The school year’s ¾ over. Parents, how’re you doing? – Unbelts

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The school year’s ¾ over. Parents, how’re you doing?

In our hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, next week is the beginning of the public school system’s “fourth quarter” - a COVID-era-specific way of dividing up the school year so caregivers can move their kids from online to in-person learning, or vice versa.

On Team Unbelts, we’ve got three families with school-aged kids, and three approaches to these last ten weeks. We’ll hear about those below - but in the meantime, friends who have been parenting through the pandemic... how are you doing?

  • Have you been working from a dining table while teaching Grade 1? (Our fulfillment director Krista raises hand.)
  • Spending sleepless nights with a wakeful baby, then convincing a five year-old that distance kindergarten is fun? (Founder Claire here.)
  • Rigging up three at-home dance studios, complete with bedsheet backdrops and construction lighting? (Wholesales Coordinator Grace, we see you.)

We want to hear your stories, tell us in the comments! - and, above all, we want to help.

About Unbelts’ Masks for Schools Reboot program

About Unbelts’ Masks for Schools Reboot program: We know this has been a brutal economic year for a lot of families, and we’re on a mission to give away 10,000 masks to kids and families through our Masks for Schools Reboot. The goal: to replace the worn-out masks kids have been wearing since September, and to keep disposable masks out of school trash cans. If you think your school could use a batch of quality cloth masks for kids and teens, click here for our donation request form. 

Meet the kiddos of Unbelts and how they’ve been learning this year.

Penelope and Emily: Edmonton’s littlest cohort

Founder Claire and Customer Experience Director Krista did something wild in August: they and their partners decided to team up (along with a third family) to create a distance-learning cohort. Five of the six parents reduced their work schedules to shepherd three kids through online classes. That means Penelope (kindergarten) and Emily (Grade One) have been spending four days per week together since September.

Now, Emily is heading back into the classroom for Edmonton Public Schools’ fourth quarter, while Pen continues distance kindergarten. 

Lily, Levi, Isabelle, and Prestley: in-classroom learning in Calgary

Wholesales coordinator Grace has four kids, all of whom have been learning at school since September: Lily (Grade 8), Levi (Grade 7), Isabelle (Grade 4), and Prestley (Grade 3). Alberta school closures in mid-winter had Lily and Levi at home for a few weeks, and Isabelle was in isolation in January after a classmate tested positive for COVID. Grace’s kids have, amazingly, kept up their participation in their extracurricular activities - only a true trooper takes tap-dancing on Zoom! 

Hi, parents of Unbelts. Let’s start with the positives - what have been this school year’s big wins for you?

Grace: We chose to go for in-person learning because our kids go to a charter school with really strict guidelines and restrictions. It felt safe - and our win is that having masks and wearing masks has made my family healthier than we’ve ever been. I’ve got two kids with asthma, and Lily is usually in and out of the hospital; this year, she hasn’t had so much as a cold. I’m hoping that masks will be encouraged - even if it’s not mandated - in schools post-COVID.

Krista: Our big win was putting together a learning pod with two other families, including Claire’s. My partner and I knew that we simply could not navigate online learning while working full-time jobs. We wanted to decrease our COVID risk for several reasons, and found a solution that worked for us. We’ve grown close with our small cohort, and we’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime.

Claire: We wanted to keep Pen at home for kindergarten because we also have a toddler, Theo, and having one kid in school and another in daycare felt like too much risk to us - neither of them is great at physical distancing or keeping germs to themselves. We decided to put Theo in daycare and use the privilege of what flexibility we do have to team up with other families to get our kids through the school year together. Krista, when our families came together, we decided on the same goal: making sure our kids came out of the year loving learning. Being able to connect so deeply with your family and our third friend’s family, especially during a time of such isolation, has been such a win. I could never have imagined work and life enmeshing so closely before this year, but the result has been pretty beautiful.

 

What have been the biggest challenges?

Krista:Seeing my kiddo struggle with up to six hours(!) of screen time a day in Grade 1 has been really, really hard. It’s such a challenging environment to learn in.

Grace: For me, it’s missing celebrations and finding space to work from home. I have a kid who’s graduating from their elementary school, and another graduating from junior high. It’s hard not to have those grad ceremonies where parents can come cheer them on. And working from home - it’s so hard when you’re keeping an ear out for the support your kids need on their school Meets. I’ve got stuff to get done! 

Claire: I’m an introvert, and I need solitude to feel balanced and, frankly, sane. My kids are small (1 and 5), so “mom time” was already at a premium before the pandemic; now, I’m basically never alone, and that’s taken its toll. I’ve also really felt the pressure of helping my kindergartener get a positive, if unusual, start to her school career.

 

What support are you seeing other parents needing right now?

Krista: This is such a difficult time to raise kiddos and losing the connection with other parents is really tough. In a regular school year, I would chat outside during drop-offs and pick-ups with other parents about their kids, comparing stories and seeking advice. It would help me see that my child was doing okay, and that I was doing okay as a parent. I miss that so much.

Grace: Families are so disconnected right now that I’m worried that we don’t know what each other needs. A lot of parents, especially single parents, are really isolated - it’s heartbreaking. But the economic need is really clear. I mean, we just got our heating bill - it was $700 for the second month in a row. How do people handle those kinds of expenses when they’ve been laid off during COVID?

Claire: I think parents need to see a way through the wage and gender gaps that existed before COVID, but have been pried way open throughout the pandemic. Our own distance-learning cohort has been made possible by the fact that one of the moms in our three-family group was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic. Statistically, it is mostly women, and lower-income women, who have lost work in the past year. 

I also hope someone’s collecting statistics on the performance of businesses led and managed by parents of school-aged children during COVID. Making phonics games and major product pivots on the same day, or meeting about sales goals with a lonely child on your lap because you know you’ve got team members’ jobs at stake… this isn’t your run-of-the-mill work-life juggle. It’s been a high-stakes and frankly impossible balancing act that comes with real, hard-cash costs to the economy. I’m glad there’s broader acknowledgement of the problem than before COVID, but I want to see that awareness turned into action and real support for parents’, especially moms’, professional advancement.


Describe the past school year in 3 words.

Krista: Safe. Challenging. Supportive.

Grace: Strong. Healthy. Optimistic.

Claire: Frightening. Creative. Trusting.

                                                                                                                                

Note: There are more ways of navigating the past year with school-aged kids than we could ever represent with our own staff members. We recognize that our experiences are not universal, and that they’re shaped by economic, racial, and other privileges that we are responsible for using to effect positive systemic change in our communities. Do you have an idea about how we can use our platform at Unbelts to advocate for parental economic sustainability and upward career mobility? Please email us. We’ll write back.

Learn how your school can apply for up to 100 donation masks through Unbelts’ Masks for Schools Reboot program here.