MIDWAY ACROSS THE COUNTRY, in McKinney, Texas, Rachel Carothers has also tried to escape uncertainty. She works in theater, but with that canceled she poured her energy into building stability and fun for her kids after their public schools went online in March. Her early pandemic Facebook posts about where to find toilet paper gave way to photos and notes reporting the highs and lows of pandemic schooling.
Carothers wrote a daily schedule for son Cai, grade eight, daughter Adair, grade five, and daughter Larkin, kindergarten. At first, they groaned. Adair’s anxiety spiked without the comforting structure of school, and she started picking her skin. Day after day, Larkin melted down over writing assignments.
Carothers persisted. She tracked what routines eased Adair’s anxiety. Baking helped, so she let the fifth grader experiment with recipes. Adair set a goal of making and frosting the perfect cake. Carothers eventually found a writing curriculum for Larkin that inspired fewer meltdowns. She set up her workstation near Larkin’s TV tray desk so the affectionate kindergartner would stop dragging Carothers across the house every time she wanted help.
Carothers boiled down the blur of internet resources into one Google Doc of links to her favorite ideas and activities. She brainstormed ways to keep the kids active. On a sunny day, they held a jump-rope competition and colored with chalk on their shaded driveway. On a rainy April day, they played beanbag toss inside and poured orange and purple paint onto cardboard palettes to paint designs on rocks. Evenings, they took turns video calling friends on the tablet.
Slowly, Carothers hammered out a functioning schedule, balancing academics, enrichment, and everyone’s mental health. Each school day ended with a five-minute party, blowing bubbles or holding a dance-off to celebrate another day down.
By April, Carothers had realized school would not return to normal in the fall. Their public school moved online smoothly, but the curriculum was intended for in-person learning, and Carothers didn’t see that changing by fall. She wasn’t comfortable sending them back in person either, so she searched for alternatives. IUniversity Prep, a Texas online public school, caught her eye. While her husband was supportive, her mother urged caution.
Since iUniversity Prep is first come, first served and has an enrollment cap, Carothers didn’t feel she could wait to apply. But once the school processed her application, she would be on a conveyor belt either to commit or lose her seats. She sweated it out into June, hoping the public school would release its fall plans before iUniversity emailed to set up admissions meetings. She got the email the same day the district announced its plan. The next day, state authorities contradicted the district plan and then delayed releasing new regulations.
Meanwhile, Texas COVID-19 cases exploded. The worsening situation caused Carothers’ mother to get on board, so in July Carothers took the plunge, buying curriculum for her youngest and enrolling the older two at iUniversity Prep. Decision made, her stress levels dropped: “Before, I felt like I was living in a panic attack. … Now I just feel nervous.”