Back to School: Coming Together in New Ways

Fall 2020 has been full of challenges for families to navigate, but there's also a lot of resilience and growth to be found from change. Hear from a few of our own parents on how they've adapted for this school year

Jenna Wawrzyniec

Content Specialist

As a parent, navigating back to school decisions has been overwhelming – there is a conflict of too much information, yet at the same time not enough. As if grappling with this decision for our own immediate families wasn't daunting enough, we are further reminded of this collective uncertainty and indecisiveness every time we "plug in" to the world on our social feeds and news cycle.

As a parent in my own circle, I have been coping with it rather cliché with reminders that there is "no right or wrong, one-size-fits-all answer." I don't say this lightly though; I wholeheartedly mean it. While this pandemic may be a shared experience around the world, individually, families are experiencing it differently. We must lead with respect and empathy where these differences arise.

Here in our Guidepost community, programming immediately diversified with respect to these variances. Our network was among the first to re-open physical campuses after an initial two-week closure in March, launching Emergency Care for Essential Workers. Around the same time, the need to better bridge classroom to home, educator to parent, grew more relevant as at-home learning became necessary or preferential for some. Family Framework was born as an immediate, free virtual resource focused on helping parents leverage Montessori philosophy at home, followed by more robust, full-time education programs via Guidepost Montessori Virtual School.

Gaps in accessibility grew clearer, too, prompting our parent company to innovate with greater collaboration. In partnership with Alt School, Guidepost Album was born as a low-cost alternative to accessing high-quality Montessori Elementary curriculum. A School Partnership program has taken off in public and private Montessori communities, where we work with other educators in unity to ensure continuity of education by sharing our established Montessori learning platform. Our international MACTE-accredited Prepared Montessorian Institute went virtual, helping to break down accessibility barriers for those seeking approachable Montessori training. Meanwhile, our Montessori for Military initiative has continued to grow in scope and reach. 

Feeling overwhelmed by uncertainty is inevitable with so much change, but there is something deeper happening here – and that is progress. Collectively, this pandemic has created an opportunity for progress in education reform. On a micro-level for us as families, this applies to us too. We are resilient, and the back-to-school decision doesn’t have to be dreadful if we stay focused on adapting, overcoming, and progressing.

If you are a bit weighed down lately from navigating all of the larger unknowns, read some firsthand accounts below from those in our community who’ve already made their Fall enrollment decisions! Each parent chose a different path, and each has been able to restore order, calm and balance.

Guidepost Montessori Virtual School

Kerry and her elementary-aged son join us from a military community in Maryland – first in the Spring to close out the last academic year and now for the next academic year. Brand new to Guidepost and to Virtual, I asked Kerry for her honest take on how the transition has been.

Any tips for others on how to initially cultivate this new structure/routine?

Be patient during the learning curve; it can take a while for parents and kids to get the hang of the virtual environment, but it is important not to panic if there are technical difficulties. Those will get worked out. Kids on a whole seem to adjust very quickly. Making sure there is a quiet dedicated spot with as few distractions as possible is also helpful. If our children see us panicking or stressing, they may pick up on that and have a more difficult time adjusting.

How do you balance his virtual school with your own time/energy/needs as a parent? 

The transition wasn't too terribly difficult for me because I was able to work part-time from home. Having the structure of the virtual school day allowed me to tend to my work tasks while Charlie was occupied with school. I had the flexibility to check in on him and assist him as needed.

Has there been an unexpected silver lining to this choice? 

I love that I've been able to observe and learn more about my son’s learning and how he is responding throughout the day. Before, I relied on teachers to relay to me how he was doing, but I always felt like I was missing important feedback. I have become more connected with him through communication with his guide and my ability to really dig into his work with him.

In-Home Care

Emily and her husband Nick are busy dual-career teleworking parents with a booming toddler, James, who is approaching his second birthday. A recent move from New York City to the Jersey suburbs brought them back to square one with childcare. Previously, they used a non-Montessori in-home childcare program and were already sold on the convenience of in-home care. Now, with Guidepost, they’re thrilled to secure an in-home experience that leverages the early childhood Montessori pedagogy.

What has the matching process been like now that you’re going through it firsthand with your new community in New Jersey? 

We are not starting officially until September, and so we have been in the beginning phase of matchmaking with other families. With the help of some localized info. sessions, it was organized, quick and easy to rally together and meet other families who are on the same page as us. Since mid-summer, we have already formed a pod, identified our “host family” and been matched with a guide who is completing training. Now, we are just excited to start!

Was it difficult to agree upon a “host home” within your pod? How does the experience differ if you are not the host home? 

Some families really want to be hosts – there is a strong convenience aspect to hosting, and they may already feel that their child learns well in their home space. For us, we knew going into the match-making that we wanted to be able to place James a little bit further out of the nest, plus he was already used to that “drop off” routine from his previous in-home care option. It is a personal choice, ultimately, but not hosting will help us carve out a bit more definition between school and home. The home set-ups that come with this program are primarily for the host home, but we are excited that all pod families do get access to Montessori materials for home use!

Back on Campus

Over in Northern Virginia at Guidepost Montessori at Broadlands, longtime Guidepost parents, Lipika and Jason, had just shared in the joy of seeing their toddler daughter move up to the Children’s House right as the initial Spring closures hit. Resuming in-person learning for their daughter felt like the right move for them, and so they made the leap back to campus under the adapted health and safety protocols ahead of fall, back in June.

What makes you feel at ease about how school is currently operating? 

Guidepost always had very stringent cleanliness protocols, even prior to COVID. The increased health and safety procedures are more robust and have helped to put our minds at ease.

What advice do you have for other families who may feel anxiety or hesitant about returning to school? 

This is not an easy decision for parents, but I highly recommend talking to the school administration to have your questions and concerns answered. If feasible, schedule a Zoom call to see firsthand how carefully the school is operating and how happy the kids are.

Meet the Author

Jenna Wawrzyniec

Jenna is a trained journalist and writer whose parenting journey transformed after implementing Montessori at home with her three children. She is a passionate advocate for bridging Montessori to the mainstream as a means to build community, empower parent-child relationships, and honor learning as the lifelong journey that it is.

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