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Blog: Who else is ready for Thanksgiving break?!

Amy Sarrazin is currently navigating the 2020 school year with three kids in three different districts.
Credit: Courtesy Amy Sarrazin

COLORADO, USA — Editor's note: Amy Sarrazin is a Colorado parent who will be blogging about the upcoming school year for Mile High Mornings. Scroll to the bottom for her full bio.

11/19/20 

Another week, another adjustment. This is either going to be the most adaptable generation or the most wary, untrusting generation ever.

As COVID-19 numbers seem to be skyrocketing in our state, I still headed out Tuesday morning to drop the fourth grader off for in-person learning. I am still not sure if I should feel relief or worry.

We received an email midday letting us know that the district will be transitioning to remote learning after the Thanksgiving break until Jan. 12.

Again, I’m still not sure if I should feel relief or worry. As our county transitions to the “red” level I assumed this would happen and have been waiting for the email.

The email reads, “you will note that we intend to remain remote for one week after Winter Break. Being candid, the Halloween holiday weekend was hard on us operationally in terms of the number of required quarantines brought about due to activities outside of the school setting. We want that additional week after Winter Break to be remote so we can be in a strong position operationally when we return to in-person learning on Tuesday, Jan. 12.”

Again, I stand by the district. When you can’t control what people are doing outside of the school hours, it makes it very difficult for a district to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.

Walking home that day I asked the fourth grader if they told her the news at school that day.

“Yeah” she said. 

“So, you know Friday will be your last in-person learning day until January?” I asked. 

“Wait! What?” she exclaimed. I look over at her and ask, “what did they tell you?”

“They said tomorrow is wacky Wednesday and we are supposed to dress crazy," she said. 

Glad I clarified!

The pod is back in-person and that choice is a little alarming to me since half of the pod has already been quarantined once for being exposed to COVID-19. At our house the third grader logged on to her pod virtually at the end of the day to see her friends.

Before she did this, I got the opportunity to exercise my Common Core math skills and crush a plot graph. This is the third kid I have done third grade Common Core math with and I think I am finally starting to understand that if Suzie has 15 apples and John has four apples that means the train is going 25 miles per hour with 12 roofing nails inside.

Next week is Thanksgiving break and I this year I am thankful to get to spend the week in a bubble with my household. I rarely get this opportunity due to all of the outside forces we contend with.

Like many people, I have COVID-19 fatigue. I am so over this. I am ready to get back to my pre-pandemic life. I do not want to go back to remote learning. All children need to interact with other kids and have a sense of normalcy, but I am also keeping my eye on the prize and know we are going to tackle this virus and all be hanging out together again soon.

Wish me luck with all remote learning all the time with two different kids in the coming weeks. I know most parents are in the same boat and all I can say is go easy on yourselves and know that as our kids grow up they will remember who sat next to them while they were working on schoolwork and how you put that as a priority even when you had to work at the same time.

We got this.

11/12/20

As I watch more and more school districts switch to fully remote learning, I keep receiving email after email from the fourth grader’s district begging families to please keep vigilant and follow all the protocols at school and in the community so that our kids can stay in-person as long as possible. 

Part of me feels a sense of relief every time I see this and part of me starts to feel uneasy wondering, why all of the other districts feel a need to return to remote learning and our district keeps assuring parents that they will remain in-person.

Denver Public Schools has been back in a remote learning environment for over a week now and the Pod People are now virtual as well. I cannot wrap my head around the point of logging on virtually to a Pod to have them log you on virtually to your teacher. Seems like an extra, unnecessary step but maybe I am thinking about this too logically.

Fourth grader’s birthday is this weekend, and we were going to take the kids to an alpaca farm so they could pet alpacas and be outside while still doing something fun. I was emailed yesterday and because of rising COVID-19 cases, they are canceling on us for the weekend. I totally get it, it’s just so hard to come up with a birthday plan for a child on a few days’ notice when there is not a whole lot to do anyway and they can’t have friends over and it’s potentially cold out.

Walking home from school the other day the fourth grader turns to me and says, “mama, I really hope we have school on Friday. Mrs. Teacher said I can bring treats because it’s no one else’s birthday that day.”

For her sake I hope so too. It is such a surreal feeling that our kids cannot even plan for the next 48 hours.

“I hope so, too.” I say.

“I want to bring cupcakes except can I bring Mrs. Teacher a chocolate chip cookie? She doesn’t like cupcakes. Also, you can’t make them, you have to buy them from the store because, you know, COVID." she said. 

