Local parent prepares children for uncharted school year

Local parent prepares children for uncharted school year

As the historic remote-learning school year begins, many parents are trying to strike a balance between work and preparing their kids for the first nine weeks of school — and possibly beyond that.

Shea Kennedy, who has a sixth- and an eighth-grader in the Bainbridge Island School District, is taking a simple approach to the ever-changing demands that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused to school operations — don’t plan.

“I have been telling myself and everyone I work with to not plan, which is so contradictory to my usual advice to parents,” Kennedy said, noting the only things she can plan for her kids right now are sleeping, eating healthy, exercising and creating a relaxing space for them.

Kennedy runs two island businesses – Building Blocks Northwest and The Guidance Team, both of which are devoted to teaching children to manage their behaviors and progress in academic areas. She is a behavior analyst who has been working independently and consulting with schools since 2001, her website says.

For someone used to conducting multiple tasks at once, Kennedy said it is difficult to devote your time, attention and energy to everyone.

“It’s tough,” she said about the jugglings of a single mom amid the pandemic. “I have to be really diligent about my own schedule and self-care since I work with so many kids and families on the island. My priority has to be to take care of me first, then my kids and then my job.

“It’s a balance,” Kennedy continued. “Last spring, there were weeks my kids received my best self and other times my work did. I had to be patient with myself knowing I can’t help everyone all of the time.

“Independence is key for everyone. If I can teach my kids and clients to do more on their own it is helpful for them to grow in confidence and helpful for parents to have time to focus on their work.”

In regard to the current schedule and curriculum for BISD students, Kennedy said the district is doing “the best they can” to create appropriate options for all students.

“We have to be patient and wait to see what they come up with,” she said. “So far, I have been very impressed with what Bainbridge Schools has laid out for us. We are really lucky to have such a great group of people working to make this as good a school year as can be…under the circumstances.”

At a time when many young kids are anxious to leave the house and be with friends again, Kennedy said her children are “happy to be home.”

“They were both worried about the virus, and this definitely provides some peace of mind,” she said. “I’m glad the district chose to go all remote to start. It will allow time for the teachers and students to get back into a groove and focus on social-emotional learning to start without the added burden of being in-person and all that entails.

“I am also reaching out to…parents to create opportunities for socialization and peer learning,” Kennedy added. “That piece is going to be crucial for mental health.”

Kennedy said the common core standards of the curriculum are set in stone, but all the new platforms and teaching the kids how to best utilize them might be a learning curve for all involved. She also said she’s looking forward to the “social-emotional” lessons that she’s seen in other states and how it might compare to BISD.

“It will definitely be a year of grace for everyone,” she said. “I’m thinking we all might be tech wizards when this is over. The worst is when everyone is online at once doing Zoom. We just don’t have enough bandwidth to cover all of us at the same time. You never know what you’ll get day-to-day.”

As for what lies ahead, Kennedy is planning for remote learning to be the “new normal.”

“Who knows what will happen,” she said. “I think two things are extremely important for kids to practice right now. One, effort — just try your best, and two, know when to ask for help. If you can do those two things, I think it will all be OK. This is another opportunity for us to learn and each new thing we learn only makes us stronger.”

The first day of school at the Kennedy household was to start with an early wakeup, followed by a healthy breakfast, before logging into classes to begin wading in the unknown waters of a virtual school year. Once the school day is through, Kennedy said she might make a special dinner or grab takeout (if the day was too exhausting) to talk about what went well and what the struggles might have been.

“It takes the edge off of things to have that open communication a few times a day,” she said.

All in all, Kennedy is cautiously optimistic about the start of the school year and is open-minded about the potential struggles that might come with virtual learning.

“I’m just really looking forward to this year and hoping we can all make the best of it,” she said. “I’m sure there will be struggles and ups and downs but I’d love to see how our community can work together to help each other out.

“So far since the virus has been around I’ve seen a lot of people offering their time or skills to help others. That’s why I chose to live and work here and raise my kids here. Bainbridge is really a special place.”

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