CenterPoint staff reflect on what we’ve experienced as parents and caregivers over the last year - and what we hope to take forward into the new normal.

Laura Slover, CEO

On March 11, 2020, we got the word that our daughter’s school would be closing early for spring break. Our sixth grader cheered for the extra vacation time. We cancelled our travel plans and hunkered down. My husband and I were at home following our offices closures as well. We armed ourselves with hand sanitizer, got our groceries delivered, and watched movies. We felt like we were battening down the hatches against a blizzard. Little did we know the blizzard would turn into an ice age.

When her school resumed, after spring break, it was entirely virtual for the rest of the year. Each of her classes met once synchronously per week – the rest of her time was spent in solitary asynchronous learning. At the end of the year, there was a group project. It was the most verbal interaction she’d had in months. At the end of the school year, we were worried: Did she learn anything? Would she fall behind? Would she be able to catch up? Were we bad parents for not taking her learning into our own hands? Especially me, as a former teacher. Had I dropped the ball in irrevocable ways? Eek.

Needless to say, we were all ready for summer break. Yes, we wanted to ensure she was learning and not falling farther behind, but most importantly we wanted to get her outside, away from the computer, and with people. We established a summer pod of family and friends and gave her a lot of hang out time. But we are also insistent that she read every day, work on a mathematics packet that the school provided, and play her clarinet even once a week. It wasn’t much, but it worked for us.

In the fall, our daughter started 7th grade in a revamped virtual mode, in which the balance of synchronous to asynchronous had shifted dramatically. Each teacher held three synchronous classes weekly, and there was much more interaction among students. As parents we were pleased, because we associated synchronous learning with more learning. But we hadn’t expected the zoom exhaustion that would come with sitting all day at the computer. There are many reasons middle school is hard – Zoom turned out to be another one. It was hard to sit for hours at a time. She was fidgety and bored and often zoned out, which meant that she missed things, forgot assignments, and was frustrated We met at noon for family lunch and walk to try to get her spirits up. We switched from puzzles to games (success). We tried working out as a family (fail). And we micro-managed her schoolwork (a battle).
But what we could not fix was the loneliness of remote learning. She was weary of zoom. She missed her friends. She missed her teachers. She was tired of her parents (as great as we are). She was just done with it all.

In late January, her school transitioned to a hybrid learning mode, meaning that students could attend school 2x per week. And finally, in mid-April after spring break, her school brought students back five days a week. In the year since the lockdown had started, she had attended only 14 days of school, masked and behind Plexiglas screens.

I think a lot about what she has learned during this year. She has excelled at Latin, shown real grit in math, and read a lot. She is also watched Grey’s Anatomy twice over, build 100s of homes in Roblox, and made 1000s of TikTok videos. She learned to cook, to order things online, to do her own laundry. She learned the value of (and limits of) family and friends. And in being deprived of school, she learned to appreciate it for all it offers.

Our daughter is fortunate: She has an intact dual-income family, a spacious home with outside access, and easy access to technology. While she has experienced loss, she will emerge with new skills and knowledge and be ready to take on the future. But I worry for the many children in this country who have not had those opportunities – and I hope we can address their academic, social, and emotional needs in the months and years ahead.

Allison Escher, Instructional Designer for English Language Arts

If I am totally honest, when the shutdown occurred last March, I was excited. I know! Hear me out-- We were overscheduled and burnt out. I was traveling biweekly to various school districts across the nation delivering profession learning, while my daughters were doing dance, musical theater, soccer, gymnastics, and, of course, school. It was a lot. Too much. We all needed a break.

When the “break” turned into a new way of life, I struggled. My first grader was able to navigate her asynchronous schoolwork, but she is a highly social child (see list of activities above!) and she missed the interaction. My preschooler had 30-minute zoom meetings but was not engaging or enjoying the work. My husband and I multi-tasked between work and keeping our kids entertained and learning. Never fully present at work. Never fully present at parenting. It was not a good feeling.