Much like many kids this year, all she wants is to feel some sense of normalcy for her birthday and that seems like it can only be achieved right now through a cupcake at school and all I want is for her to have that. This year has been full of disappointments and challenges and unpredictability and a cupcake at school is a simple pleasure that will make much of that insignificant.

Here's to all of the sweet kids having birthdays and other events that cannot celebrate them (or because of rising COVID-19 numbers even plan them) right now.

I just hope all of the parents out there who are doing the best they can to make things special for their kids with all of this uncertainty keep pushing through. While uncertainty makes things hard, our kids will remember that when we couldn’t do everything we may have done in the past, we did what we could to make sure they enjoyed the day.

11/9/20

Halloween 2020: while different, we were able to make it fun for the girls. I had been hearing from so many friends that their child’s school was not celebrating Halloween this year. Thankfully, even though we are navigating to completely different school districts, both girls were allowed to wear their Halloween costumes to school all day.

We went to the fourth grader’s trunk-or-treat event that was turned into a drive-through event on Friday evening. At the first car they handed each child a full bag of candy through the car window. We then drove through the rest of the parking lot looking at the other decorated cars without getting out or interacting with them. Far from fun but the girls were happy with the haul of candy they got.

We made the decision earlier that we would not be trick-or-treating, so I was determined to make the day fun regardless. On Halloween, the kids woke up to bloodshot eyes, monster teeth, and ghosts on toast for breakfast. We then let them bake and decorate cupcakes to “boo” their friends with. We rounded out the day with a picnic at City Park, Boo at the Zoo, and a jack-o-lantern pizza.

Monday brought a new set of challenges. Fourth grader is off on Mondays, so I am always navigating parenting and working on Mondays, but this was the first day of Denver Public Schools' return to remote learning.

The Pod People are back in full swing, but we will not be participating on my boyfriend’s days with his daughter. In fact, one of the pod girl’s father has tested positive for COVID-19 yet they still insist it should be a thing. Gatherings of this many people should not be happening, but we all know how the Pod People hate to be told what to do.

We receive an email from third grader’s teacher Sunday night with links and instructions for Monday. Specials start at 8:15 a.m. and classroom remote learning begins at 9 a.m. We read the email to third grader.

“Specials are optional,” she said. 

“Fine, so you just want to log on at 9 a.m.?” I ask. 

“Yes," she responds. 

Monday morning third grader comes down and has breakfast. When she is finished, I tell her that I will be up at 8:50 a.m. to make sure we can get her logged on and all of the links work so she’s ready for 9 a.m.

“Okay,” she hollers as she runs to the basement to play.

I finish a work call around 8:45 a.m. and call to her that it’s almost time. She comes running up stairs and looks at the time saying:

“I’m late," she said. 

“No, you’re not.” I assure her.

“Yes I am. Specials started at 8:15," she said. 

“You said those were optional” I reminded her.

“Yes, but I still have to do them," she said. 

SMH. This is going well. Clearly in any environment I’m still crushing it.

We made it through the day, and she will be back next Monday evening for a new week of pretty much anything goes at this point.

For now, I will not take a single day my fourth grader goes to in-person learning for granted. As we know, the only thing certain in a pandemic is that nothing is certain.

10/30/20

“Mask up, arms out,” the fourth grader recites on our walk home from school Tuesday. “Mrs. Teacher says that if we want to stay in-person we have to be extra careful to keep distance and wear our masks all the time.”

We got this. Both kids are back at school in-person and following masking and distancing guidelines. Both girls are enjoying school and time with friends and being “normal” again. I breathe deeply and realize we made it over this hump. The unmasked Pod People have disbanded as COVID-19 cases rise. I feel victorious.

I realized halfway on the trip to pick fourth grader up on Wednesday that I had forgot a mask. It was too late to turn around and get one without being late. Yep…still crushing it.

I start going over the options in my head:

  • Stop right before school property and hope she can see me and jump up and down waving like a fool
  • Call the school and let them know and hope the message gets to her in the next three minutes before school gets out
  • I could maybe hide my face in my shirt….

It’s at that moment where I realized I was wearing a cowl neck sweatshirt! Sometimes life works out. I pull that sucker up over my mouth and nose and secure it with my sunglasses.  

On Monday, we received communications from 27J stating that as Adams County moves into a Level 3 Safer-At-Home guidelines, they have every intention of keeping in-person learning unless otherwise told to do so by Tri-County Health. Woohoo! Keep those schools going.

I bet you see where this is going…

On Tuesday, Denver announced that they would also be moved to a Level 3 Safer-At-Home guidelines and just a few short hours later we received communications from DPS stating that remote learning for third grader will resume on Monday, Nov. 2 until at least after Thanksgiving break.

