Back to school with the Bodkins

Our kids’ school was in full swing last week. We weren’t.

September 20, 2020

Parlie, 9, and Emerie, 6. Not Pictured: our 5-year-old, Nayvie, who’s “sick” of back-to-school pictures.

We pulled up to our daughters’ elementary school at 8:17 a.m. on Wednesday.

“We’re seven minutes late, Dad,” my 9-year-old, Parlie, informed me, as if seven minutes were two hours and as if my wife and I hadn’t spent 20 minutes fighting our 6-year-old to get dressed and in the car an hour earlier.

Last week, our kindergartener threw fits about going to school. On Wednesday, our first grader revolted for reasons of her own.

Boy issues, of all things.

Apparently, one likes her and doesn’t care who knows it. By midweek, Emerie, who shuns attention, was over Little Peppé Le Pew’s enticements.

“Boys sometimes say funny things,” my wife, Nicki, told her Wednesday morning, promising to talk to her teacher. “You just have to ignore it.”

“Or kick them in the kneecap,” I muttered from the next room.

“What was that?” Nicki said.

“Oh, nothing.”

School in our East Idaho district was back in full swing last week. But with the uncertainty of a global pandemic, our recent move to a rental and a baby on the way, we weren’t.

Our three daughters’ first day back was mostly normal. But three weeks in, we’re struggling to establish the type of routine that nearly eight hours of school per day demands.

We solicited advice from EdNews readers last week. Some feedback helped:

  • “Don’t send her off to face it alone,” Cynthia Stretch wrote in response to our kindergartener’s struggle. “Stick with her, get ready and get out the door.”
  • “Stop negotiating. You don’t negotiate with a 5-year-old,” wrote Brandi Griggs, after reading that I used the prospect of an afternoon milkshake, among other things, to incentivize our kindergartener to get out of bed after a long week of moving all our stuff.

Other feedback didn’t fit our parenting style or family situation:

  • “I once took my son to school with no shoes because he left them at the neighbors,” Griggs also wrote. “He faced the consequences of no recess all day.”
  • “Keep them home and read to them, cook with them, make collections of rocks and bugs, jump in puddles, name the plants on a walk, watch the Magic School Bus snuggled on the couch together, learn letters by making them out of spaghetti … ,” wrote Jane Emery.

We’re still feeling out our situation. In addition to taking turns walking our two little ones to class each day last week, Nicki and I firmed up our approach to bedtime.

The routine we’re beating into their heads starting at 7:30 p.m.: Brush your teeth, get a drink, go to the bathroom, get in bed and don’t get out unless the house is on fire.

No ifs, ands or milkshakes.

One thing we’re telling ourselves: School in the age of coronavirus is different from district to district, school to school, student to student. Kids are coming and going at different times, learning through different means. And while one approach might help one student or family adjust, it might not work for another.

Finding out what does work during a pandemic can be tricky. As 2020 would have it, our district on Thursday moved to a partially at-home learning model — after just one week of a full return to the classroom. For the next two weeks, the girls will be in school Monday and Tuesday and at home with two working parents for the rest of the week.

Homeschooling — if you could call it that — was a struggle for us last spring. We’ll see what next week brings.

Keep your thoughts and suggestions coming by emailing me at [email protected]

The Bodkins: Nayvie, Nicki, Parlie, Devin, Emerie
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How do you get a kindergartener to like school during a pandemic?

September 13, 2020

Our kindergartener, Nayvie, sulks over breakfast on a school day.

It’s 7:20 a.m. on a Thursday, and our kindergartener, Nayvie, won’t get out of bed.

“Your turn,” my visibly frustrated wife, Nicki, tells me after 10 minutes of negotiating with the most stubborn of our three little girls.

I start in with the bribes: a milkshake, a trip to the candy store, a pony.

She doesn’t flinch, insisting for the umpteenth time that she’s not going.

Then, some movement. She gets out of bed! She walks through the hallway … and crawls right into her sister’s bed.

Nice.

An irregular start to the school year during a global pandemic has made getting our 5-year-old off to school the day’s most challenging task.

