For the past six months, CA's Parent Steering Committee has met regularly with school officials to weigh in on policy and procedures for effective distance learning and a safe return to school. Take a look at the interview below for some insights from two representatives from the committee.

 

An Interview with Ms. Ericka Turner, Parent Steering Committee Representative from Abramson

 

How did you get involved with the steering committee?

We tried to get a PTA/PTO established at [Abramson] Sci. I was one of those parents involved. I try to be very active in my daughter’s academic life. The principal reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to be a part of the steering committee to offer guidance on reopening school this year.

[The committee] started a few months ago. We were meeting once a week with a very in depth process to sort through lots of ideas and topics of conversation being tossed around. I was very grateful to be part of the committee.

My daughter’s a senior now but I am very interested and would like to continue to be a part of the education system in New Orleans. With that being said, I’m open to continuing to be part of the committee.

 

What sort of topics did you focus on as a group?

We tossed around ideas of whether it's a good idea for our kids to go back to school or not. Stacy [Martin, Collegiate’s Chief External Affairs Officer] sent out surveys asking parents how they felt about the kids going back to school and which of the three different models they’d prefer.

We also discussed how the classrooms would look once students return to school: a model for that. We mostly talked about the whole structure of them learning: What is it going to look like? What kind of platform would they have? If they were in school in person, what would that look like? We talked about the virus itself.

It’s hard sitting in front of the computer all day so we discussed what breaks would look like for the kids and how testing would work. We covered a lot. It was very informative and I’m grateful that my voice was heard as well as other parents

 

How has the experience been serving on the committee?

Our committee is small. It has been very intimate. There are no more than eight of us. It’s been nice. Everybody brings different perspectives and ideas to the table. What happens at [Abramson] Sci may not happen at Livingston so we all may have different experiences. I appreciate that. Overall, I’m very thankful for the whole committee because it gave me a chance to know what to expect and to ease some of that anxiety I had about my daughter going back to school during the coronavirus and with everything else going on today. I appreciate my input and thoughts being respected and communicated to whoever needed to hear it.

 

How has this school year been so far?

I appreciate the fact that I think Collegiate was on top of it this time— this gave me a very different feeling than I had when COVID first started at the very beginning of the year. I was glad that Collegiate was on it. They’re making plans and they’re bringing in people together to try to set up plans for success for all of our students.

 

Is there anything you would change about distance learning as it is now?

I think our kids have way too much homework. I don’t think that the teachers are assigning it in a negative way, but maybe they are trying to overcompensate because they are not in a school in person. I asked my daughter, ‘last year did you have homework like this?’ She said no. Their homework is ten-fold. So my daughter is having a hard time trying to balance school and extra ACT prep and volleyball. She’s actually at a volleyball game right now. So that’s a factor in distance learning. When I mentioned this to Stacy Martin, she later followed up with me, and my daughter said that they have since reduced the assignments but it’s still a lot. I just think that online instruction is a lot more difficult for the kids instead of actually being in the school.

 

Can you speak to the experience of being a parent during COVID?

I think it’s really hard. The hardest part is balancing my want and need to keep my daughter safe with the fact that she needs to get back into school. She needs it. She wants it. She learns better there. So I’m having a hard time trying to decide. I just got a text a few days ago asking me to update the school about whether or not my daughter will return in person. I haven’t filled it out yet because I’m not sure where I am on that. She wants to go back to school but I’m not sure I want her there. I know numbers are going down and I know she’s cautious. I just don’t know.

My hope right now is that they can open schools up by the first of the year [2021]. Ideally, I would like to keep her home until then, but this is just how I feel today. I understand that infection numbers are going down and people are making adjustments but I’m just thinking the more time that passes we’ll be in a better position to send the kids back to school. With that being said, I may or may not be sending her back in October.

 

An Interview with Ms. Williams, Parent Steering Committee Representative from Livingston

 

How did you get involved with the steering committee?

I’m usually a very involved parent with either the PTA or helping out with the school.