It’s like they didn’t even want to think on it a bit more.

I knew that was going too well.

With rising COVID-19 cases, we really don’t want the third grader’s mom to put her back in the unmasked pod. The good news for us is with the tight restrictions Denver put in it will be almost impossible for the Pod to operate:

  • No gatherings of more than five people (they have more than that with the teacher and parent(s) and sibling(s) in each home).
  • No more than two households may gather together (they have five).
  • Masks must be worn for any gatherings, even outside, if you are with people you do not live with.

Great. We should be covered except we all know how the Pod People hate being told what to do.

I have said before but will reiterate now, I am very lucky. I work exclusively from home and for an employer who not only understands what the effects of COVID-19 have done to working parents but actively seek to help us navigate these issues. That being said, it is truly much easier to get work done without kids here remote learning or not.

One final email from 27J documenting a change in the school’s trunk-or-treat Friday night. Due to the new Level-3 restrictions, trunk-or-treat will now be drive through with assigned times by cohort.

If I can count on anything during COVID-19 it’s that I cannot count on anything.

10/22/20

I suppose in the middle of a global pandemic no news is good news. There was no major drama this week.

Denver Public Schools went back to in-person learning and it’s the third grader’s mother’s week, so we assume she was taken to school on Wednesday or maybe she wasn’t. They probably elected to start Thursday instead, we all know how the Pod People hate to be told what to do.

I did check out the district dashboard tonight. Let’s see, it looks like the percent of students out has quadrupled to 2.85%. There are currently 18 positive cases in the district among students and staff. Eighteen out of 18,000. We’re talking less than 1%. This has impacted 20 cohorts made up of 422 students and 61 staff members. The district is clearly erring on the side of caution and it seems to be working. After all of the drama last week, the fourth grader’s school still only has one positive case. It did not spread.

I know many schools are canceling Halloween activities and parties this year. Fourth grader’s school has let us know that while it may look different, they are in fact allowing costumes and celebrating Halloween in their classroom on Oct. 30.

With this announcement they sent the guidelines for costumes:

- No masks or makeup that would conceal a student’s identity. Students will still wear masks to support our layers of safety. Ummmmm…. huh? Yes, I understand but ... huh?

- There will also be a trunk-or-treat event that night so that the kids can get candy. Kids can trick-or-treat at cars in the parking lot staying socially distanced. I think this will be our candy event this year and we will stay home and eat pizza, make cupcakes and watch movies on Halloween.

As I’ve discussed before, families who have multiple households and those households have multiple households and so on make it super hard to control your bubble. I ask people whose children live in just one household to take a step back and not judge parents whose children don’t. Yes, we know that by doing this activity or that activity we have just as much risk as going to the grocery store. What we don’t know and can’t control is what they are doing at another house. Those with one household know each and every interaction your child has had. Those of us with two households do not. So, if you see people with multiple households being what you think is overly cautious, it’s only because we have less knowledge of what our most important accomplishment in life is doing.

As always, as parents, we are all just doing our best with the information we have at the time.

10/15/20

Well, it’s go time. This is what we have been training for. 7 p.m. Monday night. The email headline from fourth grader’s teacher reads “Important Information from Mrs. Teacher!!! Please READ!!!”

“We have determined with the Tri-County Health Department that your student has been exposed to COVID-19. Your student may have been exposed to COVID-19 on Oct. 6, 7 or 8 and He/She needs to stay home and quarantine for 14 days," the email said. 

Yep. There has been a positive case in my child’s cohort. We will be switching to remote learning immediately for the next two weeks.

What they won’t tell you is which class the child is in. Only that they are in the same cohort. The cohort represents about 25% of the school. They utilize the same playground and specials teacher so that if there is a positive case, they only have to quarantine a quarter of the school.

The teachers and school need a day to transition so remote learning begins on Wednesday. I receive a call from the office asking if we have all of the technology we need and if the fourth grader had brought home her charger. Nope. There was no charger in the backpack.

We walk down to the school to pick one up and ring the bell.

“Hi. We are here to pick up a charger for fourth grader.”

“Okay, wait there. We will bring it out.”

Fourth grader turns to me and says, “I guess they really don’t want you inside when someone in your cohort tests positive.”

Accurate.

Wednesday morning, fourth grader logs on at 9 a.m. and is engaged with her class until 3:30 p.m. with only a 20-minute break in the morning and a 30-minute lunch. Honestly, I could get used to this. She was engaged with her class and learning all day and I do not have to interrupt my workday to take her and pick her up from school at inconvenient times.