Like some other Idaho school districts, ours pushed the first full week of in-person learning back two weeks, compliments of COVID-19. Our three daughters went one day their first week and two days their second week.

Last week marked her first full week back — or it was supposed to, anyway.

Nayvie’s still adjusting to an earlier bedtime, and the fact that her teachers wear masks hasn’t helped.

We also sold our home of five years and moved into a rental last week.

And we’re expecting a baby in December.

Between visits to the gynecologist, moving all our stuff and house shopping in a seller’s market, Nayvie can’t tell a Saturday from a Tuesday.

Luckily for her, there was no school Monday. And a rowdy windstorm knocked out power across our school district Monday night, prompting local school closures Tuesday. We negotiated and bribed Wednesday, but she’d grown smarter — and more stubborn — by Thursday. (Our district is on a four-day school week, so Fridays are a non-issue.)

We couldn’t get ourselves to force her Thursday, so she didn’t go.

With Nicki and I both working from home, we did what we thought to be the best thing for her: make it the most boring day of her life.

Around noon, we had a brief standoff:

  • Her: I want to watch a movie.
  • Me: TV’s not working right now.
  • Her: I want to play on the computer.
  • Me: Internet’s down.
  • Her: I want to go to the park.
  • Me: You can go outside with the dog.

Hopefully she learned something. I don’t know how many times we heard her say “I’m bored” on Thursday.

After school, our third grader, Parlie, floated an idea to help the situation. “We need to wake her up at 6 a.m. and let her lay in bed for an hour, since she likes it so much.”

At this point, we may try anything.

We’re open to other suggestions. Email me at [email protected] if you can relate.

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Back to school has been mostly normal for us. It hasn’t been for others.

September 7, 2020

Our 8-year-old pulled a surgical-style mask out of her backpack after school Tuesday.

Her “necklace mask,” as she called it, consisted of tiny rubber bands she’d braided together and attached to each end of the mask’s elastic straps.

Our daughter Parlie’s “necklace mask.”

“So it stays around your neck when you’re not using it,” she said, slipping it over her head and skipping off to her bedroom.

Necklace mask? I thought. Not your typical classroom project.

Then again, 2020’s not a typical year. Like many of you, the coronavirus has reshaped my family’s situation in numerous ways, from toilet paper shortages in March to a six-month summer vacation with the kids — sans the vacation part.

So my wife, Nicki, and I were surprised when our three daughters’ recent return to their elementary school wasn’t as abnormal as we’d anticipated.

I shared our experience last week and watched as reaction on Facebook reinforced how utterly atypical back-to-school 2020-21 has been for so many Idaho families.

“Where are these kids even from?” Courtney Lynch, a fourth grade teacher in the Treasure Valley, asked in reference to our children’s return to school.

Another parent put it more bluntly: “East Idaho’s experience is sooooo dif than the Treasure Valley.”

Point well taken. We’re from Blackfoot, an East Idaho community where fewer confirmed cases of COVID-19 compared to areas like the Treasure Valley have made way for in-person learning, with certain safety precautions in place.

Families throughout the Treasure Valley and other communities have had to weather a global pandemic while trying to tackle remote learning.

And that’s been tough for many working parents.

And for kids.

“My third grader feels bored and isolated doing online school,” Boise parent Chryssa Rich wrote in response to our daughters’ experience returning to school. “It doesn’t even feel like school to him.”

Uncertainty about the collective effort to slow the virus accompanies the struggle for parents like Rich. “I really hope that Ada County residents can stay on this path of decreasing cases so we can go back to school,” she said.

That could happen in the coming weeks for many families in the  Treasure Valley, where the area’s biggest districts are revisiting plans, based on local health district recommendations, that could allow kids back into classrooms.

But uncertainty doesn’t end once kids are back in school.

Since schools in our health district returned in recent weeks, three of eight area counties — Bear Lake, Caribou and Power — have gone from a minimal to a moderate risk level for transmission of COVID-19. Leaders in Butte County last week designated the community a high-risk area.

Our district is still at a minimal risk for spread, local health officials say.

