A COVID summer: Struggling with stress, sadness as school begins

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. 

For the Williams family of Farmington Hills, the start of the school year feels heavy.

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

Robert, Melissa, Julia, and Rosie Williams
The Williams family: Robert, Melissa, Julia, and Rosie (contributed)

“I feel stressed, overwhelmed, and sad,” said Melissa, a marketing director. “I watched the majority of the (FPS) board meetings and the public comments were very disheartening. This is a difficult situation for everyone – no one chose this. We’re all in the same boat. I found the negativity and self-centeredness of the community a bit shocking.”

She and her husband, Robert, a logistics planner, have two children: Julia, 6, who is entering first grade at Kenbrook Elementary, and Rosie, 3. They feel each family needs to do what is best for them.

“We weren’t comfortable sending Julia in person, so we knew we’d choose the virtual path to start,” Melissa shared. “I was somewhat relieved that the decision was made for us. I am glad that the virtual start provides my daughter with a permanent teacher and classmates.”

Although virtual felt right for their family, the model also raises some concerns. Virtual learning offered in the spring was rough, Melissa said, and she knows the plan for fall will be more rigorous.

“My daughter misses school as she knew it in kindergarten, but it’s not going to be the same,” she said. “We’re trying to gear her up for more online learning, which, frankly, was hard and none of us enjoyed. I’m concerned with the amount of screen time involved for a 6-year-old. We will do our best and if it doesn’t work out, I am prepared to look into homeschooling.”

Like many parents, Melissa and Robert are preparing as best they can and leaning on loved ones.

“We don’t have an office in our home so I’m working on painting a new-to-us desk that will live in the family room for schoolwork,” Melissa said. “We are very fortunate that we both have jobs that allow us to work remotely. We will rotate days in the office and at home working with our first grader, while our 3-year-old spends time with grandma.”

Come together and support families

Community members whose children are district alumni have also closely watched the district’s decisions. Erika Harper, mother of a 2017 graduate, knows the board’s decision was difficult, but she appreciates it.

“I was relieved to see the FPS Board approve the 100 percent virtual plan, and resume the lunch program,” she said. “I know some families will need support, but I am hopeful our community can step up here and provide the help that is needed.”

“I think it is paramount to keep everyone safe and make sure the community transmission rate is as low as possible before the kids head back to school,” Harper added. “I hope the school board will continue to consider the data before requiring in-person learning, to prevent prolonging the disruption to our normal learning environment.”

Erika and her husband Shon, who both work for a local luxury home builder, have been Farmington Hills residents since 2008. She acknowledged the tireless work of FPS staff as they tackle this challenging start to the school year.

“I have been astonished and so proud of the FPS teachers’ dedication and creativity in bringing their lesson plans online, and striving to provide a quality experience for the students,” Erika shared. “They continue to amaze in their preparation and flexibility for the coming school year. I hope that we as a community can come together to provide the support that is needed to help out local families, and that we are all doing our part by wearing masks and social distancing to lessen the community spread of the virus.”


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