Mothers Keep in Step With Schools During COVID Crisis

Friends Leanne Anell, Gabriela Berk and Agnes Kretz spent two recent walks through Arroyo Park talking about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their families and how it might affect the upcoming school year. They agreed that the pandemic has impacted their children on an emotional level and are trying in their own way to cope with changes to family life and routines. Photo courtesy Leanne Anell

Leanne Anell, Gabriela Berk and Agnes Kretz are friends who spend at least one day a week walking together.
They are all mothers of school-age children and during two recent three-hour walks through Arroyo Park, they said that most of what they discussed was what had happened to their families since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and what will happen to school this fall.
The three women — all in their late 40s — admit that life for their families has definitely not been a walk in the park. I talked to all three women separately and also asked them to put their thoughts on paper.
First, let me provide a little introduction.
Agnes said that Gabriela is the positive thinker of the three and Leanne is the most caring person she knows. Leanne calls Agnes her “voice of reason.” Agnes has known Leanne for seven years and Gabriela for five years. Gabriela was born in Mexico; Agnes in Poland; and Leanne’s husband, Per, is from Sweden.
Their comments probably have been echoed countless times over the past several weeks as parents fret about what is happening in their children’s present and future.
School district Superintendent Geoff Yantz said the board of education, in a special meeting Thursday, July 16, would consider a model of distance learning and a hybrid instruction model, which would allow a quick transition between physical closure or opening of schools, depending on health and safety conditions.
The more school the better, as health conditions allow, the moms concluded. What also came through was their confidence in the school district and the realization of how hard it is for schools to deal with the pandemic.
Conditions have gotten worse in California over the past three weeks and health officials may step in to mandate changes.
These moms are most worried about how the pandemic has affected their children mentally and the need to get them back in a social setting — hopefully back in school on a full or hybrid schedule with some time in school and some time at home.
Agnes: “The pandemic has definitely affected both kids socially. My son, going into 8th grade, is an ‘A’ student and powers through his work. But he’s introverted and this has made him more introverted. It was already not easy for him to make friends. But this has gone on so long that he’s ready to get out and see people.
“For my daughter (going into 6th grade) it’s not as easy academically. She needs the face-to-face human interaction that a classroom provides.
“She used to be a very social person and never liked video games. Now, she has learned to like them and is more isolated. So, we’ve given her permission to go swimming with a friend and she spent last weekend away with another family.
Leanne: “I think Olivia (6th grade) was impacted more since she is already an introvert. When she was in a school setting, she had to figure out how to navigate socially.
“It is important to me that both kids learn to interact and socialize. I don’t want their get-togethers to be just chatting on a flat screen. I’ve given my daughter permission to ride with a friend on their bicycles to go and get bobas.”
The children, Olivia and Lukas (8th grade) and their parents also went to two protest marches in memory of George Floyd. They wore masks and tried to stay socially distanced, but Leanne wanted them to participate.
Leanne: “I wanted them to personally experience it. This is their future and they are old enough to think about this kind of stuff. I know that there are so many different factors we have to keep in mind … but I worry that they are missing out on some key formative years and experiences that will impact who they are now and in the future.”
Gabriela who has a son in 11th grade and a daughter going into 6th grade, says, “For my youngest daughter, who used to be extremely social, it has been very difficult. She’s become quiet. She misses her friends and her extracurricular classes. It is very difficult as parents to see your daughter changing due to a lack of socialization during the quarantine.”
Her son was on the football team, and they have built a gym in the garage for everyone to use. The Berks have also found ways to get the children involved in activities that might make “memories,” including an RV trip for the family up the coast for their son to look at colleges.
Gabriela: “We have board-game nights, cooking, baking and even planting in the back yard, anything to take advantage of all the time we have had and we still have together. COVID will go away, but millions will struggle for a lifetime with mental issues due to the difficult times for all.”
As the women walked on, they talk about how they have handled the summer. Leanne has been working from home for her job at Paramount. Agnes is a homemaker, and her husband is a musician who has seen his income dwindle as tours disappeared. Gabriela works for Fox Sports, which means waiting for some sports to begin again.
Gabriela: “We have to think positive while adapting to this new life. It is a reset for the world. It is a time to slow down and pay attention to the important things — culture, religion, race and to be more compassionate. We have to be more compassionate and let some things go.”
The uncertainty has been hard on the moms.
Leanne: “I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about all of this and how many different factors have to be taken into consideration … if I push to have the kids back in school and they get sick, was I too quick to want to get them back in the classroom?
“What will happen when I am no longer able to work from home and need to be physically at my workplace? Who will make sure the kids are keeping to task? How do we keep them engaged in learning, if it is all online. My list could go on and on.”
Agnes: “I wake up and tell my husband I have bad dreams. I also pace a lot. I’m the one in the family who has to deal with the education of our children. It falls more on my shoulders.”
All three women, as if they didn’t have enough to worry about, are concerned about teachers and staff.
Agnes: “I’m equally worried about the teachers and the adults. I’m concerned about their health.”
Leanne: “I know that there are so many different factors we have to keep in mind such as their [children’s] health and safety as well as the teachers and staff who will have to interface with the kids.”
Agnes noted that as school gets closer to opening, the topic has become more politicized on a national level. That’s something she hopes can be avoided.
“I hope the conversation doesn’t go that way,” Agnes said. “The school decision should be based on facts, not on politics.”
Leanne: “It will be interesting to see what they come up with, but it will never be the same. We’re all working to cope in our own way.”