We chose to put our daughters in a small private school this year, in hopes that they would be able to go to school full time while maintaining the physical distance and mask requirements. We are lucky we could do so, but even this decision was a difficult one. As a proponent of public school, I wavered between my beliefs about public schools and what would be best for my family. Even though this school year has looked differently, they know how lucky they are to physically attend school this year (perhaps because I remind them of it often!). Getting to eat lunch in the cafeteria vs. the classroom was a highlight of my kindergartner’s year! It’s these little pieces of normalcy that are being peppered into our daily lives that make me hopeful as our nation continues to reopen. I am so thankful for the teachers who have been navigating this work. One bright spot has been the national recognition bestowed upon teachers, and the important role they play in our society. I am hoping we all remember their importance as we continue to reopen.

Carla Judkins, Senior Staff Accountant

At the beginning of the shutdown, my husband and I both worked from home. Our grown son and grandchildren do not live in the same area as us, so it’s been a while since we’ve had children in our house for extended periods of time. My husband and I truly believe it takes a village to raise kids. Whenever our family and friends need a break, they know they can count on us! As it happened, two of our nieces, both in 10th grade (one who lives in Virginia and one who lives in Georgia) needed a change of scenery, so they came to stay with us over the winter break. They faced the same challenges as many teenagers: they were missing the social aspect of school and extra-curricular activities, as well as the structure that a school day provided them. This began to manifest in some depression and anxiety in the girls and them not wanting to do much. Getting them together ended up being a great thing, both for them and for my husband and me. The winter break visit extended to a four month stay...meaning that we all went back to (virtual) work and school.

As my nieces re-engaged in school, we had to set routines and structure to support them. They were expected to get up every morning, get dressed, eat breakfast, and sit at their desks for school. Because they are enrolled in school in different areas, school looked different for each of them. One of the girls had classes with her teachers from 8:00-2:30 with assignments and homework, just as she would in-person; my other niece had class for two hours a day, four days a week, with assignments and homework to complete on her own. Despite the differences in the school structure, both girls were successful with no missing assignments and straight A’s.

In addition to their academic success, we bonded! The girls were used to constantly being with their friends, and while that was no longer a choice, we found creative ways to take advantage of our time together. Instead of being on phones and facetime, we played board games, put together puzzles, and spent time reading and communicating with each other. My husband taught them to play pool, they played basketball, and he took them driving every Saturday morning. They went from having a learner’s permit to knowing how to drive on the highway.

Overall, the time they spent with us and together was a great thing. We learned a lot about each other, and we’re looking forward to their visit this summer.

Amber Burks-Cole, Manager of Relationships

I have been lucky to have a flexible workplace that has been able to shift to a fully remote work environment. In the past, that would mean lots of quiet time by myself to get my job done. In the new normal, it meant the cacophony 5 people logging onto Zoom while using up the bandwidth at any given time. Our daytime routine has breathed new life into our home – my husband and I joining remote meetings and completing work tasks while helping our high school freshman and two first graders navigate through synchronous and asynchronous learning. Again, we’ve been lucky – reading and language development as well as mathematical reasoning are progressing for our younger learners and our 15-year-old is a digital native that quickly adapted to a fully remote learning environment. There are many positives – I have spent more time with my children over the last year than ever before, as a teacher by training, I have been able to flex that practitioner muscle again daily, we have experienced formative, life changing events in our country together, and I am not worried about them going to school in the morning and not returning in the afternoon. However, the toll on their social and emotional development is becoming clear and there are many milestones that we cannot recreate. I am incredibly appreciative of our local school systems commitment to educating the entirety of our school community and their flexibility in the face of this unprecedented pandemic however, I am looking forward to our kids’ safe return to school. Remember that scene when Kevin McAllister wakes up in the Plaza Hotel? That will be me when I am Home Alone again.