For parents, the past few months have been especially rough. The summer, normally filled with summer camps and visits to relatives’ homes became an endless game of what to do next.
As the new—virtual—school year looms, parents are finding creative solutions, like so-called “pandemic pods,” to keep their little ones supervised during the day.
Parents across the country are forming small groups and pooling their resources to have their children educated by private tutors at home.
For Marcela Gallic, the small group of three girls that her 6-year-old daughter became a part of in early June has offered relief from juggling her demanding job at an immigration law firm and the task of keeping her daughter entertained—without being glued to a screen all day.
“To me, it was a perfect solution,” Gallic said. She and her husband work from home, and the three families rotate the location of their “classroom” every week.
Their “pandemic pod” is in session from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. The three girls work through a topic each day, led by educational aide Lizzie Berberet.
From a Paris-themed day, when the group made chocolate croissants and learned a few words in French, to a witch-themed session that had them whip up potions in the household blender, Berberet said she tries to keep things fun, but educational.
“Pinterest is my best friend,” she said. For the 22-year old, who is currently in the process of completing her teaching certificate, the position as a private educator was a perfect opportunity to gain experience and earn some extra cash along the way. “Professionally, this is kind of an ideal situation for me,” she said.
For the three girls, none of whom have siblings, the group offers an important space to socialize. “It was an incredible setup for them to still have the social interaction, someone to play with,” Gallic said.
While the benefits are enormous, Gallic said she is worried what will happen once the funds the family had originally saved for summer camp—and which went toward funding the tutor instead—run out.
Her daughter attends the private Westerly School, which charges $22,775 in tuition for the 2020-2021 school year, a bill that is still due, even as classes have moved to virtual learning. Tacking on the cost of a private tutor would be a significant challenge, said Gallic.
“I would love to, but it is a burden financially. I might have to think of another solution, like reducing hours,” she noted. “It’s a very difficult situation.”
A fear of exposure
A middle school teacher herself, Alison Morales has struggled to find a childcare and educational solution for her two children during the pandemic, and the pressure has only increased now that classes are about to resume after the summer break.
The preschool her 3-year-old attended has reopened, but Morales said she and her husband don’t feel comfortable sending their daughter back. It’s not the school, she said, but the other families that have her concerned.
“The families that have chosen to put their kids back into the preschool, they’re mixing,” Morales said. “They aren’t observing the safety rules.”
After some consideration, Morales and her husband decided to pair up their 3-year-old with another child her age whose mother stays at home watching the two.
“Both of our families are taking a similarly cautious approach to pandemic exposure,” she said. “This provides a safer environment than a daycare or preschool that would include multiple families, who may or may not be following the local health orders.”
Morales said she would like to send her children back to school, once she felt more confident that other families were taking the necessary precautions. “Schools, childcare centers and workplaces are only as safe as individuals allow them to be,” she added.
Fighting two battles
For parents who already had challenges to overcome before the pandemic, reduced childcare offerings added another hurdle to the mix.
Now in her second year in the Long Beach Rescue Mission’s Bridge program, Sarah Floyd said having her drug and alcohol counseling and other treatment options moved online hasn’t been ideal, but she’s managed.
“The Zoom meetings are just kind of impersonal to me,” Floyd said.
But having her son, John-John, return to Precious Lamb preschool when it reopened at the end of last month, has been a huge help, she noted.
Having her 2-year-old son at home full time was difficult for Floyd, who attends classes at LBCC and participates in the Rescue Mission’s apprentice program.
“Whenever he’s home, he doesn’t have that social interaction, so he goes ‘mommy, mommy, mommy.’ He doesn’t understand that I’m in class,” the 37-year-old explained.
At times, John-John’s preschool teacher helped her by talking through the situation over the phone, and giving her pointers on setting boundaries between work and play time. “Every week I was on the phone with her, I didn’t know what to do,” Floyd said.
For her son, the isolation was challenging as well. “Not being able to be around his friends and in class was really difficult for John-John, he didn’t understand,” she noted.
When the preschool reopened, Floyd rejoiced. “Even though they’re only open two days a week, that’s something,” she said.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, she takes John-John to a small, private daycare. “You don’t even know how much that’s helped me!” she added.