Perspectives: 10 National Parents Share Their Hopes and Plans for the New School Year

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Verywell / Christian Alzate

For our Perspectives series, we are interviewing diverse parents from around the country on how they're preparing for the 2021-2022 school year.

From learning pods and homeschooling to masked in-person classes, the educational experience has taken a variety of forms throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Families everywhere have done their best to manage the forced flexibility and changes that came with their kids' learning.

With the new school year around the corner, parents might be feeling a mix of emotions as they get themselves and their kids prepared. They may even be wondering how other families are feeling or what back-to-school (post-pandemic) might look like for them.

We reached out to 10 diverse parents from across the country. These moms and dads talk honestly about their family members' personal challenges—including the impact of the pandemic on their kids' mental health—and share their hopes, fears, and plans for the 2021-2022 school year.

Nanea Hoffman

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Nanea Hoffman

  • Partner: Bob
  • Age: 50
  • Location: Santa Clara, CA
  • Occupation: Writer and founder of Sweatpants & Coffee
  • Kids' ages: 15, 23

What Will the 2021-2022 School Year Look Like For Your Family?

My daughter will be returning to in-person school in the fall. Iʻm happy about this. Our county was one of the early epicentres of the COVID-19 outbreak and the second to go into lockdown, which has been difficult all around.

As of now, Santa Clara County vaccination numbers are high for residents over the age of 12. Between that and the safety measures taken by the school district, we feel confident sheʻll be safe.

How Has the Last Year and a Half Impacted You as a Family? 

The biggest impact we saw was on our daughter. At first, because we knew she was grieving the loss of the end of her 8th-grade year at her small, close-knit middle school and the inability to say goodbye to her friends who were headed off to different schools, we treated her gently.

We didnʻt want to add to the stress. She has been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and some executive function issues, and virtual school was terrible for that. It helps her anxiety to be able to read her teachersʻ faces and to be able to use her classmates as additional resources—something that was just not possible on Zoom.

She hardly knew anyone because there was no chance to socialize. I suspect she was depressed, [as she was] disappearing into her lair, spending most of her time on TikTok with her online friends, and falling asleep in class.

We set up screen time limits on her devices, she did virtual therapy, and we did our best to create positive family experiences like an RV trip and movie nights, but thatʻs no substitute for what was supposed to be her freshman year.

What Are Your Hopes and Goals for the Upcoming School Year? 

Iʻd like to see her bloom. Sheʻs such a funny, smart, social girl. I look forward to her making connections with fellow students and being involved in activities.

Her school resumed in-person school for interested families in March, and the transformation in her was immediate. She became animated and energetic. She was happier and more present.

Even the way she carried herself physically changed. Her school-related anxiety went way down, and she was less reluctant to use her 504 accommodations. She even joined the softball team!

Sheʻs excited to go back in the fall and is referring to it as her “actual first year of high school.” More of that, please.

Justin Walker

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Justin Walker

  • Partner: Njeri Millner
  • Age: 39
  • Location: Raleigh, NC
  • Occupation: Engineer
  • Kids' ages: 7, 10, 12

What Will the 2021-2022 School Year Look Like For Your Family?

My children will be returning face-to-face. We are a bit apprehensive but will make whatever changes are needed if the local metrics change.

How Has the Last Year and a Half Impacted You as a Family? 

As a family, we were actually very lucky during Covid. My wife is an elementary special education teacher and was able to become the virtual special education teacher for her school during the pandemic so she could work from home.

My son, our youngest, is high risk so this was definitely a gift for our family. Even though I was still going to work each day, I am so thankful our children and my wife were able to spend this last year together, safe at home.

What Are Your Hopes and Goals for the Upcoming School Year? 

My wife and I have gone back and forth on the pros and cons of vaccinating our oldest who is 12. I'm hoping we come to an agreement and can begin to resume life similar to what we once knew.

For now, we are continuing to mask and social distance but are participating in outdoor activities. Our son is interested in basketball so we might dive into that this fall.

Other than that, the return to face-to-face school for my children and my wife is on the horizon. We are anxious with both anticipation and a bit of anxiety.

Verna Volker

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Verna Volker

  • Partner: Tom Volker 
  • Age: 48
  • Location: Minneapolis, MN 
  • Occupation: Teacher and Founder of Native Women Running
  • Kids' ages: 8, 12, 15, 17

What Will the 2021-2022 School Year Look Like For Your Family?

Our upcoming school will be fully in-person. The children attend a private school so masks will be required until the students get vaccinated. It may be different for my older kids. 

How Has the Last Year and a Half Impacted You as a Family? 

The past year has been crazy. Our teen boys were able to attend full in-person with guidelines, but both came down with COVID-19. One son caught it twice. The younger two went from hybrid learning, to distance, and then to full in-person. 

