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How’s School Going in 2020?

How’s School Going in 2020?

Local Moms Share Experiences with Virtual, Homeschool, and Hybrid Learning 

By Chelsea Rose Moore

Just a year ago, not many of us would have used the phrase “virtual schooling” in daily conversations. But in 2020, it’s become the norm and a hot topic of conversation. Regardless of your views, one thing is certain: Each of us is craving some level of normalcy again. We checked in with three families to see how their hybrid, virtual and homeschooling situations are going a few months into the fall semester. 

Melissa Marie | Ashburn, Va. 

Melissa Marie has juggled school with two teenage daughters in virtual school and two children in elementary school. She decided to homeschool her youngest two children last January, just before the pandemic hit, but she hadn’t planned on having two teenagers home while she was homeschooling. 

Her experience has been positive overall. At ages 16 and 17, her teenage daughters complete their work on their own. “When they have breaks, [I tell them to] get fresh air, go outside, see the sun for a little bit, and get a little Vitamin D,” she said. “I try to help them be self-aware. I went on a walk [with one of my daughters on her] 35-minute lunch break. I think that [virtual schooling] has been surprisingly easy for me. The homeschooling has been harder. I think as moms, we just want to do the best at everything. But we aren’t going to be good at everything. I am giving myself more grace.” 

Melissa Marie’s four children Alexis, Ariel, Ricardo, Catalina. Photo by Melisa Pasero Photography.

She gives her children “pep talks” where she discusses the importance of real-life issues, from getting proper sleep to experiencing emotions. If they’re feeling lonely, she tells them this is normal. She works to give her kids plenty of social opportunities, from a homeschool co-op to afternoons at the playground with friends. Her teenagers regularly see their boyfriends and friends. 

In the midst of these challenging times, Marie has prioritized her mental health too. “Middleburg has given me mental health days,” she said. “Anytime [I] go to Middleburg, [I am] happy.”

Spencer Radzanowski | Hamilton, Va. 

As a homeschool graduate herself, Spencer Radzanowski always planned to homeschool her own children. What she didn’t expect was to homeschool during a pandemic. 

“We’ve always been really involved in church, sports and homeschool co-op,” Radzanowski said. “Being social and being involved in things has always been really important to us. This year, [with] so many things cancelled, we went from being a very busy family to, all of the sudden, having nothing available. Some of it was good; [we were] spending a lot more time together and finding a lot more we could do together. After spring and summer, I said enough is enough. I started planning activities for our co-op groups, getting out of the house, being in nature, and seeing people while still being under the regulations.”

One of the activities she planned for the fall was writing letters to senior citizens homebound because of COVID-19. She hopes to use it as a tool to spark a connection for the kids while making it a great learning activity. 

In November, she and two other homeschool moms hosted a crafting workshop to teach kids basic sewing skills and have them make their own stuffed animal. She has also hosted nature hikes at nearby parks, where she talks about seasons, local animals and foliage, encouraging each child to bring a nature journal for notes and drawings. 

Radzanowski, who has two sons aged 9 and 3.5 and a newborn daughter, plans workshops twice a month. Her workshops are open to families doing virtual learning too, who she said are facing the same challenges she is as a homeschooler. While her workshops are geared towards elementary school learners, she loves having younger kids around too. “My younger son can play with other kids, or I can gear things to his age and help him,” she said. “He absorbs so much by being around the teaching and the environment. I want other families to know that learning can be a whole family experience.”

Since the pandemic started, one of her favorite resources has been all the organizations and businesses offering free classes online. “We’ve done Zoom art classes and marine biology courses in the spring and summer [with a] nature preserve in Florida,” she said. “The opportunities are out there, but I don’t know that everyone is aware of them. Sometimes you have to hunt for them.” 

Megan Spurrier | Warrenton, Va. 

Megan Spurrier’s three children have been virtual schooling since March. With twin boys in second grade and a daughter in kindergarten at James G. Brumfield Elementary School in Warrenton, Spurrier was overjoyed at the move to hybrid learning in mid-November. 

A former middle school and preschool teacher, Spurrier’s background in education helped as she taught her children for most of 2020. She felt comfortable around curriculum and understood the structure of a school day and the concept of teaching. Still, she said, it was challenging because she was doing this with her own kids, not somebody else’s kids. 

During the spring, she purchased workbooks and printed resources from the internet. She worked with her kids’ teachers to receive activity packets and books. About a month after closing, the school released project activities, but they were not grade-specific. Spurrier did her best to work within the limitations of the projects they’d been given. 

Spurrier’s children Wes, Henry, and Elliot. Photo by Megan Spurrier Photography.

Virtual schooling was hard on her sons. They struggled with seeing their friends on the screen but not in person. “They went from being the teacher’s pet to despising school,” she said. 

Now that they’re back in school two days a week, Spurrier said their behavior has already changed. “They realized that their teacher was real; they had only seen her on a computer,” she said. “They only have five kids in their class, so [there’s] a lot of face time with their teacher.”

For the fall semester, Spurrier arranged a separate school room in her home, with desks for each child, computers and headphones. She loved that the school created a drive-up assembly line for parents to pick up new materials, supplies and books every two weeks. The activity bags corresponded with their classwork. 

The virtual learning classroom Spurrier set up in fall 2020 for her children. Photo by Megan Spurrier Photography.

Her advice to other parents navigating virtual schooling? “Set rewards and take breaks when needed,” she said. “We go outside as much as possible and we take a lot of breaks,” she said, noting that sometimes they will clear their schedule and go outside for a picnic. “I had to really set goals for the day for what time we are going to be done by. I was like a military mom, telling my kids, ‘You will have this done by this time or you don’t get your iPad.’ Some days it worked, and some days it didn’t. It depended on their moods, their attention levels [and] how much school work they had.”

The benefit of virtual school was that it gave their family a more flexible schedule. They could start the day on their own time. If a day started badly, they could choose not to do school and work on other projects instead. If they wanted to spend the day at Spurrier’s parents’ house, they could do their work there. 

Her favorite thing about having her kids back in school is the quiet. “I don’t have to get snacks all day,” she said, laughing. ML

Published in the December 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.

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