As school district shutdowns for the coronavirus pandemic drag into a third week, parents and children are facing drastic changes in routine. Several parents of students in Dunwoody and Brookhaven schools in the DeKalb County School District recently shared their experiences of coping with the new situation.

Some say their children are doing well with virtual learning because of set schedules, while others are not sure the online method is working as well as the classroom environment. Some are concerned for their children’s mental well-being.

Andrew, a first-grader at Kingsley Elementary and son of Jennifer Madison, on a Zoom conference with his reading group. (Special)

On March 26, Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order to have all public schools remain closed through April 24 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Local districts in Atlanta, DeKalb County and Fulton County have been in indefinite closures since mid-March and students have transitioned to virtual learning.

Virtual learning pros and cons

Emily Ceo, the co-chair of the Peachtree Charter Middle School Foundation in Dunwoody, said virtual learning has been a success in her household so far. Ceo has two children in the DeKalb County School District: Ava, a sixth-grader at Peachtree Charter and Jackson, an 11th-grader at Dunwoody High School.

A daily schedule Emily Ceo has laid out for her children, Ava and Jackson, for home schooling while schools are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Special)
A list of rules Emily Ceo has laid out for her children, Ava and Jackson, for home schooling while schools are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Special)

“We developed a schedule and set rules for each child early on,” Ceo said. “Expectations were set and expectations have been met.”

Ceo said the software has been working well after the first few days of some speed bumps and the teachers have been helpful throughout the process.

“They created alternative ways to post assignments so websites weren’t bombarded at once,” Ceo said. “My daughter now has a standing Zoom conference call every weekday at 9:30 a.m. with one of her teachers and classmates. I hear the children asking the teacher a variety of questions.”

Jennifer Madison is a Dunwoody resident with two children in DeKalb schools: Lauren in fifth grade at Kittredge Magnet School in Brookhaven and Andrew in first grade at Kingsley Elementary in Dunwoody. She said learning at home has been quite an adjustment for the entire family.

“I have a full-time job and trying to be a good employee, a teacher and a referee with my kids has been draining,” Madison said. “I have set up a checklist and calendar for my kids, and I’m actually paying [Lauren] to help teach [Andrew] so that I can work.”

Madison said she is not sure that home learning is working as well as in-school learning does. 

“It is keeping the kids busy with work, but I don’t know that they are actually learning [or] retaining anything,” Madison said.

Madison also said while the supplemental software is working, there are many sites to keep up with so it can get confusing.

Megan Cann is the chair of the Dunwoody Elementary Principal Advisory Council and has two children, Madeline, a fourth-grader at Dunwoody and Clara, a seventh-grader at Peachtree Charter.

Madeline, a fourth-grader at Dunwoody Elementary and Megan Cann’s daughter, working on math from home. (Special)

Cann said she is grateful for the teachers trying their best to make virtual learning work, but her children miss the traditional way of learning.

“In no way do I find this an adequate replacement for being in the classroom, though I do feel that everyone is making the best of a deplorable situation,” Cann said. “[My children] would much rather go to school. It is obvious that they miss their peers and their teachers.”

Marissa Evans is a Dunwoody resident with two children at Dunwoody Elementary: Alex in fifth grade and Elise in second grade. She said home schooling has been a challenge.

“Regarding teaching, we are trying. But I don’t think they are grasping any new concepts, just reviewing and practicing what they already know,” Evans said. “So no, I don’t think they are learning much! But I do think they are building some skills, like time management.”

Cassie Owens, a Dunwoody resident with two children, one in fifth grade at Dunwoody Elementary and one in sixth grade at Peachtree Charter, questions whether her children are retaining the information from their virtual classes.

“My fifth-grader says she is learning a little by reading passages about new concepts and my sixth-grader says he is learning some, too, but my guess is that it is maybe about a very small percentage of what they would be learning in actual class,” Owens said.

Owens said it has been hard for her to help because she is working from home and is tied to her own job duties.

“As a working parent, it is hard to balance their needs — social, emotional, physical and academic — while balancing my own, plus working and running a small practice,” Owens said.

‘Grieving the loss of their normal life’

The technology for virtual learning is one thing. The psychological impact on children and parents is another.

Ceo said her children’s emotions seem to vary from day-to-day and she is trying to be mindful of what they are going through.

“A friend pointed out just this morning that these teens are grieving the loss of their normal life,” Ceo said. “They may experience multiple stages of grief, including denial, anger and depression.”

The most difficult part, Madison said, is her children not having their normal school routine.

“They seem OK, but it is hard. Hard on all of us,” Madison said. “I love that we are getting to do some family things at home that we don’t normally get to do because we are usually so busy, but not seeing their friends, and not having a more formal routine and setting for learning with their peers is really taking a toll.”

Owens said she worries about the mental well-being of her children and those of other parents.

“While many parents are focused on how they are handling the situation, people aren’t talking about the children,” Owens said. “Many assume that the kids are fine, and that they enjoy being home, spending extra time on screens, and like the extra family and downtime. However, that is not always the case.” 

“My kids went from a very structured, active and social lifestyle to a screeching halt,” Owens added. “Not only did they lose those things, then they are in the house and are essentially on their own and alone all day.”

Doubts about the rest of the school year

One thing most parents had in common was their belief that students will not be returning to their schools before the end of the school year.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think schools will reopen for the 2019-2020 school year,” Ceo said.

“I want to say yes, but I do not find it likely,” Cann said. “Regardless, no matter how diligent students and teachers are during this time, I cannot imagine that they will not be behind when the 2020-2021 year starts.”

“Since we get out so much earlier than other states, I don’t know if they would see value in the kids going back for just a few weeks,” Madison said.

“I hope they will be back! I’m not confident though,” Evans said. 

Owens said she does not feel comfortable sending her children back if schools were to reopen.

“My daughter has asthma which puts her at greater risk of complications, so sending her into the Petri dish of school is not ideal at this time, especially when the healthcare system is overloaded,” Owens said.

Hannah Greco is writer and media communications specialist based in Atlanta.