Families make split decisions as back to school season begins

Evan Ponstingle | Staff Writer

September signals back to school all across America. For some Mason families, however, it means having to make a split decision–back to school for some members of their family, and online school for some of their siblings.

The Hartley family is one such family. Meghan, a senior, and Kate, a freshman, have both chosen the in-person option while their sister, Grace, a seventh grader, has opted for online. Meghan said that a science-based course load and the introduction of new learning content pivoted her to the in-person option.

“It was because I wanted to get back into the classroom setting,” Meghan said. “I did fine with the remote learning, but I would much prefer to be in a traditional classroom setting. I was taking three science courses this year and they all are lab-based. In the spring, it was easier because a lot of the topics were review, but I feel like learning new content remotely would be more difficult especially when you don’t have those hands-on lab experiences to help you learn the information.”

Her sister, Kate, wanted a more material beginning to her freshman year. She said that the physical experience of paper, pencil, and a new school environment helped her to finalize the decision to return to in-person learning.

“It’s my freshman year, and I like the classroom better than online,” said Kate. “I didn’t really like staring at a computer all day. I prefer to do stuff on paper and [I] like working with others, instead of trying to figure everything out [myself]. You’re staring at a Zoom call for a long time, or working on a document, instead of being able to ask questions whenever you need to.”

Their sister, Grace, a seventh grader, chose the online option instead. Her mother, Cheryl, said that she supported her daughter’s decision due to her daughters’ varying levels of comfort.

“Since [the students] have been home in the spring, I think she was more affected by going out in public with bigger groups as opposed to these two,” Cheryl said. “She was a little more nervous, I would say, about going back into the middle school building because of how crowded it is. She didn’t want to deal with it.”

Cheryl said that online learning provides a more relaxed work day for Grace with free time and flexibility. Unlike the in-person option, most of the day does not follow a set-schedule.

“She’s meeting with teachers from 8:00 to 10:30,” Cheryl said. “And then from 10:30 to 2:30 it’s all independent, doing homework. If she has questions, she can request to meet with teachers but she doesn’t have any synchronous learning.  She’s pretty much independent from 8:00 from 10:30 to 2:30.  If she has something else going on, like how we went for a walk the other day, and then she can get back on and finish her work after we get back or work later than the 2:30 time. You could have some flexibility on when you do the work.”

While one sibling is dealing with a new virtual world, Meghan said that the other siblings are grappling with a different challenge: the uncertainty that comes along with the pandemic.

“I feel like something more difficult about the in school option is that there’s a lot of unknowns and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Meghan said. “Like at any point they could say, ‘We’re going to move to blended learning,’ or, ‘We’re going to go all remote,’ and I kind of like knowing what my schedule is in advance, and it’s kind of hard for teachers to plan out if they don’t know whether we’re going to be in class like once a week or twice a week, or how many class periods we’re going to have in one week…[W]ith online you kind of just do the same thing. And you kind of have something to look forward to, like, you know what, what your next day is going to look like.”

While her three children are busy adapting to two different ways of schooling, Cheryl said that she hasn’t had too much trouble adapting to the new lifestyle that comes with the different routines of her children. In fact, she said that she tends to enjoy the company of having one of her children at home during the day.

 “I’ve been trying to keep my schedule the same. And it does like if she has computer issues, I’ll have to stop what I’m doing to come but I think that’ll work itself out as the week’s go on. I always have a lunch buddy, as opposed to being by myself! But it hasn’t been too different, as opposed to just having another body in the house….It’s not like I have young children…seventh through twelfth grade, they’re pretty self sufficient.”

Ultimately, Cheryl said that she understands that as young women, her daughters are capable of defining their own levels of comfort. Though their choices may differ, Cheryl said that she is ready to face the challenges and uncertainties right alongside them. 

“They’re three individual people,” Cheryl said. “And I know these two from in the sprinwg were ready to go back in the spring. And [Grace] was a little more skittish, a little more reserved about being in that setting with all the unknowns of the COVID and so, just to support her and doing what was best for her, was to be online so that’s why I said, we’ll let them go in person, and I’ll let her stay home for the year, or the semester, or the year, whatever it’s going to be. Hopefully I did the right thing.”