Back to school in 2021: Three families share their stories

Children of various ages returning to school after COVID-19 and studying at home.
Remote schooling during the pandemic caused tears and anxiety. Families have high hopes for in-person classes this fall. (Images: AdobeStock/Illustration: David Chrisom, Boston Children's Hospital)

It’s been a long year-and-a-half for students since schools first shut down due to COVID-19. Thrust into a situation none were prepared for, students, parents, and teachers have struggled emotionally and academically. After a long period of untraditional schooling, what can parents and students expect, and how can they gear up for the coming school year?

We talked to three families about the past 18 months and how they’re preparing for school this fall.

Adam, 4: Skills lost and found

Adam, who was able to attend school in person during COVID-19, holds up a sheet where he has practiced writing his name.
Adam thrived with extra teacher attention.

When Adam Vivien’s preschool closed at the outset of the pandemic, his teacher offered 30-minute classes on Zoom each day. But Adam cried every time his parents sat him down in front of the computer. “Eventually, we stopped forcing him to log on,” says his mom, Zohra Merazga.

During the months that followed, Adam’s school skills started to slip away. Alarmed, the family moved to a town where he could attend preschool in person. Because of the pandemic, there were only six kids in his classroom rather than the usual 20. Adam thrived with the extra teacher attention.

More kids returned to preschool in the spring and he had to adjust to the fact that his teachers weren’t calling on him as often. Another adjustment awaits when Adam enters kindergarten this fall. “He was the oldest kid in his class, now he’ll be one of the youngest,” says his mother. She’s already talked to his teachers about his shy personality.

Zohra’s back-to-school advice

Seeing how important in-person classes are to Adam’s development, Zohra hopes parents will do everything possible to ensure schools stay open. “My advice is, follow the school’s rules. If they say kids need to wear masks in class, make sure your child wears a mask. It’s the only way we’re going to get out of this situation.”

Eleanor, 9: “The first week is going to be stressful”

Eleanor and Deborah at a restaurant. Eleanor returns to school this year after COVID-19 disrupted her learning.
Eleanor and Deborah learned they weren’t the only family that struggled last year.

Eleanor Kronenberg could only tolerate Zoom in small doses. Like Adam, her education lagged during the pandemic, but improved when she returned to school in person in May 2021. “Being around friends and getting attention from teachers lifted her spirits,” says her mother, Deborah.

While the consistency and reliability of a regular school schedule felt like a gift this spring, the prospect of the fall semester makes Eleanor anxious. Her parents have kept up a steady flow of positive reinforcement, reminding her of the many brave things she’s accomplished on her own and how much she enjoys learning.

Even though it often felt like they were the only family struggling last year, Deborah now realizes they were not alone. “Every time we talked to one of Eleanor’s teachers, they’d tell us how many other parents were struggling in similar ways.”

Eleanor’s back-to-school advice

Eleanor advises parents to take it easy on their kids and let them chill out after school. “Don’t make extra plans during the first week of school because it’s going to be stressful. If your kid comes home annoyed and grumpy, it’s because they’re a good student and worked really hard.”

Naysha, 16: Looking forward to a better year

Naysha, who is returning to school after a year of remote learning due to COVID-19, in class before her school closed.
Naysha: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Naysha Guerrero maintained a strong academic record all the way through her first year in high school. Nothing prepared her, however, for how disconnected she would feel when all her classes went online. “None of my teachers understood that I was struggling. They thought I was lazy,” she says. By spring of 2021, burned out from a year of online classes, her ability to focus or do homework all but vanished.

Naysha’s parents reminded her she was a strong student in a bad situation. Their reassurance helped her feel better, but didn’t help her grades. Looking forward to her junior year helped. “I thought, I’ll be back in school, in person. I can get my grades back up and prepare for college.” News of the Delta variant makes her nervous, but she is determined to stay positive.

Naysha’s back-to-school advice

“If you need help, ask for help. I was never the kind of student who needed help, but my friends who asked for help did a lot better.” Whether classes are in person or online again this fall, Naysha plans to take this advice to heart.

Find more resources for parents during the COVID-19 pandemic from the experts at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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