It has been nearly a year since families had to wrestle with one of the toughest decisions of their lives — whether to send their kids to brick-and-mortar classrooms, or have them learn at home via computer.

Because of Covid-19, the choices caused a great deal of consternation and debate among families in New Tampa, along with the rest of the state. We talked to three of those parents last July, each of whom had different and complicated choices to make.

So, how did those decisions work out?

Well, we caught up with those families as the 2020-21 school year was coming to a close, and they all say they would make the same decision again, even though the results were mixed.

Laurie Gonzalez and her son Grayson.

Laurie Gonzalez actually had two decisions to make — should she return to teaching in a classroom at Turner-Bartels K-8 School, despite having an auto-immune disease, and should she allow her son Grayson to attend classes at Benito Middle School?

The answer, in the end, was no to both questions.

Gonzalez was fortunate, however. The administration at Turner-Bartels accommodated her health concerns, and she was not forced back into the classroom. She says that other teaching friends of hers weren’t so lucky.

“The administration at my school deserves some recognition for being amazing,” she says. “Other schools were not as flexible.”

Gonzalez admits that teaching virtually paled in comparison to teaching in a classroom, and it wasn’t her preferred method of doing her job. Even so, she says the school year went about as well as it could have.

However, she says Grayson did not have as good an experience. 

While he had great teachers, Gonzalez says, Grayson did not enjoy learning online. “There was too much information being thrown at a 12-year-old,” she says.

Socially, eLearning also had a negative impact, because Grayson is outgoing and engaging. Gonzalez says it was “mentally taxing” for him to stare at a screen all day. While he had his friends in the video gaming community, he missed person-to-person contact.

As 2020-21 school year comes to a close, however, Laurie does not regret her decision, because she achieved her primary goal: keeping her family safe.

“I would 100 percent make the same decision again, because it kept us from getting coronavirus,” Gonzalez says. “I had two family members pass away from coronavirus complications, so I am still taking it very seriously.”

Other Decisions, Other Results

Despite the spread of Covid-19 last summer, and the uncertain future of the virus, Lisa Ling did not hesitate about returning her first- and fourth-grade children to school last August, convinced that schools would be taking the proper safety measures. 

Her children attend Hunter’s Green Elementary (HGE), and disconnecting from the school community, which she says her family loves, was never a serious option. 

Her decision was fortified by the end of the 2019-20 school year when, at the onset of the pandemic, all schools had to shut down in March and everyone was forced online. It was a difficult few months for her kids, and one Ling didn’t want to repeat that situation for an entire school year.

But, sending her children back to school turned out to be the right choice for Ling and her husband Eric.

“I definitely don’t regret the decision at all,” she says. “It went as well as it could have, considering the crazy circumstances we found ourselves in. The kids adapted to wearing the masks pretty well. They didn’t love it, but they were okay with it.”

Ling says there were very few cases of Covid-19 at HGE. Her kids did have to quarantine for 10 days once, but that was due to cases at their after-school daycare. She says most of the cases reported at HGE were due to exposure away from the school.

Ling says her children also were fortunate to have the same teachers all year, even as shortages and changes plagued many schools and caused a great deal of shuffling in many classrooms.

“It was a pretty good year for our kids,” Ling says. “I can’t imagine them having spent a whole year out of school.”

One Decision, Then Another 

Meanwhile, Connor Kelly, a 17-year-old Wharton senior, decided to do eLearning for his final year of high school, mainly because he was concerned about bringing the coronavirus home to his parents, Cindy and Patrick.

But, after one semester, and with Covid-19 vaccinations right around the corner, he decided to return to the classroom at Wharton in January.

Truthfully, he says, neither choice turned out as well as he had originally hoped. While he enjoyed the safety and freedom of online learning, he felt the instruction was lacking and didn’t think it was administered very well. He understands it was a difficult experience for everyone involved, “but it was a draining experience,” he says.

School wasn’t the same as he remembered when he returned in January. He’s not sure what he expected, but it wasn’t what he got. It was easier, less challenging. Different.

But, Connor regrets nothing. He loaded up on dual enrollment and AP classes as part of a challenging online workload in the fall, will graduate No. 8 in his class with a grade-point-average higher than 6.0, and plans to study accounting in the fall at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

As far as he is concerned, it wasn’t a great journey his final year at Wharton, but he arrived at his destination.

“I wound up where I wanted to be,” Connor says. “And I’m fortunate that the pandemic really didn’t touch that much. I was very fortunate. So, the decision I made led me to where I am, and ultimately I stayed on track.”

Cindy agrees. “I think it went as well as anything in the year of Covid 19. Everyone had to implement new and different ways to keep things moving along. Do I feel good about the decision? What I feel is very thankful to all the teachers and other team members in Hillsborough County education who worked so hard and made sacrifices so our kids could continue the learn, to participate in activities, and in some cases, to eat during this challenging time.”

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