But who knows for how long.

Since allowing four days of in-person instruction in the last two weeks, at least one student has tested positive for COVID-19. Six others are now in quarantine, according to our superintendent.

What happens when kids return full-time starting this week?

With our girls each still learning to read to at least some degree, we’re hopeful they can keep going.

The Bodkins: Nayvie, Nicki, Parlie, Devin, Emerie
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Our mostly normal back-to-school day

August 30, 2020

Our girls — Nayvie, Emerie and Parlie — on Wednesday returned to school for the first time in nearly six months.

Our first week of school is in the bag — all one day of it.

Like some other Idaho school districts, ours pushed the first full week of in-person learning back two weeks, compliments of COVID-19. Our three daughters went Wednesday. They’ll return Monday and Wednesday this week before a full reopening next week.

If that’s possible.

Our superintendent announced Thursday that a district staffer tested positive for COVID-19. The individual quarantined before schools reopened, we were assured. Still, the news reinforced the relentless uncertainty of back-to-school 2020-21. How long before others test positive? What happens then?

Nonetheless, shutdown avoided. For now, it’s one week down, 35 to go.

And despite all the disruptions and uncertainty of recent months, their first day back wasn’t as unusual as we anticipated.

In many ways, the “soft” reopening’s been nice. The girls got some last-minute back-to-school shopping in with Grandma Monday and scored manicures with a cousin who’s home from college Tuesday.

But the slow start has complicated our already crazed schedule augmented by two jobs, recently selling our home and moving our stuff piecemeal into a rental while we peruise a seller’s market and prep for a baby in December. Having the girls back at school learning full-time after a nearly six-month break would be nice.

Things got a little crazy Tuesday night, when the girls learned their 10:30 p.m. bedtime (conservative estimate) had suddenly changed to 8:30 p.m.

Emerie, our first-grader who’s already tough to wrangle at bedtime, was beside herself with excitement about school — despite the first-day “jitter glitter” her teacher gave her to put under her pillow. (Sorry, Mrs. Hunt, the stuff didn’t work that well for us. I half-jokingly floated cough syrup as an alternative. My wife, Nicki, wasn’t having it.)

Jitters were only part of the struggle. Here’s a timeline of our night:

  • 7:30: Brush teeth.
  • 7:45: Read “The Night Before First Grade” to Emerie and “The Bearnstine Bears” to Nayvie, our kindergartener. Our third grader, Parlie, can read on her own, thankfully.
  • 8:20: Nicki walks the two little ones through a short breathing exercise to calm them down.
  • 8:30: Lights out.
  • 8:32: Lights on. Emerie’s thirsty (for the second time in 15 minutes) and Nayvie’s foot’s asleep.
  • 8:40 Nayvie wants Mom, who’s helping Parlie pack a backpack in the next room. Nayvie gets Dad. “I like Mom more,” she reminds me. I bark at Emerie to stop doing handstands on the bed.
  • 9:15: Two night owls down, one to go.
  • 9:30: Parlie “can’t sleep.” Try harder, we say.
  • 10:30: I’m asleep.

The big morning brought the usual pandemonium: three tired girls and their mother scrambling to get ready in the bathroom, watching the clock to ensure we’re not late, arriving at school with minutes to spare.

And we’re expecting a baby in three months. What happens then?

One unusual part of the morning: the drop-off zone, where parents, teachers and children walked around in face masks. Nayvie froze and clutched Nicki’s hand when a masked teacher offered to show her to class.

Parlie and Emerie were off with their friends after barely saying goodbye, so Nicki walked Nayvie to class. I walked to the car and waited.

And waited.

Nicki eventually returned. She’d been crying — another normal occurrence when we send one off to kindergarten. Would Nayvie make friends? Nicki wondered on the ride home. How can you make friends while social distancing? Will her teacher do a good job?

The girls survived the day — even Nayvie, who reported making two friends. (She forgot their names.)

Other disruptions were minimal, Parlie and Emerie reported. They only had to wear face shields once, when learning in groups on the floor. At times, it was difficult to hear their teachers, who did mask up throughout the day.