If there was any COVID-19 in school, the kids were immediately back to distance learning. It definitely was a year of flexibility with my schedule as a teacher and my husband's as well. Our kids are resilient and made it through the year. 

What Are Your Hopes and Goals for the Upcoming School Year? 

Our goal this year is to have a better year. My son will be a senior and I am thankful that COVID-19 vaccines are happening for his age group. We hope that is possible with our younger two. Our family has always been close, so this season was good for us all.

Gillian DiMuzio

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Gillian DiMuzio

  • Partner: Melissa DiMuzio
  • Age: 39
  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Occupation: Literacy Clinical Faculty for the Urban Teachers Program at Johns Hopkins University
  • Kids' ages: 7, 10

What Will the 2021-2022 School Year Look Like For Your Family?

Our children will be heading back to in-person next school year.  Their school slowly phased the students back to four out of five days in person for the last couple of months of the year.  We saw a big improvement in our children’s interest in school and their moods, so we are apprehensively looking forward to a “normal” school year next year.

Virtual school was difficult for both kids for different reasons.  One struggled academically and one struggled due to a lack of social interaction. I do feel anxious about the children’s health and I hope that vaccinations for younger kids will be approved before the next school year.

How Has the Last Year and a Half Impacted You as a Family? 

As I imagined it did for all families, this past year has shined a light on all of us as individuals and as a family.  What was there before became more apparent during the pandemic.

I feel like all four of us became extreme versions of ourselves at times. I withdrew a bit. My wife busied herself with a thousand pandemic projects. My daughter talked for about six months straight. My son attempted to disappear into video games and books.

I personally felt, for the first part of the pandemic, that I was going through a sort of mental hibernation. As time went on, we all settled into our new normal and learned to strike a balance between our personal self-soothing behaviors and functioning as a family.  

What Are Your Hopes and Goals for the Upcoming School Year? 

My two goals for myself are to not stop “seeing” myself and my immediate family and to not waste time. I want to be productive with both my work and play. 

I don’t want to waste time on unfulfilling endeavors. That means deciding what endeavors are fulfilling for me which is not something that mothers/primary caregivers tend to do as they are often caring for others. 

For my children, I want to encourage them to lean into who they are. School can be a difficult place for kids both socially and emotionally. There is a lot of pressure that kids feel to fit in, to be “good enough” in all the ways. I want my kids to know that they are enough just as they are. 

Oddly, I had started thinking of these goals before being asked about them.  Perhaps because the world is starting to open up again and I can see bits of our “old lives” rearing their ugly heads. 

There are things I want to hold onto from the past year, lessons learned, and things I don’t want to forget. Above all, I’ve learned that if I have to live through a global pandemic, there is no one I’d rather do it with than the family I already have. 

Christina Brown

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Christina Brown

  • Co-parent: Cory Henderson
  • Age: 34
  • Location: Union, NJ
  • Occupation: Founder & CEO of Brown Sugar & Company
  • Kids' ages: 3, 7

What Will the 2021-2022 School Year Look Like For Your Family?

My outlook on the 2021-2022 school year is different for both of my children. My 3-year-old son has been back at daycare in person for a year now. His daycare’s stringent approach to COVID protocols made me feel safe and comfortable sending him back.

As for my 7-year-old daughter, she has maintained her school attendance virtually and will be heading back in person this school year. I am nervous about the prospect of 2020 occurring again. However, I do look forward to my kids socializing with other children their age regularly again.

How Has the Last Year and a Half Impacted You as a Family? 

The pandemic revealed so much to me not just about myself, but my entire family. I think the greatest takeaway has been the importance of cherishing time spent with family.

As a result of those months under quarantine, my family grew a lot closer and made memories that will last a lifetime. For me personally, the pandemic also highlighted challenges that parents like me have struggled with.

I’ve built a strong community of moms on my platform LoveBrownSugar over the years and I started to hear some common themes in our stories. That, in turn, birthed a new business idea to cater to the needs of my children and others like them.

The world slowing down gave me an opportunity to spend more time with my family. Without the opportunity to do so, I can’t say we’d be in the dynamic position we’re in today—stronger, deeply rooted in love, and prepared to embark on a new business endeavor that will help other families like ours.

What Are Your Hopes and Goals for the Upcoming School Year? 

My goal for this upcoming school year is to support my kids as they transition back to “normal,” pre-pandemic life. It’s our responsibility as parents to ensure their needs are met mentally, emotionally, and physically so they can be the best version of themselves.

I hope our kids can move forward and acclimate to consistent in-person interactions and school activities again, without the prospect of stressors and triggers from the pandemic. Aside from this, I am really committed to maintaining our “together time.”

If the pandemic has shown me anything, it’s that tomorrow is not promised and I will do everything in my power to give my family the best life possible.

