Back to school with the Bodkins

‘There’s been nothing like it’: Our kid’s teacher talks about COVID’s impacts

October 11, 2020

The muffled chants of first graders filled the air in Melissa Hunt’s classroom Wednesday afternoon.

Seated on color-coded dots on the floor to ensure social distancing, the 24 masked 6-year-olds followed Hunt through a sing along about the sounds of nature: owls hooting, wolves howling, waterfalls falling.

Melissa Hunt leads first graders through a sing along.

Despite the masks and strategic spacing, the activity provided some normalcy to a teacher immersed in the most abnormal school year of her 32-year career.

“There’s been nothing like it,” Hunt said of COVID-19 after the bell rang.

Last week marked the second time in nearly two months Hunt had all of her students in class for a full week, including my daughter, Emerie. Other weeks, kids have attended in cohorts — or not at all.

The back-and-forth between remote and in-person learning threw my family into a vertiginous spell of tears, fears and force in recent weeks. From “homeschooling” to all-out mutinies, the mashup has crushed our hopes for a routine during a global pandemic.

As a former teacher, I’ve thought about the plight of educators grappling with the same state of affairs.

So have some of you.

“I feel your pain,” EdNews reader Barbie Elleson wrote in response to my kindergartener’s reluctance to go to school in recent weeks. “Teachers are doing their best.”

“(It’s) such a hard time to be a student, a parent, or an educator,” wrote teacher and EdNews reader Valorie Atkins.

Points well taken. I wanted to know more, so I sat down with Hunt last week to gauge the impacts back-to-school 2020 has had on one of my own kid’s teachers.

The struggle has been mutual, she assured me. “Teachers are known for being flexible, but this has been a lot.”

Those frustrations stemming from a lack of routine? They pop up at school, too, Hunt said.

She recalled one students’ recent bout with misplacing his mask.

“I hate COVID!” he blurted after a fruitless search of the classroom.

Other challenges stem from efforts to adjust to a pandemic fraught with uncertainty. Hunt recalled spending hours installing a robotic camera capable of following her around the classrooms during remote lessons — only to be told by the district that it threatened students’ privacy and not to use it.

Then there’s the array of scheduling changes accompanying the first weeks of school.

Increased local cases of COVID-19 prompted our district to start school with remote learning. Two weeks in, the kids were back in school — for one week, before shifting to a hybrid model. Students are now back full-time for who knows how long.

Ensuring that her schedule aligns with things like PE and music time is an ongoing challenge, Hunt said.

But hybrid learning’s impact has been a bigger disruption. Under the district’s hybrid model, Hunt and her colleagues aren’t allowed to cover new material when kids are at home. That means students learn new things two days a week and review that same material with their parents the other two days.

“It’s like getting half a year of learning,” said Hunt.

That challenge has yielded some positive outcomes — and a sense of urgency.

“There’s just no room to waste time now,” said Hunt.

This week, she cracked into lessons on counting money and reading clocks — things she wouldn’t normally get to for months.

Another unexpected plus: finding more humor in difficult situations.

She recalled another student who recently “lost” her mask, which was fastened securely around her neck.

“Sometimes you just have to laugh,” Hunt said.

Teachers, how has back to school been for you? I’d love to hear from you at [email protected] 

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We had all-out rebellions at our house this week

October 4, 2020

Our kindergartener, Nayvie, rebelled against going to school Tuesday.

School starts in 30 minutes and our kindergartener won’t eat her eggs, or brush her teeth, or let my wife comb her hair.

Despite some strides in helping Nayvie learn at home in recent weeks, she relapsed Tuesday with an all-out rebellion over going to school.

I don’t blame her. Increased cases of COVID-19 prompted our school district to recently adopt a partially at-home learning model. For the last two weeks, Nayvie and her two older sisters have been on schedules to attend school Monday and Tuesday and learn at home with two working parents the rest of the week.

The back-and-forth has pulverized any sense of routine for the girls and complicated an already hectic back-to-school season.

We’re a month into the school year and still struggling — and could be for some time as the coronavirus pandemic ravages our hope for normalcy.

And now it’s my “turn” to convince Nayvie to get ready and in the car, my wife, Nicki, tells me.

I start with a softer approach.

“It’s like pulling a tooth,” I tell Nayvie, who lost her first one weeks ago. “A little scary at first but you’re glad when it’s over.”

I could tell the comparison fell flat when she crawled under the table, insisting that she wouldn’t be going.

Hiding under the table.

We’re not above the occasional use of force in our home. I snatched her from under the table and held her tight while Nicki finished getting her ready.

Fifteen minutes later, the girls were off to school. They barely arrived on time.

