Journey Back to School

Parents react to school plans for the fall

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Understanding but concerned. That is how some parents in the region feel about the news that New Hanover County Schools would be operating under a combination of remote and in-school learning or all-virtual classes.

However, the school board meets on Tuesday where Interim Superintendent Del Burns recommends that schools open and operate 100% virtually for the first 9 weeks. Under the current proposed plan, set to help stop the spread of COVID-19, students will be placed into three-week rotation blocks, with groups attending school one week and then learning remotely during the next two. Parents and students also have the option of learning remotely full-time.

For some parents, juggling school and work schedules under this new mode of learning will be a difficult task. As a result, many are coming together to find solutions and resources.

ANITA HARRELL, owner of FitMo Fitness + Training in Wilmington and mother of a middle-schooler, says she was not surprised when she learned about the new plan.

“I am pleased that they are offering the remote learning for the families that are not ready to send their children back to the physical school buildings yet. I am, however, concerned for the quality of instruction that will be provided during the face-to-face time with children at their respective schools,” Harrell says. “I am not concerned because I don’t have faith in the teachers. I am concerned because of the many other things that have been added to teachers’ plates by doing face-to-face instruction.

“So, similar to others, I’m a tad confounded. I am also understanding that every family has different needs, and I do hope that we can come together as a community and figure this out until we can get back to some sense of ‘normalcy,’ if you will, one day,” she adds.

Harrell says she is lucky because the new plan does not affect her family detrimentally as it might for others. Her daughter will be entering middle school in the fall, and her wife is a high-school teacher, but because she owns a small business, her daughter can come to work with her to learn remotely.

“I know that families are scrambling right now to find the right answer for their own children,” Harrell says.

This realization is what made her brainstorm for ideas on how she could help.

Harrell decided to provide a space at her FitMo gym where kids can be supervised and do their online work.

“My gym is very open and spacious. I have two rooms that we use for training, one is usually used for groups and the other for personal training,” she says. “I devised a layout that would allow for our Microschool to exist in the group training room with social distancing guidelines being met.”

She plans on using an outdoor area to implement a fitness/PE plan. Harrell hopes this program will benefit parents by providing their kids with a safe and supportive space that is supervised by adults with experience.

“Our plan will benefit kids by giving them a safe, fun, and enriching environment in which to learn and grow while our community fights through this unprecedented time in the hopes of returning to their home schools eventually,” she says.

To maintain safety standards, she is only accepting 12-15 kids and will charge $150 a week per kid to help cover operating costs as well as additional cleaning supplies and sanitation products.

Another mother in the region says she was torn when she heard the news about the new school year, which is scheduled to start in New Hanover County in one month for most students.

DIANE JONES, whose youngest daughter is a rising sophomore, says her family was ready to get back to something close to normal and her daughter is thrilled to be going back to the classroom, but she has some concerns.

“I do worry about the teachers. How do they balance everything? What is their risk of being infected? For students, of course, I’m also concerned about infection,” she says. “But I also worry about what happens if/when the schools decide roll back to all virtual learning. More upheaval, more change, more disappointment.”

Jones has been working from home for over six years, so her family’s schedule has not been greatly affected. However, she has friends who are teachers who expressed how stressful the situation has been.

To help teachers, she decided to start a private Facebook group “Parents Supporting Schools and Teachers” on Wednesday.

“I just knew that by bringing people together, we could come up with ways to help and support these teachers. We happen to live in a community that has some of the most kind, generous, and resourceful people in the world,” Jones says. “I have seen these folks in action. And they didn’t disappoint. I invited roughly 75 people to the Facebook page, and we are close to 500 members. People want to help.”

Jones hopes that the Facebook group can identify what teachers need and come up with tangible solutions to help meet some of those needs. It will also be a place on how to stay connected with all the information out there.

So far, members of the group have had discussions on supply drives for school supplies, PPE, and other items to help ease a burden on the teachers.

“Some members have also been sharing information about options for supporting virtual learning, which is so important for teachers who have their own children,” she says. “We are still waiting on specifics from many of the districts. Those specifics will drive a lot of the actions.”

When it comes to specifics, New Hanover County Schools Interim Superintendent Del Burns covered some details in a BizTalk interview this week with the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.

Some of the items he covered include a timeline for when parents should make a decision on remote learning, a survey from schools to gauge the number of students who will participate in face-to-face instructions, and details on a virtual academy run by individual schools versus a virtual school as an additional virtual school in the county.

Burns also says that while operating with a mix of remote and in-school learning is currently the plan, parents should be prepared for things to change.

“The way that the governor and DHHS set forth our requirements, which is to have a plan A with all students present; limited social distancing plan B, which is what we’re under, (with) limited numbers of students and increased social distancing and other health and safety protocols; and then plan C, remote. We are to have a plan for each, and we do. And so, we can slide between A, B, and C as necessary,” Burns says. “There is no way to predict what will happen between now and August 4th, which is when our year-round schools begin or August 17th, and we’re prepared to take action as necessary.”

As parents in the community are grappling with planning for remote school in the fall, and dealing with the possibility of school plans changing, there are some local organizations that can help.

Education InsideOut is a Wilmington network of Parent Advocates partnered with local resources working to Bridge the Gap Between Home and School.

“We help parents navigate through school meetings, connect parents with needed resources, and help parents put structures and strategies in place at home so their children can have success at school,” says founder TIKISHA MICHELLE.

Michelle, who is a classroom teacher with twenty-six years of experience, started the organization in 2010 when she identified the need of parent support when it comes to schooling.

When she learned about the current school plan, she realized that there were going to be several parents and teachers with increased anxiety.

“I have experienced so many situations that have caused stress for parents and teachers. I know that no matter what the decision was there were going to be many people who wished it was something else,” Michelle says. “I knew I needed to prepare to listen and offer assistance to those who needed it.”

Education InsideOut provides family support services, school connection, family reunification and parent training.

Some concerns that she has heard from parents include the health and safety of their kids, specially those with medical conditions.

“I have heard the question, ‘what am I going to do with my children when they cannot be in school or what if a teacher gets sick?’ Parents are concerned about having to teach their own children due to their schedules and limited ability or skills,” she says.

Some tips and advice she has for parents is to use their communities and communicate with other parents, local community centers, and churches.

“During this time, it will truly ‘take a village’ to ensure the health, safety, and academic growth of our children,” she says. “Also, parents should feel free to contact us so that we can help them to manage their stress and anxiety so that their children will be able to successfully progress through this very different time in our lives.”

While parents may feel pressured to make quick decisions and line up plans for the school starts in the fall now, it is important that they slow down and tackle small tasks, like getting supplies.

“I want to encourage parents to be sure to sit quietly and take a breath before making their final decision on what they are going to do. Decisions made during high emotional states of mind are not always the best decision,” Michelle says. “Also, please give yourselves and the school systems time monitor and adjust as we travel through these uncharted waters. Finally, buy school supplies. No matter the decision you make for your child, they will need the tools to be a successful student.”


WILMA is gathering an updated list of organizations, nonprofits, and businesses that are providing resources to parents and kids as they begin to navigate schools in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. To be included on the list, email jcano@wilmingtonbiz.com with information on resources and services provided, and how they benefit parents and students.


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