Need me to be on a meeting at 9 a.m.? Sure thing! Need me to look over something at 3:25 p.m.? Yep! Can do. I feel so free!

Wednesday, 3:33 p.m., I receive an email from the teacher with the headline “Important letter from Mrs. Principal Please Read ASAP”.

I skim the note quickly for the highlights. Apparently, after a Tri-County Health site assessment it was determined that only the class with the positive case needed to quarantine and the rest of the cohort was good to return to in-person learning. I skim again, trying to figure out which of the two scenarios she falls into.

Then I see it, last line at the bottom: “To reiterate, if you are receiving this letter, your Trailblazer is safe to return tomorrow, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020”. That’s encouraging. Not her class. Except…now that feeling of freedom has me scouring my calendar to determine what I have committed myself to during school drop off and pick up times.

If there is one thing 2020 keeps teaching me it’s that you shouldn’t plan for more than the current day.

The Pod People are still alive and well. This is the last week of remote learning before DPS goes back to in-person learning next week. They have decided to rent an RV and play at the park and teach each other how to braid hair over having the kids learn online all day with their very real classroom through their very real school. The Pod People hate being told what to do.

What a day-to-day adventure this week has been. All of the highs and lows. Can’t wait to see what next week brings!

10/8/20

The Parent Portal app went down one morning as I was furiously trying to get our student health screen in before the 8 a.m. deadline. I try over and over. Down and down.

The fourth grader is panicked that they won’t let her into school.

“I’m going to be so embarrassed” she informs me. It’s good to know that things I do (or am unable to do) are already embarrassing her. Clearly starting the day still crushing it. The teenage years should be fun!

“It’s everyone, see," I say as I show her our neighborhood Facebook page that is exploding with comments about the Portal being down.

“Good” she exclaims, “because I was thinking it was operator error.”

A few minutes later I receive a text and email acknowledging the Portal is down and by sending my child to school I agree that she/he has not been exposed or has not been showing symptoms of COVID-19. Honor system. Love it.

Apparently, the district did too. This is now the standard email I get each morning:

By sending your child to school, you are agreeing that you have screened them for any symptoms of COVID-19 and that they DO NOT have ANY symptoms.

The best thing that has happened this week was that 27J came out with a COVID-19 dashboard. I am obsessed. Updated weekly, it shows all the best information. It shows how many current positive cases including teachers and students, as well as how many cohorts are actively out.

The best part? It gives the percentage of children out whose cohort has been impacted. Right now, only 0.5% of teachers and students are out due to their cohort being exposed. Only four current positive cases and 37 positive cases have been reported since the start of school on Sept. 1. In a district with over 18,000 students enrolled, I would say those are very good odds. Better than visiting the White House these days.  

The worst thing that came out of this week was spirit week. This has nothing to do with COVID-19, I just despise spirit week. Always have.

The biggest thing I am wrestling with right now is when to tell the girls that Halloween and trick-or-treating has been given a green light this year? I want them to be excited. I want them to look forward to something “normal” but because of rising numbers in COVID-19 cases across the state, I want to proceed with caution as to not have to disappoint them in case things get shut down again or they are exposed somehow.

When is the right time to let children be excited about some semblance of normalcy without risking disappointment and heartbreak?

10/1/20

We had a COVID-19 scare last week. The high schooler had a case pop up in her school about 10 days ago. She woke up one morning last week with symptoms that could be any non-descript illness but put fear into everyone. She was promptly tested and by the next morning we had the negative test results. To me this shows that what the schools are doing is working. There was a positive case and there is not an outbreak (two or more cases) at the school.

It’s funny how two people can have the same point of argument with two very different perspectives. COVID-19 cases are on the rise. Denver Public Schools in-person learning resumes Oct. 21.

My boyfriend feels this is every reason to get his third grader out of the unmasked pod and back into school where there CDC guidelines are being followed (masking, distancing, sanitizing) and there are very few cases arising.

Third grader’s mom believes this is why she should continue in the unmasked pod: Because she knows the people in the pod (apparently, COVID-19 doesn’t infect someone if you know them) and it’s a smaller group. Same argument. Different viewpoints. She wants her to continue in the pod for an extra week to see if school is “safe”. DPS says in-person learning resumes Oct. 21. The Pod People say “no. it’s on our terms.” They hate to be told what to do.

I feel like I am really starting to rock this working from home, inconvenient for working parents school drop off and pickup times crazy new normal we are living in. Rocking it that is until the wisdom of a nine-year-old surpasses that of her mother.

