Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, “Bring Your Kid to Work Day” has become a regular occurrence for many parents. Without the possibility of childcare or staying home, the only option for some is to bring school-aged children to work.
Cynthia Jones, co-owner of the second-hand shop From One to Another, is living that reality.
Her two sons, who are in sixth and eighth grades, have been coming into the shop with Jones and her husband Patrick to complete their virtual learning assignments.
Connor, an eighth grade honors student at West Frederick Middle, said he’s found the virtual learning pretty easy so far. His assignments are given in the form of playlists, and he’s given loose deadlines for when to get a large chunk of work done.
It’s fairly self-driven. And while Connor can stay on track and get his work done in time, his brother Kaden is just starting sixth grade and is not used to juggling multiple classes, teachers and assignments at once. To also stay present and engaged during online meetings is a challenge for younger students, something that Jones has seen in her sons and their classmates.
“They turn their camera off and they turn their mic on mute and they’re walking around the kitchen getting a snack,” she said. “You can’t do that.”
Gillian Berluti is experiencing the same struggle that Jones is, with three children aged 5, 8 and 11. As the manager of Firestone’s Market on Market Street, she has to be at work every day. But her husband, a teacher at Montgomery County Public Schools, also has to be attentive and focused for his virtual learning sessions.
But none of her children’s schedules line up. There’s no one convenient time for them to all take a break. To best accommodate each family member’s schedule, they decided to have the children go to work with Berluti and have them work in an unused office space above the shop.
“There was no break in the schedule to move the kids home, or to have them all have lunch, or to go outside and have recess or go to a park or something,” Berluti said. “So you know, it’s been tricky, it’s been challenging getting used to the schedule.”
The schedule is especially hard on her 5-year-old, who is just starting Kindergarten.
“She’s been struggling to sit in front of a screen for say up to four hours a day,” Berluti said. “That’s a lot to ask of a five-year-old.”
The situation has left Berluti feeling what she described as a new level of mom stress.
“Because you’re trying to do your job, but you’re also trying to do what’s best for your kids, and you only have the capacity to do so much,” she said. “So you start to feel like you’re failing one or the other... And that’s a tough feeling.”
Berluti’s husband comes to pick up the kids after he’s done with all his live sessions, and they stay home for the rest of the day. While he continues to work, Berluti’s 11-year-old son helps his siblings get onto their remaining Google Meet classes.
Ultimately, Berluti has decided to look for a tutor to help the family out, so the kids can stay at home and have access to the backyard during the day. However, finding an available tutor is proving to be difficult.
They’re in high demand anywhere you look — Facebook, Craigslist, Care.com. But she’s determined.
“At first before the school year started, we really didn’t think we needed much help, to be honest,” Berluti said. “And then when it actually got rolling it was clear that we can’t do this on our own.”
However, tutoring is not within every family’s budget, including the Jones’. Cynthia is still working on finding the best schedule for both her sons and her business. While they could occasionally stay home alone, she doesn’t want them to fall behind on school or distract one another during the day.
“I don’t want for them to be affected so greatly with their education because of this,” Jones said. “I know everybody’s in the same boat and I know that the teachers are ... doing the best that they can.”
She’s glad they’re not in the school building itself, where the virus could easily spread.
“I know that they made this decision for the safety of everyone and the students and teachers...,” Jones said, “But it definitely puts a lot of pressure on us as parents and small business owners to juggle all of this at once.”
Going forward, Jones is trying to be as positive as possible, to make sure her sons feel supported and capable during this uncertain time.
“I might think in my mind, ‘oh my gosh, I don’t think I can get through today let alone tomorrow, let alone the rest of the semester,’” Jones said. “But I try to mask that with a positive attitude for them, for their sake.”