Our School Chronicles: Eden Prairie families share insights on how COVID-19 impacted their schooling choice

The pandemic has caused a lot of families to consider everything surrounding their education experience – from potential exposure to illness, to consistency in routines and delivery methods. While there is no right or wrong way of doing school, I was intrigued to learn about and share the realities of different learning environments that families across Eden Prairie were exploring.  

As Eden Prairie Schools wraps up its first quarter of instruction, I wondered how families that weren’t enrolled in the K-1/2-12 Hybrid school model were doing. It was not a surprise that when school districts had the difficult task of outlining and implementing their district learning model, many families decided to make their own school decisions based on their family needs. We are fortunate to be in an environment where we have alternatives when it comes to education. There are charter schools, private schools, online schools, homeschools, and public schools. Students can enroll in alternative programs, postsecondary enrollment options (PSEO), or even access schools outside their resident district.

I caught up with several Eden Prairie families to learn more about their schooling choice, and the reality of that decision. These families have graciously agreed to let me tag along and chronicle their schooling journey this year.

Homeschool – Providing a safe, consistent learning environment

Perhaps one of the biggest school setting changes is the switch to homeschooling. Susan, mother to Beckett (2nd grade), Reese (1st grade), and Elsie (2 years), wanted her kids to be able to attend school together every day, instead of the in-person model for K-1, and hybrid model for 2-12 that EPS was offering. Because of the risks of the pandemic, the family was also cautious about the health risks. After a lot of researching, the family decided that homeschooling would be the best option. How did the kids react to the decision? They were excited about not having to rely on their screens for learning! Surprisingly, there was little discussion about what they would be missing by not being at their neighborhood elementary school.

Homeschooling has been a positive experience so far for the family. It has allowed them to spend more time engaging and expanding on topics of interest. The kids don’t find themselves confined to a desk and are able to get outdoors frequently. An added benefit, more time to visit with extended family!

Taking the classroom outdoors has been a positive with homeschooling

Serving as teacher to three children is no easy feat. The workload that Susan finds herself dealing with each week can be a lot. As she plans out lessons and activities, she is mindful of the difference in the children’s grade levels. Some subjects can be taught together, while courses like math and language arts require more individualized attention. While some homeschool families don’t follow as strict a routine like in a traditional school setting, Susan and her family are choosing to retain some of that same structure so their kids are able to transition back into the public school setting when the pandemic is over.

Beckett and Reese enjoying a science lesson

Curriculum used:
The Good and the Beautiful
Gather ‘Round
Song School

Homeschool – Consistency and routine

Having consistency and routine was a driving factor for Kristine’s family in choosing to homeschool their children. With Emalyn (7th grade) in middle school and Liam (5th grade) and Zander (2nd grade) in elementary school, the restrictions placed in the schools did not make for a conducive learning environment. Kristine describes her kids as being high energy, with one also being a kinesthetic learner. Having to learn in a traditional brick and mortar setting, while respecting the safety protocols, would not have been a good fit for her kids.

Kristine and her husband have always included their children in the schooling conversation. She found that the older two kids were excited to begin homeschooling, as they knew it would be a better match for their personalities and needs. The youngest in the family is adjusting and liking his new setting!

Curriculum used:
Five in a Row
Singapore Math
Life of Fred
Writing and Rhetoric
Mystery of History
God’s Design for Life

Private School – In-person instruction, 5 days a week

When your child is social and has a strong need to be around peers, a hybrid scenario is not enough. Many families looked to private school programs to offer more in-person days than what some elementary students would be receiving at Eden Prairie schools. Kathleen enrolled her daughter Claire (2nd grade) at Guardian Angels Catholic School. This school setting allows her to receive in-person instruction, 5 days a week. The transition was an easy adjustment for the family since Kathleen works at the school, and Claire was already friends with some of the students. For a child that is normally resistant to change, Kathleen said that this idea was well received. And, Claire even helped recruit new students over the summer at the pool!

Claire enjoying her new school setting

Most parents will find that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always apply to all their children. Kathleen’s son Matt still attends Eden Prairie High School under the hybrid scenario.