Walking home from the fourth grader’s school the other day she tells me that she was late coming out because two boys were messing around and the teacher had to remind them to stay apart.

“Are you guys being just as safe as you were when school started?" I said. 

“Yes," she responded. 

“You must be getting used to it now," I said. 

“I wouldn’t say we are getting used to it, we just do it because it needs to be done," she said. "I don’t like when people say the ‘new normal’ this is not the new normal. It’s just what we are doing until the regular normal is back.”

I look over at her as we are walking home getting ready to impart my perils of wisdom and BAM, I smack right into a pole.

Yep. Still crushing it. Obviously.

I can’t believe it’s October now. I joked back in July when we were forced to choose between in-person and online learning that we probably wouldn’t make it but a week or two in-person anyway yet here we are, almost done with our fifth week of school.

I’m very appreciative to all of the parents and teachers that continue to take each day as it comes and protect our children and the community that we live in with the best information that we have at that time.

9/24/20

It will be October next week. At the end of this week we will have made it through four weeks of school. Fall is officially upon us and no one knows how the cooler weather and inability to spend as much time outdoors will affect us. Predictions are for COVID-19 cases to increase.

Personally, I am holding out hope that cold and flu season will be milder with more people keeping distance and wearing masks.

Many of the symptoms of COVID-19 are the same as the common cold or flu.

Every morning at 5:01 a.m., I receive an email reminding me to fill out my student’s health survey. Every morning 7:01 a.m. I receive a text message reminding me to complete my student’s health survey. What happens when kids start having “the sniffles”? 27J is requiring anyone who exhibits any COVID-19 symptoms to isolate for 24 hours.

Credit: Courtesy

If a child has symptoms for 48 hours or more, they are required to consult with a Children’s Hospital nurse provided by the school before they can return.

I anticipate a lot of isolating in the next few months.  

“Here, I’m supposed to give this to my parent," my fourth grader. 

I look over at the fourth grader who has a picture day form in her hand.

“Do you think they will let us take our masks off for the pictures?” she asks. 

I assured her they would (right?) although the thought of a yearbook full of masked faces would make for an amazing story one day.

I probably spend too much time on my walks to and from the school debating the exact “right moment” to “mask up”. I want to make sure I am masked before I run into other masked parents but I also want the fourth grader to be able to walk without one for as long as possible since she wears one all day.

Third grader’s school had a town hall phone call on what to expect when in-person learning returns. When the Q&A began, a Pod Person vocalized their concern if school would be back five days a week.

Not only did the principal cover that (yes) but it’s been on the Denver Public Schools website and on all forms of news media for the past week.

Next Pod Parent concern was does THEIR child really have to wear a mask and keep distanced from their friends ALL DAY?

I know that every parent thinks their child is special but come on, we have been in this for months now and they have seen how other districts are doing this (the answer is yes). The very patient principal reiterated that the answer is yes. The protocols are for all children equally. The Pod People HATE being told what to do.

What a wild ride this is. Every week, I think that I can’t possibly have any more to share and every week I prove myself wrong.

9/17/20

This is it! Denver Public Schools has announced their plan for returning to the classroom. My boyfriend and his ex have a signed agreement stating that once DPS resumes in-person learning third grader will return in person. Finally, some normalcy on the horizon! Except that now mom is pushing for the pod to stay regardless.

This could be ok since Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) put out guidelines for learning pods: masks, distancing, sanitizing, screening procedures. Just like school districts. Boyfriend sends the state infographic to the Pod People. Radio silence. Apparently, this is not a mandate and only guidance. Something for others, but of course not them. They will not be told what to do.

Back to square one.

Third grader came home wet and in different clothes again. Apparently, they should be earning PE credit for all of the “swimming” that is going on at this “learning pod”.

Due to COVID-19, 27-J is providing free lunch to all students through Dec. 31 regardless of income levels. I encourage hot lunch for the fourth grader whenever possible. Obviously.

Going over the menu, “it’s a meatball sub tomorrow.”

“What’s that?”

I stare blankly at her, unable to comprehend what she is not understanding. “It’s meatballs and bread. Like a sandwich made of meatballs.”

“Hmmmm, well I’ll try it. I like meatballs and I like bread. If I don’t like the two together, I can eat them separately.” You do you and I will enjoy not making a lunch tomorrow.

Week three of in-person learning for the fourth grader is underway.  I have a rhythm and a groove going.

Make that HAD a rhythm and groove going. I received an email before the week started on Tuesday saying that all home health screenings must now be completed by 8 a.m. for processing. I can remember this. Just a slight adjustment to the rhythm and groove.