Our frenetic schedule augments the struggle. And we learned Friday that Nicki’s grandmother had died. Nayvie spent Monday — a school day — at a funeral with her sisters and not with a friend she made at school last week.

Fortunately, their teachers agreed to let them attend class with a different cohort on Wednesday — something Nicki and I kept from Nayvie but slipped to Emerie, who exploded Wednesday morning at the news.

She screamed. She kicked. She wept during breakfast.

She went to school.

On Wednesday, our first grader, Emerie, refused to go to school.

She was mostly calm by the time I walked her to class. Then, a hiccup.

“I’m scared,” she whispered at her classroom door, fighting tears.

I hugged her, nudged her into the classroom and walked away.

Like pulling a tooth.

We’re not the only ones grappling with the back-and-forth of remote and in-person learning. At least two other Idaho school districts — Idaho Falls and Ririe — last week temporarily moved students from in-person to remote learning.

Other schedules are more complex than ours.

“We are preparing for two days a week in school, one day virtual and two days of ‘half virtual,'” EdNews reader Alex Sloan wrote in response to our struggle to get the girls learning at home last week.

Our district is set to bring students back full-time this week. With cases of COVID-19 climbing across East Idaho, who knows how long that will last.

How’s it going in your household? Keep your thoughts and suggestions coming on Facebook or by emailing me at [email protected]

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We’re adjusting to ‘homeschool’ — again

September 27, 2020

Our kindergartener, Nayvie, sulked over a reading assignment at the kitchen table Wednesday morning.

“You can get up when you’re done with it,” my visibly exhausted wife, Nicki, told her after a nearly hourlong battle to get her dressed, fed and at the table.

Two weeks ago, we struggled to get Nayvie to learn at school.

Now, we’re struggling to get her to learn at home — again.

Our kindergartener, Nayvie, sulks over a learning packet while our first grader, Emerie, works through a reading exercise.

For the second time in seven months, our three daughters are adjusting to homeschooling.

If you can call it that.

Last week, increased cases of COVID-19 prompted our school district to adopt a partially at-home learning model — after just one week of a full return to the classroom. For at least another week, our girls will be in school Monday and Tuesday and at home with two working parents Wednesday through Friday.

Who knows what happens after that.

The back-and-forth is just one more disruption to our 5-year-old’s introduction to public education. Aside from a global pandemic, we’re expecting a baby in December. And we recently moved out of our home of five years and into a rental.

Our efforts to inject normalcy into back-to-school 2020 have been far from perfect.

But we made some headway in recent weeks.

By Monday, Nayvie was going into her classroom almost on her own.

Then, a gift from the back-to-school gods.

On Tuesday, a little blondie named Olivia approached Nayvie and me en route to her classroom. “We’re best buds,” the kindergartener announced, clasping Nayvie’s hand and walking with her into class.

Nicki about choked up when I told her what happened. I took full credit for helping Nayvie find her first friend at school.

Time in the classroom was translating into other high notes at home.

“Yes, ma’am,” Nayvie told Nicki in response to a request to pick up her toys Tuesday night.

Ma’am? I checked her forehead. She said she learned the word from her teacher.

So I don’t blame the little one for being confused and upset Wednesday morning when we pulled her out of bed to tell her she was learning at home … with us, not Olivia.

Homeschooling was a struggle at our house last spring, and I’m sure the girls haven’t forgotten.

But we have learned things since then. So have their teachers.

The learning packets we received Tuesday were much clearer and more concise. Our third-grader did nearly all of her online reading assignments on her own in the bedroom Wednesday.

Then there’s Nicki, who is by far better at making time to help the girls than I am. As I write this, she’s sounding out words with Nayvie on the couch.

It was Nicki’s idea to let the girls venture out to other parts of the house to do some of their work — a game changer for our 6-year-old, Emerie, who’s endless energy makes her a tough wrangle for at-home learning. (Her favorite subject at school is recess, she declared Monday.)

On Wednesday, she worked diligently through a timed math exercise on our bed.

I checked her forehead, then let her catch grasshoppers outside for an hour.

Emerie works through a math exercise on our bed.

So we’re surviving all the uncertainty, thanks largely to Nicki — and jobs that allow us to work from home.

The situation is more dire for others.

For my day job at Idaho Education News, I met a family Wednesday with a first grader and kindergartener at home.

When I knocked on the door, the little ones were watching TV with Grandma. The effects of COVID-19 prompted the family to keep the kids home for the year, she told me. But “not much” learning was happening with both parents working outside the home to keep up on bills.

I met the kids’ mom later that day. She admitted things are “rough” but didn’t want to talk more because “I’m afraid people will judge us if they knew.”

Everyone’s experience is different. Feel free to share yours with me at [email protected]

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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.


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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