A COVID summer: Anger, positivity as kids face virtual school

Editor’s note: Our look at how local families have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic wraps up with stories from five parents who share a wide range of emotions as they prepare for the first day of school. The last leg of “A COVID summer” is presented in three parts. 

Steve Chang is trying to stay positive, even as he acknowledges the difficult decisions all families face with the start of a virtual school year.

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Farmington Public Schools trustees voted earlier this month to hold online classes through October 30. School starts on Monday.

“We are feeling pretty good. The kids would very much rather be in the buildings with their friends, but they understand the COVID situation and precautions,” the Farmington Hills resident said.

Steve, Courtney, Braxton and Alexandria Chang
The Chang family (from left) Alexandria, Courtney, Steve, and Braxton (contributed)

Steve, a financial advisor, and his wife, Courtney, who works in finance at a local bank, have two children: Braxton, entering sixth grade and Alexandria, entering fourth grade. As they’re adjusting to a new learning system, the family also plans to hold on to traditions like first day of school pictures.

“We’re going to do our best with remote learning,” Steve said. “Early on in March, we struggled with settling into a routine and with getting the technology to work without hitches.”

This time around, Alexandria and Braxton will be set up at an eight-foot table and two chairs in the living room, Steve said. “They’ll have a nice view out of our picture window to our front yard.”

The Changs feel they’ve done as much as they can to mentally prepare their children for the unknowns ahead. They feel fortunate to have flexibility and support from their employers, but also anticipate a certain level of independence and responsibility from their children.

“We’re not expecting perfection from our kids,” said Steve. “We’ll take the first nine weeks of the school year day by day.”

Doug and Dawn Chmiel with their children
The Chmiel family: Dawn, Doug and their three children. (contributed)

‘Part of her childhood is being stolen’

Doug Chmiel is feeling anger and frustration as the fall approaches.

“My second grader would normally be getting super excited right now,” he said. “I feel like a part of her childhood is being stolen, and it makes me furious.”

Doug, who works for a local municipality, and his wife, Dawn, an automotive marketing professional, are setting their daughter up to learn at home, but worry about what she’ll miss.

“We have a desk area for her to try to stay focused, to make it feel like more of a classroom setting,” said Doug. “Our concerns are that the learning experience will not be on par with what in-person instruction would be, and we feel kids need their friendships and the social learning aspects that the in-person setting provides.”

Amid the frustration, he acknowledges some silver linings.

“The morning routine here will be easier, and my wife’s morning commute is shortened,” Doug said. “We are not running out to buy a bunch of back to school supplies, so we are saving money, too.”

Dawn is able to work from home as long as her employer continues their current policy, which gives them the flexibility to make virtual learning happen – at least for the near future, Doug said.

“I know other families are not as lucky as we are, and are looking at hard choices in the coming weeks. I mean, you can’t just leave elementary-aged kids home alone, right?”

In addition to their 7-year-old, the Chmiels have children ages 3 and 1, who split their weekdays in the care of their grandparents and a home-based daycare.

“I think this situation shows us we need major reform in our schools,” Doug said. “More teachers, smaller class sizes… those are just the tip of the iceberg.”

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