Tuesday morning at 7:15 a.am. the fourth grader came down to remind me to do her home health screening before 8 a.m.  

Check.

A 7:46 a.m. email from the school arrives with a big red exclamation point and titled “Student Health Screening Error”.

I’ve barely had enough coffee let alone enough time to process this new submission time. Reading through the email I come to find I accidentally put my name in instead of the fourth grader’s. Yep. Still crushing it.

Each day the kids are required to bring all of their belongings back and forth with them. Fourth grader’s backpack has a one-and-a-half-inch binder, two multi-subject spiral notebooks, two pencil cases, a Chromebook, plus extra masks and hand sanitizer. The thing literally weighs 14 pounds. We live about a quarter mile from the school and I have to haul the thing back and forth each day to save a nine-year-old’s back.

“It’s in case they have to lock us down again, they don’t want us to have to wait weeks to get our stuff again. We can just log onto school tomorrow.”

I get it. AND I can’t wait for the day where I can take leaving belongings at school for granted again.

Well, gotta go so I can grab the MiFi and walk to pick up fourth grader while simultaneously on a Zoom call for work.

9/10/20

When my fourth grader walked in the door from school, she said “I have homework.”

Homework? Not sure I remember what that is or how to assist. Can’t be too hard, it’s only the second week of school and we are all trying to figure out everything again, right? She pulls a sheet of math out of her backpack to show me.

“This math must be for non-COVID fourth graders,” I mutter.

She definitely wasn’t this far along at the end of last year.

We are well into the second week of school and we have it pretty well figured out. It’s becoming “more normal” every day.  

Normal until we were walking home the other day, the fourth grader turned to me and asked, “when COVID is over can I hug my friends again?”

It’s moments like this where I am completely aware of how vastly different this year is.

Both girls have been questioning if Halloween was going to be a thing this year and their thoughts and ideas of how to make it happen keep flowing.

“We can wear masks.”

“What if they just leave candy out on their porch and we get it without ringing the bell?”

“The grownups should get one of those cannons and shoot the candy at us.”

They both start giggling at the thought of that.

At dinner one night this week, third grader expressed concern that the Pod People are considering adding yet another child into the pod. We were thrown off by this as my boyfriend was excluded from any conversation the Pod People had about this. This means additional exposure from another unmasked child, family and household.

I saw some data today that says there are 166 cases of COVID-19 in schools in Colorado. This includes all schools from all four corners of the state and everything in between; from daycares to colleges (and most cases have been in high schools and colleges). I think this speaks to how well the school districts are doing with the implementation of safety protocols like masks, distancing and hand washing.

For now, my confidence is growing in the ability of the school districts to keep our kids and Colorado families safe.

9/4/20

It’s 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. It’s eerily quiet. I wait six feet apart from the other masked parents. I suppose this is the new norm. It seems like ages ago that she had orientation. It’s finally the first day of school and I am ready to get back into a routine.

The bell rings and a flurry of masked children file out giving their teacher “air” high fives.

I should have mentioned in previous entries, but the fourth grader is nine going on 40. She follows all rules to a tee, questions the judgement of her peers, wonders why she can’t just skip to college so she can start studying the courses she wants to study to be an astrophysicist, and her favorite movie is "Yesterday."

She runs up to me with a full, heavy backpack, “we have to bring all of our stuff home every day in case something happens, and we can’t go back. Remember, we learned that last year? We were supposed to go to school the next day and it was just canceled. Forever.”

She explains to me how the playground has been divided into four zones and each cohort is to stay within their zone during their allotted recess time. These zones rotate each week so that if necessary, they can contact trace and each cohort can have an opportunity to play on each designated zone.

Alright, Wednesday morning, we got this. We know where to go, what to do and the fourth grader’s nerves are gone. I receive the daily email reminding me to fill out her home health screening before school. I roll my eyes and sarcastically say, “are they going to annoy me with an email about this every day?” We grab her stuff and head to the school. As we approach her entry point, I realize I forgot to fill out the home health screening and of course I have no cell service. Oh, the irony of my earlier eye roll. The fourth grader starts panicking that they won’t let her in. I told her to head in and let them know I am updating immediately.

Another week, still crushing it.

Pod People. What a strange existence as a child today. They will not have the stories to tell that the rest of society will have. No, “when I was in school, we had to wear masks and face forward and eat lunch with a seat in between us…”

No cool pandemic battle stories like our predecessors had where they talked about walking to school uphill. In the snow. Both ways.

