Wyatt Lindley goes to class just one day a week at Kuna Middle School. The rest of the week, he has little to do. He started sixth grade this year in a new school and his family just recently moved to Idaho, so his social circle is small.
Wyatt often does the homework assigned to his 9-year-old sister Noëlle just to stay busy.
“I figure at least he’s doing something,” said mom Jodi.
Social isolation was one of the main concerns five parents expressed during a Zoom conversation hosted by Idaho Education News as part of an ongoing project to share the voices of parents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Lindleys opened the pandemic living in an RV park in Caldwell, after a cross-country move from Virginia. The kids were in class for one day before COVID-19 closed schools.
“It was all very hard, socially, especially for my daughter, she’s a very social person,” Jodi said.
Jodi said Noëlle’s second-grade teacher, Natalie Rigsby, was ahead of the curve when it came to teaching remotely, something that her son’s fifth grade teacher couldn’t match. So when Wyatt was stuck at home with no work to do, he spent his free time completing second grade assignments.
“Miss Rigsby was phenomenal and saved our family,” Jodi said.
Substitute teacher Angela Voll said her daughter, an only child, struggled with social isolation to the point where she was unable to do most of her school work.
Angela said Abby was at first able to entertain herself, but as the pandemic continued, that became more challenging. A straight-A student at West Ada’s Lake Hazel middle school, Abby struggled with parts of distance learning to the point where they stopped doing the work packets at home altogether.
“I have never seen her struggle as she did that last school year,” Angela said. “It was a fight every single day. What are you going to do? I’m not going to try and fight with my 10-year-old.”
Now that Abby is in back in class sometimes, Angela is seeing a major difference in her mood. Abby stays in her room a lot when she’s not in school. But Angela said her daughter “is thriving” when she gets to go to class again.
“My favorite part of the day is when she gets in the car when I pick her up and she can’t shut up telling me about her day. I mean, that is complete joy,” Angela said.
Dan Massimino has two sons at North Star Charter — Vincent, 15, who jumped to high school this year as a freshman and Xander, who transitioned from elementary to middle school.
“They missed that transitional piece,” Dan said. “That graduation, if you will, from elementary and from middle and moving from a kid to a young adult and from a young adult to a near adult, and that’s a big deal. That’s something that you’re not going to get back.”
In October, Vincent missed his 15th birthday party and Halloween because he was quarantined after a classmate tested positive for COVID-19.
“Ultimately, as a 15-year-old, you don’t get those back. Those are some of the memories you carry with you throughout your entire life,” Dan said.
Vincent is also a member of the junior varsity basketball team, and Dan said the 2021 winter season was a different experience. Gyms were quiet because crowds were capped or non-existent.
“Not to have fan support at the games, for the right reasons, is still a challenge,” he said.
Julie Triepke, a single mother of two, said the biggest difficulty her family faced during remote learning was distributing the teaching workload between her and someone else. Everyday tasks like printing things out for her daughters, feeding them lunch on time and asking questions of teachers became a daily struggle while she was working full time. Oftentimes, Julie’s fourth-grader was tasked with tutoring her second-grade sister “just so we could all get through the day,” she said.
In June, the YMCA opened back up and Julie’s daughters were able to spend time there. Julie credited the YMCA with helping her children this fall, because counselors helped them the way a teacher would in school. Still, her daughters missed their school events.
“The fun runs, movie nights, book fairs, the carnival, the Christmas program, the things that they typically would look forward to during the school year, they were missing out on all of those social events,” she said.
Rebekah Roberts fosters children in Middleton, and said her family’s biggest challenge was lack of Internet. The family made a decision before the pandemic to not have Internet in their home for safety and security reasons, and they decided to stand by that decision even after classes went remote.
“Is the risk of not educating our kids benefitting the safety of their home life greater? Are we doing the right thing?” she said. “Are we stunting our kids’ growth because we won’t let them do school online?”
Working in Boise and living in Middleton meant that Rebekah also struggled with getting paper learning materials to her children. Ultimately, the Roberts family decided to not participate at all in remote learning because of the barriers. Rebekah said the pandemic presented myriad issues to her family to the point where they felt forgotten.
“I think that a whole cultural group of people got passed over in this pandemic,” Rebekah said. “And I work in medicine, so I get it. But what about all the kids with disabilities?”