Zaiba Hasan

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Zaiba Hasan

  • Partner: Zafar Hasan
  • Age: 40s
  • Location: Washington D.C.
  • Occupation: Mama, Podcaster, Spiritual Parent Coach, Interfaith Mediator, Mompreneur at Mommying While Muslim.
  • Kids' ages: 8, 10, 15, 17

What Will the 2021-2022 School Year Look Like For Your Family?

My older two are heading back in person (after virtual learning) to high school in the fall. My younger two have been homeschooled by me for the last 18 months and are headed back to a small private in-person school in the fall.  

So 2021-2022 will look a lot quieter than it has been in the Hasan household. Truth be told, I am having pretty big emotions about the transition.

On one hand, I am excited for myself in having some time to do my own work during daylight hours and I am also excited for my children who have missed that sense of normalcy with their peers, classes, and schedules. It's my son's senior year, so I am thankful he can experience it normally and end his schooling on a positive note.

On the other hand, I get a pit in my stomach knowing how quiet my house will be in the fall. But, I know logically going back to normal will be the best thing for all of us.

How Has the Last Year and a Half Impacted You as a Family? 

We have had a pretty tumultuous few years for a variety of reasons, most specifically due to the emotional growth of teenagers impacted by COVID-19. 

As we all know, this is not the norm for their development so they have experienced some growing pains as a result. However, I feel what we did learn as a family is that no matter how hard things get, at the end of the day we all have each other’s backs and we WILL weather the storm if we stick together. That growth as a family unit was huge. 

I also learned a lot about my children's unique personalities because I got a front-row seat to experience them in a variety of ways (mom, mentor, therapist, teacher). 

In wearing all those hats, I feel blessed that I was able to witness different facets of my children's personalities, learning skills/challenges, and likes/dislikes in a very intimate way.  

What Are Your Hopes and Goals for the Upcoming School Year? 

Personally, I need to find more balance in my life. The last 18 plus months have been dedicated to the family and my own personal priorities ended up taking a backseat. My goal is to get that balance back. For my children, our goal is to get back to "normal" and all that ultimately comes with that.

Brandon Foley

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Brandon Foley

  • Partner: Jaime Foley
  • Age: 47
  • Location: Edina, MN
  • Occupation: Vice President Strategic Partnerships 
  • Kids' ages: 14, 16

What Will the 2021-2022 School Year Look Like For Your Family?

Our children will both be entering high school (ninth and eleventh grade) on a full-time, in-person basis. We are happy to have them return to “normal,” structured schedules that provide them with personal daily routines for regulated self-care and wellness. 

One area of apprehension returning to in-person learning is the challenge for our child who suffers from social anxiety and integration to large group settings like cafeterias; being home was a haven for him. 

From our perspective, it is essential for the children to be in a classroom setting where they are more engaged with teachers, classmates, and teammates and spending far less time at home and behind screens.

How Has the Last Year and a Half Impacted You as a Family? 

The past year and a half have been challenging for the kids’ learning, with the most detrimental impact being on their mental health. We have witnessed an overwhelming feeling of isolation, depression, and loss of childhood experiences in our children's lives. 

The inability to interact with their friends and classmates combined with the cancellation of all social and physical activities has deprived them of key growth and learning. 

At home, we have observed both children developing what we would describe as “bad habits,” including more television/screen time, poor dietary choices, and most importantly, a lack of a structured sleep schedule.

What Are Your Hopes and Goals for the Upcoming School Year? 

Our hopes for the upcoming school year are that our children will have an “easy” and seamless integration back into everyday school life.

For ourselves, as parents, there will no longer be the need to micromanage or “nag” our children at home, this will give us more time daily to lead healthier, more balanced, and reenergized routines for ourselves which ultimately benefits our entire family.

Cai Nowicki

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Cai Nowicki

  • Partner: Emily Nowicki
  • Age: 34
  • Location: Raleigh, NC
  • Occupation: Computer programmer
  • Kid's age: 11

What Will the 2021-2022 School Year Look Like For Your Family?

Our daughter is heading back to in-person schooling. It will be the first time she will be in the middle school building since she completed 6th grade as a fully virtual student.

I'm ready for her to go back, and I think she's ready to go back. She misses seeing her friends in person (although there are other children her age in our neighborhood) and has struggled with staying on task during virtual classes. However, she's nervous too.

As both a trans kid and a special needs student, my daughter has a lot of anxiety about school; virtual school took away the social anxiety, and now she has to switch back again.

How Has the Last Year and a Half Impacted You as a Family? 

The biggest change for our family wasn't really about COVID at all. The company that managed our apartment complex wanted to redevelop and so they made everyone move out in December 2020/January 2021.

We'd lived there almost four years and had no plans to leave anytime soon, so this definitely shook things up for us. We were lucky enough to find a new place to live only a few miles from the old complex, but it's more expensive here, so that was another adjustment.

