are missing -- the events and activities to celebrate the end of their time at the school. Luckily his teacher has been amazing, staying connected to the students from the outset of school being closed; but it is sad for me, as a parent, to see how this change is affecting my children.”

Was this necessary? She answered, “I don't think that the majority of parents/teachers/children would have the confidence and comfort to return to school at this juncture. It is sad but necessary until the pandemic is more under control and a plan has been put into place for a reopening of our area and schools. I think that our schools; the administrators and the teachers have been doing an incredible job of moving forward with innovation, flexibility and creativity.”

Asked how this impacts her family, she said, “One of my kids is supposed to have his Bar Mitzvah in June and it will now be a Zoom service, which is a completely different experience of this milestone but he doesn't want to postpone it indefinitely. Another was set to graduate QRS and will not be returning to the school he's known for the past six years; won't really have a chance to say goodbye to his teachers, to the staff. It is an unfinished feeling and there are a lot of complicated emotions experienced and expressed by my children during this time. My youngest is in first grade and her e-Learning is the most complex for us to manage. The kids have a lot of questions about the future. They've asked if they will start school again in September. I think that at this point, they are really kind of in shock that their schools aren't going to open for the rest of the year. The fact that schools aren't opening really demonstrates for the kids, the serious nature of this crisis.”

What do the kids miss? She continued, “They say that they miss the feeling of just being at school with friends. They miss being able to spend time with people; play basketball with friends; go to birthday parties. The oldest misses having fun with his friends at school; feels that being at school, in the building, teaches him about life and there is a loss of so much with our new life experience. As much as the teachers are creative and have been evolving with the e-Learning, all of my children have realized how much more they learn in the classroom. My oldest is in a Jazz Band at school and they normally perform at a festival in the spring and go on a field trip to an amusement park; these are experiences he just won't have this year. Two of his best friends had their Bar Mitzvahs in March via Zoom and he was really upset and anxious that he wasn't able to celebrate with them. The kids really miss that feeling of connection with their teachers, friends and extended family.”

We wondered if some would now leave town since they don’t have to be home to attend school. She said, “Yes, we are going to go to our summer house -- it is in Quogue. We really want to see extended family that live in the city and on Long Island but we haven't done so. I would love to be able to have a cookout with extended family to celebrate my son's Bar Mitzvah this summer, since his regular party plan is indefinitely postponed, but I'm not sure if and how it will be possible.”

We also asked her to comment on what the long-term impact on her children’s education might be and she said, “It is a completely different experience doing schoolwork solely at home as opposed to having the real school experience. I hope that they are able to generally stay on track; they are learning, moving forward. I've noticed that my middle schooler's classes are covering topics that are related to the current state of the world, including learning about viruses in Science. I've noticed that there is a real wellness aspect to my middle schooler's learning; however, there is also the added stress of working on new material with only two 20-25-minute academic sessions per week (he has his four academic subjects on Monday morning and again on Thursday afternoon). It takes him much longer to work through new material via e-Learning and I know that adds to his general stress level. For my fifth grader, his teacher has Zoom lessons with them every day for an hour and a half. Every day, she outlines what she wants them to work on and reminds them of any specials, like Art or Music, they may have in the afternoon. She also holds individual facetime conferences with the kids to check-in about schoolwork. I'm really happy for him that he's had that support and touchstone for these two months.”

In the meantime, how is her family spending their time? She responded, “We go for family walks; the kids play outside drawing with chalk, playing basketball at home; jumping on the trampoline. Luckily the weather has been nice so that they easily go outdoors. They play a lot of video games. We do some baking, have some movie nights. I try to stay positive and calm but days can be an emotional rollercoaster. Both of my boys play guitar, so that is a nice outlet for them. My youngest, my daughter does a lot of artwork, she's been very prolific with play doh sculpture and drawings”

About summer camp she said, “The kids hope to attend camp but we don't know at this point if the camp will be in session. The uncertainty is one of the hardest aspects to deal with for all of us. We just don't know what the immediate future holds. Hopefully, we will all be able to move forward in a positive way. I'm glad that we have each other and I'm really proud of my kids for doing their best amidst the many complicated emotions of this time.”

We spoke to the mother of two girls in high school. She said they were disappointed that school will not re-open “because now there is no end to my children’s isolation in sight. The hope that schools might reopen was keeping them motivated and now it’s gone.”

Did she think this step was necessary? She said, “No, because other countries are figuring out how to reopen schools. I would have preferred opening for 1 day a week, or even one class a week, just to allow the kids to feel some kind of physical engagement with the school.”

She said her girls miss “Leaving the house, seeing friends, doing activities such as getting lunch, shopping, or manicures, sports, taking tests in person vs. alone in a room with a camera on them.” She said they only interact with their friends via text and FaceTime.

Do they have any plans to leave town? She said, “No, we would like to go to England, or on college tours, but we don’t know when planes will be safe.”

How is e-Learning going at her house? She said, “The amount of material being covered by SHS teachers varies greatly. Some are attempting to cover 60% of the material, some less than that. I am most concerned about math, since each year feeds into the next year. It is also very difficult to learn math just from doing worksheets, so even the concepts that are being taught are not being grasped completely. Science is my next concern. Also, sitting in a room alone doing worksheets for hours on end is making both of my children dislike school, and they used to love it.

The family is keeping busy, doing “tie dye, gardening, walks, working out (Peloton, erg, apps, running), cooking, Netflix, communicating with friends through text or FaceTime. We are also looking at colleges online, since we can’t do college tours.”

About the summer she said, “One daughter’s teen tour (to Greece) was just officially cancelled, the other one’s (to Hawaii) will be determined on 5/15. Everything that has been planned has been cancelled, or is in question: job (lifeguard), sports (swimming and crew), vacation (to England or a beach location).

She ended by saying, “It is very daunting to think of a summer with no plans and then the potential of school possibly being online in the fall. The isolation needs to be addressed in some way or we are going to see serious mental health fall-out.”

A mother of two high school age students is still hoping there will be some graduation festivities for her son who is a senior.

Her kids miss “the social interaction with their friends in school. Being able to be in class face to face with DSC03078The SHS Class of 2020 will likely miss their senior prom.teachers as its easier in general to ask questions. She says, “My daughter was very disappointed that the lacrosse season was cancelled as she trained all winter and both my kids play spring club soccer so it is sad that there is no season for my son since it would have been his last club soccer season.

Longer term, she is “hopeful that we can return to some more normalcy come September, but she has great concern that things may look different from a physical being in school standpoint.  She continued, “I don’t know if my son will be able to go to college in the fall. I am especially concerned for lower income and under privileged students who are probably doing much less learning.”

He family is keeping busy by playing games and doing puzzles. She reports, “My daughter and I have done 13, 1000+ piece puzzles, we are addicted. We’re also cooking, cleaning out some clutter in the house and binge watching some shows and movies.

About the summer she says, “My kids were not planning to attend camp but my son wanted to be a Scarsdale rec camp counselor and I really haven’t heard anything regarding that. My daughter’s summer plans are on hold right now as she was supposed to go overseas on a teen tour.”

She concluded, “Overall, we are generally sad as my son is graduating and waiting for news from the SHS administration on possible plans for a social distancing graduation. I am sad that my son cannot experience the traditional end of senior year and prom. I’m hopeful that he can have a summer prom in some form. I’m also hopeful that things will open up slowly starting end of May and he can start seeing friends a little more and be able to celebrate the end of high school."

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