Apparently, DPS online school starts at 8:15 a.m. The Pod People will not be told what to do. They meet at 8:30 a.m. The third grader arrives home Tuesday evening in different clothing then she went to school in.

“Why are you in different clothes?”

“I fell in the hot tub.”

So far, I am very impressed with all of the learning that’s going on in this fancy pod.

For the first time it crosses my mind, “what if third grader brings COVID-19 home from the Pod People and then the fourth grader brings it to her school, and they shut down her cohort because of HER?” I would feel awful if she were patient zero at her school and even worse if someone got severely sick or worse because MY child brought it to her school.

Now, I realize that anyone can get COVID-19 at anytime and she could just as easily bring it home in her daily interactions, but the fact is when protocols are mandated and followed the likelihood is substantially less.

As the fourth grader pointed out when the un-masked Pod was questioned, “Just because you know someone doesn’t mean they don’t have COVID-19. Everyone who has COVID knows people.”

Again, I am just trudging through this like everyone else and these are the experiences I am having which are completely different to the experiences that anyone else is having during this unique time. I am trying to proceed with grace, kindness, and a little bit of humor to get through it in one piece.

8/27/20 blog

COVID-19 is funny. There is no telling what it might do to anyone.

Perfectly healthy 30-year-old? Bam! Taken out and put on a respirator.

A 95-year-old man with preexisting conditions? Recovers and goes home to his family just fine.

I think that’s what is the scariest about this infection; it’s a crap shoot how your body will respond. With strep we know to expect a fever and sore throat. With measles or chicken pox or even food poisoning we can predict which signs and symptoms someone will have. 

With COVID-19 it is all over the board.

To pick up where we left off last week, the fourth grader had her orientation day. When I picked her up, I waited six feet away from all of the other masked fourth grade parents at her cohort’s designated entry/exit point. All of the masked children came filing out and seemed pretty happy about being back at school. 

The fourth grader came running up to me and the first words out of her mouth were: “you got the wrong pencil case. I have to have the hard-sided case one and not the pencil bag one because they can’t disinfect the bag every day.” 

Good to know I’m still crushing it. 

I’m sure that was noted somewhere in the 32-page PowerPoint or dozen emails about protocols for the new year and I just missed it, right? On the walk home she told me all about the two friends she made and the safety protocols they learned. There are apparently Xs and dots everywhere indicating where they can stand, sit and move. There is even a corner of their room called “Antarctica” where if they need a mask break or to cool down, they can go for a couple of minutes to reset and then return to the main part of the classroom. 

Overall, I believe all of the right things are being done to minimize risk and still let the kids learn and socialize.

Ultimately, things are always fine until they aren’t but for now, I am looking forward to school starting on Sept. 1.

An interesting thing that everyone always took for granted before COVID-19 was that milestone moments would always be a thing and while they still are, they definitely look different than what we have always experienced. My nextdoor neighbor has a kindergartner and she noted how weird it is because she can’t even walk her daughter in on the first day of kindergarten to drop her off and meet her teacher.

Pod People. That’s what I have titled the learning pod that the third grader has been put in by her mother. Denver Public Schools began online learning on Monday which also coincided with the end of our week with the third grader. 

My boyfriend dropped her off at the “house of the week” Monday morning. Both he and the third grader were wearing their masks as they rang the doorbell. When the door opened everyone looked at them like they had two heads for wearing masks. No one else was wearing one, not even the teacher who they have no prior relationship with and hired off a board.  

One of the many pod children in the home ran up to the third grader, questioned her mask and started bragging that she didn’t even bring a mask with her. It is definitely an added challenge navigating two households that differ so much fundamentally.  

In our household we have a couple of family members that are high-risk, but I also understand the need to not live in constant fear. I am all for socialization and in-person learning as long as we as adults are doing our best to keep our kids safe so that we minimize risk and our household can stay as healthy as possible. 

I will end by noting that what is right for some families is not right for others and we all need to treat each other with grace and kindness and try to understand that as parents, we are all doing the best we can to make the right decisions.

8/20/20 blog

“What mask do you want to wear for orientation?” I yell upstairs to the fourth grader as we gather her supplies up for orientation today.

In my 24 years as a parent, I have said some odd things but that is definitely the oddest, most ridiculous, and (out of COVID-19 context) most out-of-left field sentence I have ever uttered on the first day of school.

My eldest was in the library during the Arapahoe High School shooting in 2013. He, along with a few others, managed to escape the library but not before witnessing almost everything … and genuinely fearing for their lives.

Ever since that day, there have been many days where I have sent any one of my kids to school thinking “well, I hope I see you again.” This morning, those thoughts turned to, “well, I hope we don’t bring COVID into our house.”

