Schools across Pennsylvania have been closed since mid-March in efforts to combat the coronavirus. When Gov. Tom Wolf announced on April 9 that all schools will remain closed for the remainder of the academic school year, 1.7 million students were suddenly confined to home with, in many cases, with both parents.
“The hardest part is seeing how upset, and moody she gets missing her friends and teacher,” said JoAnne Newkirk of Bensalem, mother of eight-year-old Sophia. “Most of the time she’s ok. I do projects with her and read books with her and she has tons of toys and games. She just keeps asking when she can go back. It’s sad to tell her ‘I don’t know.’”
“We must continue our efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus during this national crisis,” Wolf said during his announcement. “This was not an easy decision, but closing schools until the end of the academic year is in the best interest of our students, school employee’s and families.”
The stay at home order places the task of keeping school-aged children engaged in learning onto the parents working from home or furloughed. Parents accustom to going to work every day while school served as a form of child care, are now playing the roles of employee, teacher, referee, and entertainer.
Dillip Patel of Bensalem, and father to 12-year-old Arav, hopes scientists in the world find a vaccine before the next school season begins in the fall. “He’s the brains in the house. I’m supposed to help him but I’m the one asking all the questions,” he said while wearing a white mask standing in his front yard. “I feel bad he’s missing out learning more. He’s smart and his teachers tell us that. I hope school reopens.”
U.S. News conducted a survey in April of 300 Americans that have been ordered to stay at home, and have school-aged children. The survey found that 50 percent of parents feel that social separation has had a negative effect on parenting. Four in ten have shouted or screamed at their child in the past two weeks. One in six said they had spanked or slapped their child.
Renee and Rick Hodges from Levittown, and parents to nine-year-old Roman, and 13 year Maddy, are enjoying the unexpected extra time they are spending with the kids. “I love it man! I only hung out with them on weekends and some nights when I got home early,” said Rick while watching Roman play basketball alone in their driveway. “It’s gonna suck when I have to go back.”
“I worry about them falling behind in where they’re supposed to be,” Renee said from behind her front storm door. They have Google meetings once a week with a teacher for now. If school doesn’t open for fall, they have to get online classes up and running. I don’t know if they can stay focused like they would in a classroom,” she said.
Robin Gurwitch, professor of psychology at Duke University reported in Parents magazine last month that she thinks kids are resilient and can overcome adversity, but warns it could have long-lasting mental implications. “Children certainly are being impacted by this because it’s changed their worlds,” she said. “The loss of routine and the ability to socialize with friends can add to the feelings of anxiety and upheaval they’re experiencing.
The state Department of Education has instructed all schools to create a continuance plan for students should schools remain closed. The DOE has given $5 million in grants for laptops, internet access, and instructional course work.
Pennsylvania Educational Secretary Pedro Rivera feels the method of educating students going forward will never be the same again. “This is going to change the educational landscape in PA for generations to come,” he said at a press conference in April. “We’re looking at a hybrid staggered model that addresses not only the academic needs of students but also their health needs as well, and I would like to encourage parents to think the same way.”
Carrie Hornsby of Bristol is a third-grade elementary teacher in the Ewing Township school district in New Jersey. “I’m staying hopeful that all we are doing to stop the spread of the virus, and what we have learned will allow schools to reopen,” she said while waiting in her car to participate in a drive-by birthday parade in Levittown. “I became a teacher because I love children. My students and I build a relationship over the year. They need that interaction. So do I.”
With the total global cases of coronavirus nearing 55 million, and U.S. deaths closing in on 86,000, there is no way of predicting a timetable for schools to re-open. It remains to be seen if the education system as we’ve known it will return, or will students and parents alike need to adapt to a brave new learning world?