SAN DIEGO — This week marks one year since San Diego Unified School District leaders announced schools would close and students would move to online learning.
“It is our full intention to reopen our schools on calendar after spring break,” SDUSD Board President Richard Barrera said on March 13, 2020.
Other districts quickly followed suit in sending students home for virtual learning. At first, no one knew what to expect.
“I remember us just getting very scared at that point, about, what is this future going to look like? And how long is it going to last? Hopefully not too long,” Carlsbad parent Lauren Feehrer said.
As time went on, it became clear that for most families across the county, distance learning wouldn’t be ending any time soon.
“We kept thinking, ‘This is going to end soon, this will be over soon,'” Chula Vista parent Adrian Gutierre said.
With the exception of some private schools and schools doing hybrid learning, many students are still learning from home. Parents have shouldered a lot of the stress, ranging from financial concerns to technology problems and mental health battles.
For the Feehrer family, it was early on during the pandemic that they realized being stuck at home would be challenging.
“I turned to my husband and said, ‘I don’t think we’re going to be able to do this,'” Lauren Feehrer said. “I said, ‘Let’s get on the road,’ and the next day we got in our SUV and drove to Montana.”
The Feehrer family enjoyed life on the road so much, they bought a camper. They found a family who wanted to rent their house while they traveled and they started mapping out destinations. It was a unique experience that both tested their patience and restored their faith in humanity as they met families along the way.
In Oceanside, the Bennett family faced a challenging chapter. Their daughter has special needs and distance learning wasn’t cutting it. They decided to keep their son in the Oceanside School District but enrolled their daughter in a nearby private school. Mother Vanessa Bennett had to quit her job to manage both children’s busy schedules.
“It’s not easy,” she said. “My husband is the only one that’s providing right now for us, but he takes on extra hours. He’s on the overtime list and we do what we can to get by.”
In the South Bay, the Gutierrez family found a way to balance the demanding schedules of careers and distance learning. They realized along the way that it was time for a technology upgrade at home.
“We started — between myself, my wife and my oldest daughter — fighting for the main computer, so we had to make sure there was an upgrade around December. It was Christmas gifts because we just needed it,” he said.
As the children in each of these houses watched their parents adjust to a new normal, they also realized the world they knew was changing.
“I miss being in a classroom. This may sound weird, but I miss the smell,” 12-year-old Nina Gutierrez said. “That smell of people and that scent that they use, the oils they spray around the classroom — just to make it smell good.”
Her little sister said she especially missed Friday afternoons.
“We would have this Fun Friday thing after the schoolwork and I like doing it online but I liked doing it more in real life,” she said.
Brothers Lucas and Jesse Feehrer both said they missed playing with their friends. And while they missed their classrooms, they also showed resilience and were eager to see what the future of education would look like. That hope from a child is a reminder to parents, sometimes life’s most valuable lessons happen outside the classroom.
“We’ve grown stronger, and it’s surprising,” parent Adrian Gutierrez said. “For a while, it was hard!”
While Lauren Feehrer agreed and said: “We’ve all been transformed in some way through this experience of COVID. For us, it was really shifting the dynamic of school and doing it completely remote.”
She and her family found peace escaping in nature between virtual classes. She said you don’t have to take a road trip to do the same. San Diego County is a beautiful backyard for everyone and there are so many trails and areas to explore.
“Every opportunity you have to be able to get outside with your kids is just so great,” she said.
Gutierrez echoed that idea and said: “We’re focused on walking and the physical exercise and the balance of health, all that stuff.”