EHSI Online – Thriving on stability

Since spring, some families have created positive habits that they weren’t quite ready to give up. Lunch time with the entire family, more time with parents that would otherwise be spent on work commutes – these are some positives that the Brons family has been able to enjoy. When the option to move their Spanish immersion kids, Marcus (1st grade), and Noah (6th grade) 100% to online schooling, the potential benefits seemed to fit with what their family needed.   

The brothers, due to their grade levels, would not have equal in-person time at school under the in-person/hybrid model for the district. This was a concern for mom, Kerry, as it would only make her youngest more anxious and stressed. Like most families, the concern for how their children would handle transitioning to full virtual learning after starting the year with the in-person/hybrid model played a large role in the family’s decision to select EHSI online. Additionally, the family regularly sees at-risk extended family members, so this was the safest path to choose.  

Settling into a routine took some time for the family. There are good days and bad days, but the Brons are pleased with their decision to go the remote route for this school year. Kerry shares that the teachers have kept the boys engaged, and the brothers have become better companions and playmates because of the scenario. While the family misses their social interactions outside the home, they remain grateful for the opportunity to transition to an online learning model.

The EHSI online model has dedicated Spanish teachers for its classes. The structure is similar to the virtual learning days that the 2nd-12th graders experience. There is a mix of Zoom meetings throughout the day, and small group breakout sessions for more focused interaction with both peers and teachers.

EP Hybrid – A single mother’s prospective

The hybrid model for 2nd-12th grade students can have its advantages and disadvantages. It offers some of the in-person instruction so many students crave and need, while also allowing schools to create enough physical space to comply with COVID-19 safety precautions.

When you are a single parent with a full-time job, juggling the weight of your child’s schooling can be challenging. While some parents have been able to continue working remotely, and be physically available for their young children, other parents have wondered how to make it work. Kerri is a single mother to Savannah (4th grader). Like many others, Kerri says Savannah does best with in-person learning. She does not have the option of working remotely, so she has had to lean on her mother, Sandy, to help with things like picking up her daughter after school. Savannah attends Eagle Zone childcare on the days she has virtual learning. Kerri reports that school is going “ok”, but Savannah wishes they would have more outdoor time to allow for face mask breaks.

It’s a continuous learning process as teachers and schools adapt to the needs of their students. Likewise, parents like Kerry are learning how to help their kids effectively manage their time at Eagle Zone and at home.

Not a one-size-fits-all solution

Never before have we seen parents take such a strong role in actively determining their children’s schooling needs. Some families enroll their children in a schooling system never imagining they’d veer away from it. Other parents are used to advocating for their children if they have special needs or an Individualized Education Program (IEP). One thing that remains the same: every parent wants what’s best for their child.

There was a common theme in talking with the families in this post. Consistency was an overarching need for all families. Humans crave consistency because it makes them feel trust and knowing what is expected. We all thrive in stable environments, and children depend on that much more now than ever before. The five families we have just met have shown us that everyone’s needs are different. What is a great learning landscape for one family might not be enough for another.

It’s actually quite inspiring to see how families are making it work. Whether it be the hybrid household that adjusts work schedules to make sure an adult is physically available, or the homeschooling parent that never thought they’d become a full time teacher, one thing is certain – everyone is doing what is right for their family. The creativity and flexibility these families are showing provides a lesson to their children in making the best of a tough situation. Parents who are still trying to adjust and make it work should know they are not alone. Everyone struggles and wishes it were somehow easier. We all miss aspects of schooling pre-pandemic, but hopefully once those things return, it will be even sweeter than it was. They say learning is a lifelong process. Kids aren’t the only ones doing the learning here. Parents are undoubtedly learning what is important to them and their children, and stretching themselves to adapt to a changing landscape.

All the families chronicled in this post had students in an Eden Prairie public school for the 2019-2020 academic year. They willingly agreed to share their family journey, so that others could understand and relate to the realities of the different schooling options available. At the time of this publishing, Eden Prairie Schools is operating under the in-person model for K-1st grade students, and the hybrid model for 2nd-12th grade students.

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Carolyn Wieland

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