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Blog: A new season means new challenges during a strange year

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.

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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