What Are Your Hopes and Goals for the Upcoming School Year? 

I just want my daughter to enjoy her time at school, make some new friends, and regain some of the time she lost to just "be a kid." I also plan to have her vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as she turns 12. I think that will make all of us feel safer.

Uzma Jafri

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Uzma Jafri

  • Age: 43
  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Occupation: Physician
  • Kids' ages: 6, 10, 11, 13

What Will the 2021-2022 School Year Look Like For Your Family?

Our kids are continuing home education, which we chose to do last school year. The oldest had actually started as of age 11 (pre-pandemic) because we did not want our son to go to middle school when either really terrible bullying or school shootings begin to happen.

We tried virtual learning early last year and the kids were miserable, communications were poor despite A LOT of it with teachers, and it just couldn't be managed with our work schedules. It was easier to keep them home off devices and with their noses in books, the way we grew up.

Virtual learning was particularly bad for one of our children who has a traumatic brain injury. Our kindergartner also struggled because online learning is just doesn't work for some kids.

How Has the Last Year and a Half Impacted You as a Family? 

As a family, we spend a lot more time together, particularly at dinner time. We used to feed the kids first, put them to bed, and then eat late and poorly as a couple. Now everyone sits down together and as a multigenerational family, we set a model that normalizes this for our kids.

Our kids have come to recognize how privileged we are this past year as a result of openly discussing our work, finances, and healthcare in the context of what is happening to professionals all over the nation. 

What Are Your Hopes and Goals for the Upcoming School Year? 

We promote lifelong learning, so as such, we don't observe vacations based on a school calendar. If the kids need a mental health break, they get the day or week off studies.

We practice a half week of learning for up to 3 hours daily with lots of play and outdoor time. However, we also don't have a summer "break" because when is it okay in adulthood to stop learning or take a break from learning? Our goal is to model and teach them to question everything (yes, even us), foster independence, self-reliance, and meeting challenges every day. 

Yan Dekel

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Yan Dekel

  • Partner: Alex
  • Age: 45
  • Location: West Hollywood, CA
  • Occupation: Producer and co-host of Daddy Squared Podcast
  • Kids' ages: 5 (twins)

What Will the 2021-2022 School Year Look Like For Your Family?

We are so thrilled to get the kids back to school. Over the past year we had them in a "pod" (meaning, we gathered with three other parents and hired a teacher to teach them at one of our homes). We wanted the kids to have a stable routine and we weren't sure that the school could provide it for them.

Doing things virtually at this age is SO hard. We did it at the end of the school year in 2020 and it was a disaster. The kids couldn't sit in front of the computer without touching it.

Having them with a professional teacher was really helpful for them (and for us too! it was good to get a break from each other for five hours a day). Both Alex and I are pretty happy to go back to the routine. We feel that sending them to school is important on so many levels.

How Has the Last Year and a Half Impacted You as a Family? 

The year has been very difficult for us, as I'm sure it was for many other parents. Being at home all the time with the kids, plus working full-time and trying to keep the house in decent shape—all by ourselves—was very hard.

All of our family lives outside the U.S. so we got no help during that time, and both Alex and I broke down in tears during the year a few times. We got to points where we felt so alone and couldn't do this anymore. We (and our kids too) are very social beings so maintaining social distancing and feeling that every person sees the other as a potential disease carrier was very difficult for us.

In addition, we found that our kids have developed unexpected anxieties that weren't existing pre-COVID. They became very scared of thieves, of someone breaking into the house, especially at night.

Nevertheless, we tried to bring some positive energy to the house, whether by playing more with the kids or producing another Daddy Squared podcast season.

What Are Your Hopes and Goals for the Upcoming School Year? 

Our kids are very friendly, but as things rolled back we found that they became a little lazy. They don't want to leave the house to go anywhere. They got used to being here. So our main goal will be to get them back socially, get them more active outside especially during the summer, and develop their interests with classes, something that we really wanted to do for a while (gymnastics, music class, etc.).

Our secondary goal with the kids is to introduce them to healthier food. They don't eat fruits and vegetables at all, and we are currently researching and crafting creative ideas to get them to eat more healthily.

For us, our goal is to get the work-fun balance in order. Working from home has our work totally blending into our lives and we want to rearrange things so that we won't have our heads in work all the time (especially me haha). We also want to invest more in our relationship by starting to take weekend getaways only for the two of us, so we can do adult stuff.

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  1. Santa Clara County Public Health. COVID-19 vaccinations among county residents dashboard. Updated July 27, 2021.

  2. Loades ME, Chatburn E, Higson-Sweeney N, et al. Rapid systematic review: the impact of social isolation and loneliness on the mental health of children and adolescents in the context of covid-19. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2020;59(11):1218-1239.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2020.05.009.