I’ve talked to several people on staff and have tried to stay connected to them. I'm usually that parent that always asks the question in trying to navigate what the new school year will be like with each teacher. When they asked me to be on the steering committee I was very excited to have an insight in what was going on. I think it was great that they wanted to involve the parents in figuring out how, under this COVID life, things would be structured.

Initially I was wondering how we were chosen to be in the steering committee and I found out that the staff and school leaders suggested some parents to work with the steering committee.

 

How has the experience been serving on the committee?

At our very first meeting, I kind of was unsure. At the time, things were up in the air. Things were very rough during that time, just trying to adjust to life working from home and accommodating virtual schooling. I have a daughter who’s in college and my son is a junior in high school. Going into it, I was very unsure considering everything was so new and so unpredictable with what everyone was going through. Stress levels were high. Anxiety: definitely. Because of how COVID impacted my family personally, I was very concerned with how the rest of the school year was going to look and how this new school year was going to look. I was very unsure as to what the expectation was going to look like. There were just so many questions: how we were going to maneuver things like grades? Was he receiving a proper education under these conditions? How was his adjustment going in a virtual world?...Now that he’s looking at the computer, will his prescription for his eyes change? Will he be focused enough to actually retain information from being on the computer all day? What would his mindset be like? Will this be a positive or negative thing for him?

I think it was very helpful being on the steering committee because it gave me an inside scoop into how things would look. I think I still had anxiety about how the school year would start but I was pretty confident in how things were lined up.

 

What sort of topics did you focus on as a group?

On the steering committee we had the opportunity to help create what we felt the school year should look like so that made it a little bit more comfortable when this school year actually started. We were able to see examples and samples of the types of programs students were going to be using, how the schedule was going to be set up, how their classes were going to look. I know for myself those were a lot of concerns.

I love the fact that we got to decide on what information went out there to the parent community. We also assisted in developing different rules and regulations under COVID. I loved that they gave us an example of an actual architect coming in and doing the dimension of a classroom. They gave us examples of how they would physically socially distance the kids, where teachers would be stationed, and how they would have a cleaning station with hand sanitizer and things like that. A lot of that stuff was comforting and it kind of eased my anxiety around what the school year would look like if he was to go back to school in-person.

 

What are some of your current concerns about returning to school or distance learning as it is now?

My son would normally catch the school bus to school. We don’t live that far from the school building and my husband is able to drop him off but that was one of the things my son would look forward to: catching the bus. I can honestly say that I was not confident in the school bus system. Some companies are really great, some companies don’t follow through. One of my biggest fears was about social distancing on the school bus and sanitation on the school bus. Would they really wipe down the seats? Would they make sure the kids are staying separate? Before the school year started, I was already making plans that if he did go back into the building the school bus wouldn’t have been an option for us.

I’m curious how [Collegiate] is going to follow through on the rules in social distancing. For example, if they take temperatures at the door, what is the next step? Do parents come and pick up students? Do they quarantine for 14 days? What plans and procedures are in place for those options? And, for some strange reason, I am concerned about the restroom breaks. You know, how are they going to separate kids and not have a pile of kids waiting for the restroom? I’m just thinking about areas that kids tend to gravitate to...I’m just really concerned about those things.

 

Can you speak to what your family’s plans are for returning to school?

I like how [Collegiate] developed three options for us based on each parent’s individual feelings. I think that was great that they would take into consideration parents who were 100% not comfortable with their students going back in, and still have options for those students and parents who were okay with going back into the classroom. With that being said we actually chose option 2: he will go back part time when everyone is able to go back to the physical building. The last time he and I spoke about it, one of the things he said he missed was seeing his friends every day and interacting with them, especially from last semester. This semester we have opted for him to go back. So far he’s okay with this option. I’m okay with going back too but there is a part of me that’s still concerned about going back and whether or not other families will abide by the rules under phase 2. Some people think that being in phase 2 is totally ridiculous at this point, and others who are on the other side of the fence are thinking, “let’s take our time.” I’m one of those parents who thinks we should take our time because COVID has affected me and my family very closely. I am airing on a side of caution but at the same time I want him to get that interaction and in-person experience when he can while following the rules and regulations: mask, 6 feet apart, etc. As kids, I know they do still need that interaction.