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Voices from students and families: Implications surrounding back to school

  • 6 min to read
Voices from students and families: Implications surrounding back to school

In a new series of columns, I’ll be talking to students and parents as they navigate education during COVID-19.

Sonja Clark, a professional photographer and avocational honey bee keeper, is a neighbor of mine. At the end of the Spring semester I asked her how she and her high school age family are coping. In addition to Sonja, I talked to Vivian and Ben.

By way of introduction, Sonja Clark writes, “ I am lucky in that I am self employed and work at home anyway, and my kids are older and don’t need child care or much help with school work.”

Vivian Clark is a rising sophomore at North Central High School, an International Baccalaureate school that is part of the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township.

Ben Clark is a rising senior at Shortridge High School, listed as ‘the home of the International Baccalaureate and arts and humanities programs of the Indianapolis Public Schools district.(IPS)’ 

The continuing lockdown has far reaching consequences for Ben because junior year is when college plans are solidified. 

“The college search is going to be tough,” admitted Sonja. “We only toured a few schools on the list before COVID. We were planning on visiting several over spring break but they were cancelled.”

Even though Sonja and Ben went on two recent tours, Sonja reported, “I am not sure it is worth doing an in person tour instead of a virtual tour because the students aren’t on campus. No one is on campus except for a few admissions counselors. So, you can’t get a feel for the vibe on campus. I think our strategy will be to apply to all of the schools and visit again later if needed. At this point, since college will start fall 2021, we are still hoping to start college. 

“The recruiting process is going to be tricky as well because the coaches can’t see the high schoolers play to evaluate them,” added Sonja. “This Spring was a big loss because that’s when coaches come to your games and see you play. It’s also when I could have taken videos to send coaches, but it didn’t happen.”

With the summer ID soccer camps cancelled on university and college campuses, Ben has had no way for coaches to evaluate how he would fit into their soccer programs, and who would want to recruit him. “It’s all in limbo now because no one knows if there is going to be a fall season [at Shortridge] and coaches and recruits still don’t know how it’s all going to come together,” said Sonja. 

“We are just trying to be patient and optimistic that it will work out some kind of way. We are keeping in contact with admission counselors and coaches to try to stay in ‘the know’ and keep track of all the changes.”

Ben had left Shortridge when he learned about lockdown; Vivian was still at North Central.

“I was stuck at home and couldn’t go out of the house,” is Ben’s terse reply to what happened next. Because all sports events were cancelled he has not been able to work as a soccer referee this spring or summer. 

“School and sports got cancelled along with work and socialization,” replied Vivian. “I was really looking forward to tennis so I was sad. I was most disappointed about tennis because it’s really fun and I haven’t been on a team in a few years, so I was really looking forward to making some tennis friends.”

Vivian pointed to her concerns for the upcoming year. “North Central is a big school, so you have to get involved in activities outside of the school day to really connect with people. I didn’t really care about moving to online classes. Being away from friends was hard but I feel like once we are together again things will go right back to how they used to be, like it never happened.” 

I asked each, “What is the most important thing you have been learning about yourself throughout this whole 'new way?”

“I’ve learned to focus less on academics at school and more on me. I’ve been eating healthier, working out and increasing my self care,” offered Vivian. “This didn’t really affect me much. I know how to go with the flow. I consider this an inconvenience rather than something traumatic. If I knew someone who died, it would be more traumatic. I’m calm in the face of uncertainty and I know I can handle hard things.”

Ben observed, “I learned to be on my own with little to no social interaction, which is good because sometimes you have to be on your own.”

Regarding the actions of others, Ben concluded, “There’s not really a whole lot we can do individually; we just have to participate in wearing the masks and hope other people do too so we have to get through it together.” 

Vivian is more forthright. “When I  think about people who choose not to wear a mask it makes me think about how to be kind to others, because even though I might not have Covid I need to think about how others feel to make them feel more comfortable or safe.” 

Vivian countered my question “What throughout your growing up has best guided you to find purposeful meaning in your life?”

“This is a hard question for a 15 year old,“ she said, “but I think I find purpose in nature and caring for my three dogs." 

“Self motivation to do well in school,” said Ben.

Looking back, since mid-March, along with missing playing tennis, Vivian added,  “I started caring for myself more and I’m concerned about my future in high school because I want to have a normal high school experience.  I was supposed to be a camp counselor at the Humane Society all summer and that was cancelled. That was  a big disappointment. 

Things have been going by fast and everything feels surreal because it’s so different. I feel like I’m in a movie.” 

Ben reflected on how fragile our society is. “A lot of people have died, it’s just extremely scary,” he said.  For him, “Time pretty much feels the same. My mom by keeping me on task.”

“My new puppy and friends are keeping me centered,” said Vivian. “Caring for and training the puppy gives me something to do and I can see the growth. It’s gratifying to teach him things and watch him learn. Now that things have opened up again, I get to work more hours at my job at the Monon Animal Clinic because they have been more busy. “

“Home is a no-worry place,” replied Vivian to my question, “What now defines your paradigm of home?  “My mom told me to just go with the flow. It’s absolutely helping me to not fear the future.” 

“We have dinner together every night and we watch a show together every night,” said Ben whose usual regimen pre-COVID was soccer practice.

I asked Sonja to weigh in on what considerations are driving choices on an education delivery plan.

“We will continue to play sports if they are offered,” she said. “Ben is in his senior year and is the team captain, so it will be very disappointing if school sports are cancelled.”

She said that Vivian will continue to work at the vet’s office as long as there is not a stay at home order mandated again. “I’m not sure what other extra curricular activities will be offered yet. Ben participates in Model UN, hopefully there will be some version of that,” she said. 

However, there is the socialization consideration. Sonja described a viable plan.

“With online school, we are going to work with a few other families to set up a study group,” she said. “This group of kids would stay the same to minimize exposure and rotate amongst our houses. The kids would meet on a regular basis to establish a routine during the week and help us keep track of what day it is. They will have eye contact with their peers and feel less isolated while getting some school work done and a little goofing around.”

Vivian, she continued, is at North Central where they are only offering online. 

“Ben, being in IPS is offered a choice,” Sonja said, “but I anticipate they will be all online as well. Ben is in the IB [International Baccalaureate] program and the teachers have been working all summer to prepare to teach online. They also purchased special software to facilitate teaching the IB curriculum online. So I feel more confident that teaching will be more effective this fall than it was in the spring.”

Postscript by Sonja Clark: 

My daughter goes to NCHS and no surprises there. She started today and it went well. They are very organized and responsive to technology needs and general communication. I’m quite impressed, actually. 
Ben is at Shortridge and we weren’t really surprised that they changed to 100% virtual. There is no right way to get through this, so I support the decision. We are still waiting to hear the details of how exactly it will go. 
There is some sadness being felt by myself and other parents of seniors because we may have already seen our kids play their last game in high school or ever. We didn’t realize last fall that that might be it. I imagine that’s how the parents of last year’s seniors felt. And if our kids want to play in college, what now? How will coaches recruit if they can’t see the kids play to evaluate them. 
The kids are having a hard time with it too. They (parents too) are afraid they won’t learn as much academically and be behind for college. It’s going to be harder for kids to pass the AP and IB exams as well. The same goes for sports. The kids that have access to club sports that aren’t cancelled will have some growth compared to those who don’t. It’s inevitable that the achievement gap will widen this year, which is very unfortunate.
I know things can be worse and we will get through it. Many good things have come of it as well. But, I have to admit, I am frustrated that COVID wasn’t taken more seriously in the early spring and we didn’t reopen so fast so that we could be getting back to normal sooner.


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