Who knows what next week will bring.

Your situations may be more daunting. How are you adjusting? Has the uncertainty impacted your job or other major facets of life? How do you cope? I’d love to hear your stories at [email protected]

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It’s back to school week for our girls … sort of

August 23, 2020

Nayvie, Parlie, Emerie

Our kindergartener plopped a new outfit onto the couch next to me.

Unicorn T-shirt with pastel-blue skirt. White shoes, pink laces.

Nayvie, 5, had waited weeks to hit the back-to-school sales with my wife, Nicki. She spent nearly an hour in her room Tuesday choosing what to wear for her first day of school later this week.

She gushed over the unicorn’s pink mane. I praised her choice but wondered how we’d find a face mask to match it.

She hates masks.

Face coverings are just one factor making this fall feel less like back-to-school season and more like a foray into the unknown. Unlike students throughout much of the Treasure Valley, our three daughters can at least return to their elementary school in person this week.

Sort of.

Uncertainty over the start of the school year prompted leaders in our district to implement a “soft” reopening for two weeks beginning Monday. The girls will be back in school just three days during that time, with various health precautions in place.

Like many of you, we’ve wrestled with what an in-person return to school will look like for our family. Time will tell what large-scale school re-openings will mean for the coronavirus. I’ve worried that our kids could bring it home to Nicki, who has asthma and is expecting a baby in December.

We have online options, but our hope in effective remote learning for youngsters is slim — especially for those learning to read.

  • Nayvie is sounding out letters and seeing words for the first time.
  • Our third grader, Parlie, is transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn.
  • Our first grader, Emerie, is somewhere in between the two.

And uncertainty still swirls around the coming months. What happens if there’s an outbreak in the district? Nicki and I have jobs, and finding time to spearhead learning was a struggle last spring.

And we at least have a home computer — and a home. My EdNews colleagues and I are working to tell the stories of families and students on the fringes in the coming weeks. How does a homeless student learn remotely? How do parents balance their jobs and life while playing teacher in the evenings? How are teachers adjusting to instructing kids through a computer screen?

And life as we know it doesn’t end during a pandemic. Last month, I made the award-winning decision to sell our home at the outset of the most uncertain school year of our lives.

Parlie gave me the death glare when she learned she may be at a new school by October.

Then there’s the baby. While Nicki shops for a crib, I’m scrolling local markets for homes suitable for six humans and two dogs.

We’ll be happy with a healthy new one, regardless of the gender. Still, I’ve been calling it Little Buckaroo around the house. “How’s Little Buckaroo today?” I asked Nicki recently, while patting her belly.

She gave me the death glare.

Your situations may be more daunting. How are you adjusting? Has the uncertainty impacted your job or other major facets of life? How do you cope? I’d love to hear your stories at [email protected]

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Our kids are ready to be back in school. We’re struggling with our options.

July 22, 2020

The Bodkins, from left: Nayvie, Nicki, Parlie, Devin, Emerie

I’d just settled onto the couch to watch TV when my daughter blindsided me with the request.

“Can I paint your toenails, Daddy?” my 6-year-old asked, wielding tubes of pink and silver polish.

I began to explain that Daddy doesn’t paint his toenails, when I noticed my wife, Nicki, side-eyeing me from the other end of the couch.

“They’re bored,” she mouthed with a concerned look.

By “they,” she meant our three daughters, ages 8 and under. The concerned look meant that I should be more considerate of our 6-year-old’s need for interaction and activity. She’s been away from school and most of her friends for months. It was a clear cue from someone who’d spent more time with our kids that day than I had.

I removed my socks.

My 6-year-old, Emerie, paints my toenails.

Playing nail tech is one of the countless ways our girls have stretched their creativity and tried to establish some semblance of structure amid a lingering pandemic. Each day feels more like a six-month summer vacation — without the vacation part.

But you can only paint toenails — or walk to the park or walk the dog or take a drive — so many times during a pandemic.

Our girls are starving for the structure and activities with friends and other adults that school provides. They’re ready to go back. We’re struggling with our options.

