“You’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution.”

Those words have echoed throughout my life. Never have they been truer than right now in the time of COVID while parents are frustrated, disappointed, and anxious.

I have the benefit, by virtue of being the President of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, of being part of numerous conversations each week related to the strategies to reopen schools. But even with the access to the decisionmakers, I get it. I’m frustrated, disappointed, and anxious too! The announcement last week that Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) will be distanced through January 2021, while not surprising, did not come with the needed clarity about what is ahead to provide relief.

Throughout the last few months, planning for the fall has been incredibly stressful for our families. With the announcement last week, parents are now dealing with previously unthinkable pressure – imagining 5 more months of juggling fulltime work with the demands of being a fulltime (at home) classroom aid.

Parents of young children and students with special needs are particularly impacted at this moment in time. Parents previously shared these tasks with skilled educators. What will this look like in the fall? We don’t yet know, leaving parents with all too familiar feelings -- frustration, disappointment, and anxiety.

While our older elementary and secondary students may not need the same level of supervision, parents wrestle with other concerns; “are they on pace to be prepared for post-secondary pursuits?” Will the material missed during 4th quarter affect their ability to understand the next subject in their trajectory? And, maybe more important in this time of COVID, is my child okay?

Everything loved and previously part of day-to-day life (friends, sports, adored adults), has been stripped away for another five months, leaving parents (unsurprisingly) feeling frustrated, disappointed, and anxious.

On August 6th, with the presentation to the Board of Education, parents will have “the big reveal” of the fall distance learning plan. Here is where we have a choice. Are we going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?

Certainly, when MCPS delivers the proposed plan, there will be plenty to criticize, of that I am sure! Planning for a system of 166,000 means delivering information intended to address the entire system, not the nuances of individual schools and certainly not down to the granular situations of our individual families. The plan will likely be silent on a host of concerns that are critically important to our parents.

Some will act on their initial impulse and take to social media. The feeds will suddenly fill with opinion on what MCPS should’ve done and suggestions for what could have been. Others will defend MCPS and the plan set forward, wanting to balance the conversation. This will be countered by more criticism and sadly, many of those feeds will devolve (too often into areas of personal attacks). In my mind, this is being part of the problem.

So what does being part of the solution look like?

1. Taking a deep breath, for starters! Most parents are not teachers but most teachers (and administrators and staff) are parents. So, being part of the solution means we begin with assuming these parent-minded educators engaged in hundreds of conversations, thinking about thousands of individual situations and collectively came up with a framework that could be implemented by every school. Solution-mindedness is to accept this was created with thoughtful care and the best intentions and outcomes for all students. Pause and think, does this message I’m about to email/post/verbalize reflect this belief?

2. Moving from “this is your job” to “this is our job” and as we are able, contributing to the education of not only “my” student but “our” students. School personnel are likely not equipped to implement this plan without the help of the parent community. This means offering our collective time, talent, and treasure to support the schools in the execution. In the recent parent survey, 60% of the 55,000 respondents noted that if school was online in the fall, an adult family member would be available to support the student with distance learning. How can we engage those adults to move from helping “my” child to helping “our” children?

3. Foster an attitude “there is always room for one more.” Many families are making accommodations now to create social-emotional opportunities for their kids. Some are combining those connectors with educational elements but more are just looking for ways their kids can see friends and connect (while safely social distancing). But, what if we made room for one more? What about a child not as easily connected? Certainly, parents can encourage older kids to check on their friends they haven’t heard from in a while. For younger students, parents can check with last year’s teacher or school counselor to ask if there is a student they might recommend for a socially-distanced playdate or an opportunity to connect online with your child. As parents are able to enrich the options for their own children, think about making room for one more child in that experience. Imagine the difference that can make in our community-at-large.

Admittedly, over the last few months I am one of the parents that has spent many moments frustrated, disappointed, and anxious. But, as I’ve worked with MCPS on a small piece of the recovery plan, I find I spend far more moments hopeful. I’ve seen tremendous dedication from our system and they have shouldered the unthinkable task of creating a distanced school system. I’ve seen their commitment to creating the educational rigor needed for the students’ advancement. I’ve also seen great care in both the system officials but the community partners in addressing the ongoing physical and social-emotional needs of our students. Many PTA leaders are reaching out, daily it seems, asking for how the PTAs can help students in these coming months. I continue to urge our MCPS leaders – let them help!

There is a tremendous amount of work ahead of us but I remain hopeful, with solution-minded effort, we can create benefits for all our kids.

Cynthia Simonson is mom to 4 children, two MCPS graduates and two current MCPS students. She is the President of Montgomery County Council of PTAs, installed into the office February 25, 2020, just weeks before the closure of schools. Prior to serving as the MCCPTA President, she was elected three terms as MCCPTA Vice President of Educational Issues. She resides in Derwood.

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