Note: Although this is Patty Coffey’s personal story about supporting the educational needs of her son (and her circle) while at the same time working in a demanding job, the lessons here can be applied to so many related scenarios from finding caregivers for elderly parents to creating a network of local volunteers. We hope it’s beneficial to anyone trying to take control of their situation, especially during the Covid crisis.
As the school year begins, many parents are still trying to figure out how to balance their work life with the educational needs of their children. Will learning be remote? In-person? Hybrid? What does hybrid even look like? And, how long will it last?
After surviving the summer months as a single parent of an active nine-year-old son, I knew I had to act fast.
It’s important to mention that I’m a planner. So, when the lockdown began in March, I went at it with the full force of a superhero. Day One we had schedules, charts and on-line resources galore. We were going to be great! By Day Three, it was a disaster. Between trying to figure out what the school wanted and then trying to get my son to sit and do the work … oh yeah, while also working full time as a recruiter during the beginning of a recession …. we were a mess. Many tears were shed – by both of us.
We limped through the rest of the school year with our eyes fixed firmly on summer. With the very real possibility that camps wouldn’t open, I concentrated on what we could do differently to ensure success for both my son and me. With the benefit of a few months of quarantining, many lessons learned, and my background in recruiting, I started planning.
My goal heading into the summer was to find fulfilling ways for my son to spend his time off that were both educational and fun. And, frankly, for me to be able to concentrate on my own work and other forms of parenting that didn’t involve 24-hour mom-only oversight.
Why not start our own summer camp, I thought? So, that’s what we did.
Enrollment was easy – our class included my son and two other nine-year old boys that were from families in my quarantine circle / pod.
Next up, staffing. I quickly recruited a babysitter and renamed her the “camp counselor.” Not only did the kids thrive, it was one of the best summers they have experienced. Their weeks were filled with bike riding, Legos, baseball, street hockey, Sno-Cones, skinned knees and, of course, the lemonade stand!
With the summer drawing to a close and our local school system still trying to decide what was the best course of action for the upcoming academic semester, I thought “couldn’t we apply some of the same steps to the school year?”
I met with my quarantine pod. What did we think about the fall and what was our comfort level with the kids returning to school? Rather than wait and see what the town would decide, we knew we had to act quickly – and that we were going to need help.
I turned again to my background as a recruiter and got to work‚ this time with the goal of starting our own “school.”
As with any project, the first step is to figure out what you need and what talent is necessary to support your goals. For example, with our pod of nine-year-old boys, we knew we needed a place for them to study and someone who could administer the curriculum, not just babysit.
Of course, there are a plethora of variables. How many days will they be at home, how many at school? Will we eventually go 100% remote? When I first started recruiting, I didn’t know what the schedule looked like so I had to make sure I was targeting people that had a certain type of availability and criteria. Would I need the person every day, two days a week or more? I wanted someone who was flexible, who was qualified and interested in the position, and who would stay. And, of course, someone who was Covid-compliant.
Like any recruiting plan, I went through a process. Who do I want? Where can I find them? How do I evaluate them? In our case, my target recruiting pool was remote college students. Specifically, I was looking for juniors and seniors that were advanced in their college career, with a certain level of maturity and no great need to be on campus. I also wanted someone who wanted to be with children, helping them learn. That drew me to elementary education majors, retired teachers or teachers’ aides.
There are many ways to identify these candidates, some fairly easy. And as I started, it was clear that I had more resources than I first realized. Here are a few that I used:
So, how can you do this for your children (and yourself)? Here are the steps I took.
Setting up your pod.
I was lucky. I already had a group of friends with similar age children. The kids were used to spending time with each other pre-Covid, playing softball on Sundays and having play dates throughout the week. During quarantine, we weren’t in each other’s homes, but we were spending time together and we were all Covid compliant. The kids were also friends who went to school together.
Review your network.
Who has similar age children in your neighborhood? Who are your children’s friends from school? Get together and define your needs and see where you can help each other.
Coordinate with your school.
At our school, they split the alphabet in half with one group coming in on some days and the other group coming in on alternate days. Because my son wasn’t in the same group as the other boys in our pod, I reached out to the principal right away and asked for them all to be put on the same schedule.
Set up a dedicated learning space.
Children need routine and structure. That’s why I took a room in our house and set it up for their classroom. I bought cubes for them to put their laptops on. They come in the door, hang up their backpacks, put their sneakers down and get going. Everyone brings their own lunch. The aide makes sure they are logged in and helps with any issues. At the end of the day, they have a whole hour of social time (supervised) to go out on their bikes, play games and do whatever nine-year old boys enjoy. In this way, they are getting the social interaction and emotional support they would normally get at school.
Lean on me.
The key to this plan is our circle’s friendship and willingness to support each other. If anything gets bad or anyone is sick, everyone is responsible for their own kid, bottom line. But at the end of the day, if something happens, we’re still friends. I’m still the one who says, you need me to pick your kid up? No problem.
You’ve got resources.
If you can’t afford to hire someone, apply some of these same ideas to finding other families who are in the same position and create your own pods. Each parent could rotate responsibility for covering one day, for instance. You could share resources with someone who has the opposite schedule as yours.
Can we agree that we’re all tired of hearing about the “new normal?” Who even knows what it means or what will happen? When Covid first hit, most of us were trying to figure out how to just get through the day, hoping against hope that normal would return. Now we know the “new normal” is adapting to changing circumstances and doing the best we can to plan for what we do know. The end goal is to give our children a positive learning experience and environment at home, one that is social as well as educational, safe and fun. And, for us adults, to be able to keep working and succeeding in our careers.
Best of luck to all of you!
If I can help, please reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Canva and Patty Coffey