Amid a renewed surge of confirmed coronavirus cases in Idaho since June, both Gov. Brad Little and President Trump have made clear their expectations that kids return to the classroom. Less clear is how that decision will impact the spread of COVID-19.

Idaho is letting local leaders shape their reopening plans. Our district has infused some choice into its model, with options for face-to-face learning or an online alternative for families more apprehensive about sending their kids.

An in-person return would mean more structure and activity. Homeschooling for us this spring — if you can call it that — was a struggle. With Nicki and I both working from home, we tried, but we can’t reach the level of instruction and interaction they get at school with their teachers and classmates.

Sending them back to school may be the best option for us, but it would have its downsides. As a former teacher, I know how quickly a classroom can turn into a giant petri dish. Fortunately, Nicki and I read about how younger children are at a lower risk for serious symptoms and spreading the virus. Still, I worry they could bring it home to Nicki, who has asthma and is expecting a baby in December.

The online option would minimize that risk, but our kids are young. And online learning is largely foreign to them — and us.

They’re also learning how to read, at varying degrees. How do you teach a kindergartener to read through a computer screen?

That’s on top of the fact that Idaho’s online schools rank among the state’s lowest performing, year after year. The approach works for some students, but it’s a tough go for many others.

That leaves us with a continued stab at “homeschooling.” With both of us tied up with jobs during the day? Yeah, right.

With leeway from state leaders, school will look different from district to district, school to school, student to student. Kids will come and go at different times, learn through different means.

And while returning might be the best option for one child, staying home might be better for another.

Questions linger. Like many of you, we’re gearing up for another round of tough choices this fall.

What are you considering for your kids? How will you decide what’s best for them? I’d love to hear from you at [email protected]

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Sports can mean everything to teens. They did to me.

July 10, 2020

I remember it better than any algebra class.

Senior year. Holt Arena. Our hopes of a state football title fading with every agonizing tick of the giant clock above the end zone.

Century High School’s football team — with some help from the officials, as I recall — would advance to the state championship that year. Not us.

The game ended. They rushed the field. We lumbered back to our locker room struggling to hold our heads up as Coach had encouraged us to do so many times.

That was 16 years ago. But at a risk of reliving my glory days, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have a lasting impact on me.

Sports had that kind of effect on me. In high school, I savored every moment of basketball, football and track season. The excitement on the first day of practice. The first game. The last game. My coaches, whom I still consider to be some of the most influential people in my life. Even the musty stench of the locker room somehow seeped into my blood.

I remember so much of it. But biology class? I got nothing.

So I can only imagine what so many of our student athletes must feel as the coronavirus now threatens fall sports. The Idaho High School Activities Association hasn’t called the season off — yet. But earlier this week, a top state health official warned leaders that sports could complicate efforts to reopen schools.

And if sports do return after already being cancelled this spring, it could happen with limited crowds, travel and opponents. It won’t be the same.

I feel for those who might miss out, especially our high school seniors. Not because I think school is less important or that bigger things don’t await, but because I know sports can mean everything to a 17-year-old.

They did to me.

They also kept me connected to the classroom. I had a habit in those days of keeping my grades high enough to play on the team but low enough to avoid any strenuous classwork. (I don’t recommend doing this, athletes — I had a lot of ground to make up in college.)

I’m not proud of it, either. But looking back, I appreciate how sports kept this lackluster learner in class day after day, paying attention at least some of the time and sticking it out until graduation day.

Sports also taught me lessons I didn’t learn in the classroom. How to compete. How to win. How to lose. How to listen closely enough to avoid an ass chewing from my coach. How to recognize when I deserved an ass chewing. How to respect my coaches and teammates — lessons that have carried over well into the workplace.

Sports helped in other ways, too. When I lost a brother to a car accident as a freshman, I walked right past the school counseling office and into the bathroom, where I curled up on the floor. I asked a few perplexed peers who saw me there to go get Jeff Marshall, my head basketball coach and assistant football coach — someone I trusted.

Coach left his class to come sit next to me on the bathroom floor and listen.