Interesting what six months can do to perspective and fears.

I finally finished reading through the school’s 32-page back-to-school informative PowerPoint. The school day will run the oh-so-convenient-for-working-parents times of 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. this year. Each morning, before school, we must fill out a health screening including a home temp check on the Parent Portal app.

We complete this and gather all her belongings to head out for school at our assigned check-in time of 9:05 a.m. This is her first year at this school and as we are walking, she talks to me about how nervous she is because she doesn’t know anyone, was not able to tour the school and therefore has never been inside, and for the first time verbalizes to me that she doesn’t want to get COVID-19.

I let her know that she is an amazing person who makes friends quickly and easily and while that put her at ease a bit, she questioned her abilities to do that while having to keep distance.

I addressed her fears of COVID by letting her know that no one wants to get it, but the school is doing all the right things and working very hard to keep everyone healthy.

As we approach our assigned entry point at our assigned time and take the 2020 first day of school mask picture to share on social media so everyone knows what a good mom I am, we notice another girl that seems to be her age, very nervous and not wanting to leave her parents. Through quick dialogue, we are able to conclude that both girls are in the fourth grade, new to the school, and in the same class.

JACKPOT.

The door monitor allows them to walk into their new classroom together at a reasonable distance from each other. We will see what the afternoon brings when I pick her up. 

For now, I will consider this first day a success.

8/14/20 blog

My name is Amy Sarrazin and I am a Colorado Native. I have three kids, a 24-year-old son, a 20-year-old son, and a nine-year-old daughter in the fourth grade. My home consists of my fourth grader, my boyfriend and his eight-year-old, third grade daughter that lives with us half-time. 

In addition, he also has a daughter who is a senior in high school who lives mostly with her mother in Denver. If that isn’t enough, all three school-aged kids attend different schools in different districts. So how is this all going to work? How are we going to stay safe, work full-time jobs, and make sure three kids are learning? At this point, your guess is as good as mine.

I realize that compared to a lot of parents I am very lucky because I am currently able to work exclusively from home. This makes my options for learning choice open, yet it feels a bit like roulette with my family. Because I can work around either learning option, the choice that is made and any consequences of that choice ultimately rest on me knowing another choice could have been made. 

It feels like going into this school year, there is no right answer. If a child does online learning and falls behind, then the wrong choice was made. If a child attends in person and ends up positive for COVID-19, then the wrong choice was made. Life is full of risks and this is just another risk we are navigating but as a parent, it is my job to protect my children and my family.

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The eight-year-old attends Denver Public Schools, their survey came out first. My boyfriend and her mom decided definitively that she would be placed in the in-person learning being offered. The nine-year-old attends 27J. I received my survey on a Wednesday asking that we respond by Sunday as to whether we would like to enroll either in-person or online. After a quick risk assessment, her father and I decided that in-person learning would be the option. 

The high-schooler is attending a small private school where in-person learning was the only option. OK: three kids, three schools, all in-person. What could go wrong? Stay with me here, DPS then announced that it will do 100% online learning until mid-October and now I second guess my choice for the fourth grader. Should I pull her and have her do online too? I mean, why have the risk? 

Within days, the third grader’s mom decided she wants her to be part of one of those hip learning pods and there will be no mask wearing, no social distancing and they will be rotating homes every week. Whoa…ok so now, fourth grader will be sitting in a classroom six hours a day, four days a week, wearing a mask and not socializing with anyone at less than the height of a grown man’s distance apart and third grader will be interacting with four other children, their siblings, parents and a teacher, all indoors with no masks or distance rotating to a different home each week where who knows how many different people make their way through? 

Something seems off here. 

So, I ask, how do you control your circle when you can’t control your circle? In this day of blended families, what risks are we willing to take during a pandemic and which risks are just not worth it?

A Colorado native, Amy Sarrazin serves as the grants development manager for a local community mental health center. Amy holds a BA in Communication and is in the process of obtaining her Master of Public Policy. Amy’s professional background includes both non-profit and private sector professional experience. Her eclectic background of marketing, community outreach, and non-profit advancement allow her to have a diverse focus and 360 view of projects while leveraging her ability to think outside the box and find new and innovative ways of connecting people and communities. Amy is a mother to three kids: 24-year old who is in the Army, a 20-year-old who is amazingly navigating life and spreading his wings, and a 9-year-old daughter who embodies all the kindness this world has to offer. She likes to spend time outdoors with her family and is looking forward to appreciating and enjoying all Denver has to offer in a post-COVID world.

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