This month, the FACE team met with Sherri Buchman to discuss how her family has been adjusting following the implementation of the Return to Learn plan. Prior to the start of this school year, GRPS announced that there would be two options for families, as soon as it was safe for students to return to their classrooms: the hybrid in-person model and the 100% virtual model. On January 19th, the Return to Learn plan came into effect for all GRPS students, and the Harrell family decided to opt into the 100% virtual learning option for their 7th grade daughter, Avery.
When Avery started first grade, Sherri and her partner, John, decided to enroll her at Grand Rapids Montessori. There was a lot about the Montessori method of education that appealed to Sherri and John: “There is a huge emphasis on autonomy, team-building, and community in Montessori education, which we knew would be great for Avery,” says Sherri. “Attending Grand Rapids Montessori since first grade has taught our daughter time management and accountability. These are skills that have served her well, especially since we’ve been doing distance learning.”
The decision to keep their daughter in the 100% distance learning model was not an easy one, but Sherri feels it was the best decision for her family. “Things have been so uncertain since the pandemic took hold,” she explains. “As parents, we try to create a sense of normalcy and routine for our kids. COVID has made that almost impossible.” In the midst of so much uncertainty, Sherri and John chose to keep Avery in the virtual classroom while the country waits for the COVID vaccine to be more widely administered.
Overall, Avery has done remarkably well adjusting to the online learning environment. “At first, it was stressful,” Sherri says. “Working at your own pace and self-teaching are the foundations of Montessori education, and I think this became intimidating when Avery got a ton of tough assignments right at the beginning of the school year. Now that she’s in seventh grade, the content has gotten more challenging. But since I can stay home, I have been able to help her keep up.” Sherri, who works as a manager at the Meanwhile Bar, explains that a big reason she began bartending was so that she could stay home with Avery while John worked his job as a foreman.
Along with the typical technological glitches and internet connectivity issues that come with learning in the online classroom, Sherri mentioned social-emotional obstacles that have come up since remote learning started last March. “In Avery’s school, graduating from the sixth to seventh grade is a huge deal,” says Sherri. “She had been looking forward to that day since she was a young kid. Even though the teachers and principal still did their best to make it special, it was a bit of a let down for her.”
Still, the Harrell’s recognize that these types of issues are to be expected after just one week of Return to Learn, and are placing their trust in Avery’s teachers, who they say have been great throughout remote learning. Overall, they are glad that they chose to continue with remote learning. As we know, COVID is a dangerous virus. Precautions like social distancing and staying home are vital to slowing the spread. Every family’s circumstances are different, but safety is a number one priority for GRPS. This is why our district was cautious in reopening our doors to hybrid learners, and also why we’ve given families a choice of whether or not to send their children back to school in the hybrid model.