“I never lost a brother,” he said quietly, “but I lost a mom.”

That helped, a lot.

Sports provided lasting memories — and friendships. Last November, I met up with some old teammates at our hometown field to surprise our head football coach, who was coaching his last game.

We hadn’t seen each other in years. We looked different. We had kids, jobs, bigger waistlines. But not much had changed between us. We laughed. We reminisced. We debated who caught the big pass, who got their ass chewed the most.

We’re in an unprecedented health crisis. Safety is a real concern. But I feel for kids who might miss out on sports and other activities that can help shape who we become.

Surprising Coach at his last football game. From left: Karson Honas, Devin Bodkin, Wes Wisdom, Coach Stan Buck, Kyle Tarpley, Chanler Buck, Patrick Edinborough.
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How do families adjust to school closures amid a pandemic?

March 17, 2020

The Bodkins, from left: Nayvie, Nicki, Parlie, Devin, Emerie

Last week may have marked a first in my 10-year marriage. I took stock of our toilet paper, all six-and-a-half rolls. 

With three daughters under the age of 8, the white stuff goes quickly at our place. (We’ve exhausted our supply before. Don’t ask questions.)  

My wife, Nicki, the responsible one in the house, typically restocks the rolls. But as bizarre images of empty store shelves and shopping carts brimming with toilet paper and other necessities flashed into view last week — on social media, on TV, at our local grocery stores — we both felt an unusual sense of urgency and bewilderment. 

Our toilet paper outlook appeared grim, but more unsettling was the endless stream of headlines bearing unprecedented news following the growing coronavirus pandemic:

  • The shuttering of schools nationwide.
  • A confirmed case of the illness in East Idaho, where we live.
  • The axing of big events, from March Madness to the NBA season. 

Disneyland even closed, to our daughters’ dismay.

I wondered how my parents felt on September 11, 2001, or how their parents and grandparents felt during World War II, when food was rationed.

Our thoughts turned to our children. Should we keep them home? Should we rush the stores for food? Is everyone overreacting?

The news changes by the minute, with the White House now calling for millions of families to homeschool their kids. As I write this, our daughters’ elementary school closed effective immediately, until at least April 3.

Questions linger. Like you, we have decisions to make.

Last week, we agonized over sending our kids to school. As a journalist covering education issues, I’ve spent much of the month sifting through news stories featuring advice from various experts and officials who stress the gravity of the situation. 

Fortunately, Nicki and I read about how children are at a lower risk for serious symptoms. 

Still, as a former teacher, I know how quickly a classroom can turn into a giant petri dish. 

My sick days vanished like, well, toilet paper during a pandemic my first year in the classroom. My immune system strengthened — and I got smarter — the second year, when I scrubbed my hands more and cracked my classroom windows year-round. Not all of my students liked the draft, but they weren’t the ones scrubbing the desks.

After an hourlong discussion last Thursday, Nicki and I decided to keep our kids home Friday. Our kindergartner, whose class was having Green Eggs and Ham day, wasn’t happy.  

After a weekend of reassessing the situation, we made the same call Monday morning.

Now, with school out for who knows how long, we wonder what the coming weeks will bring. Can we YouTube homeschool lessons? How will we balance our jobs with three little ones at home?

Broader uncertainties accompany the virus. How long will it all last? What will the pandemic’s reach be in Idaho? How do we keep our kids safe?

Fortunately, Nicki and I work from home, but as she put it, “We’ve shaped our life around our routine.”

Answers aren’t coming easily, and we’re finding more questions continually arise. But we have found some relief. On Saturday, my mother, who just texted me wondering if we have eggs, heaved a garbage bag full of toilet paper to our front door.

Don’t ask how she got it, but the small act has helped more than she knows.

As the virus spreads, Nicki and I still wonder — and worry — about what happens next. We’ll have the same conversations — about school, about our necessities, about our safety — every night for weeks to come.

This is our new reality. Good luck with yours.

Devin Bodkin is a full-time reporter for Idaho Education News. He lives in Blackfoot and covers East Idaho news. He taught school in Blackfoot before turning to journalism.

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