HAWTHORNE & NORTH HALEDON, NJ - School districts statewide have implemented their version of the 'new normal' this September. Governor Phil Murphy signed executive order 175 on August 13, 2020, stating, "School districts that resume partial or full-time in-person instruction shall permit students to engage in full-time remote learning upon the request of a parent or guardian, subject to the Department of Education’s July 24, 2020 'Clarifying Expectations Regarding Full-time Remote Learning Options for Families in 2020-2021.'" Parents had the option to either move forward with their school district's plans, or keep their child home to partake in a full remote learning program. Both Hawthorne and North Haledon School Districts have adopted a hybrid learning model for the new school year, and since, parents have had to make some very difficult decisions concerning their families.

The choice between hybrid learning and full remote learning weighed heavily on parents' minds, especially for dual-working households where both parents' incomes are necessary to support their children's needs, and single-parent homes. Although progress has been made, there remains a huge gender wage gap in today's society which can vary widely based on location, race, and other factors. For some households, this meant that mothers had to choose between their careers and their children's well-being. Many mothers have had to halt the careers they spent years of education and hard work to attain, and become stay-at-home-moms.

Adjusting to whatever 'new normal' they are facing, both children and their parents are making drastic changes to their daily lives. The overall consensus of parents is to keep everyone safe during these uncertain times. The issue? Everyone has their own definition of 'safe' when it comes to children. There is no right or wrong answer to the question of "How do we protect students and teachers from contracting COVID-19 during the school year?" Therein lies the problem; when everyone's definition varies, there are bound to be people who are left dissatisfied.

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North Haledon resident Jeni Boonstra described her own experience with the new school year and the impact hybrid learning has had on a parent with a special needs daughter. Two days a week, her daughter attends school. The other three days, she has online school at her home. Boonstra expressed how this hybrid model has affected her personally. "Right now, I’m only able to work Mondays and Tuesdays, so it makes it very difficult to find work. Wednesday through Friday, I am home helping her." Boonstra leans on her faith to keep her going for her family. "No matter what, Jesus already knows my needs and I trust Him and how He is guiding our whole family."

Boonstra is not the only mother who has had to choose staying at home with their child over the career she worked towards her whole life. Mother of three Rachel Ace-Pellettere of Hawthorne has become a stay-at-home-mom since being furloughed from her job as support coordinator for a travel company on March 15, 2020. She was laid off from her job of 5 years when she was just two weeks shy of her maternity leave. She was told by her job that she would not be furloughed for more than 6 months, and that date is approaching quickly. "I'm thankful my husband has a good job, and still does," she said. Ace-Pellettere chose the full remote model instead of opting into the hybrid learning model. "Although they do miss seeing their friends and their teachers in person, they are happy to be home." 

Ace-Pellettere looks towards the future with hope. "When everything with the pandemic calms down and they go back to school, I will be putting my baby in daycare and going back to work." She is eager to learn if her travel company will bring back the 50% of their workforce that was furloughed along with her back in March. Ace-Pellettere is unsure about how any future changes within the school district will impact her sons. "I hope that my kids do not fall behind at all. This is learning curve for everyone, but I do feel like the teachers have been doing an amazing job. My main hope is that everyone stays safe and healthy the rest of the school year."

Alma Morel, mother of a Montclair State University freshman and two Hawthorne High School students, is, overall, happy with the Hawthorne School District's implementation of a hybrid learning model. Since her daughters are older, Morel found it important to include them in her decision of whether attending in-person or all-remote. "I still have some anxiety about it, but I felt comfortable with the reopening plan the district developed," Morel said. "Also, my daughters are of an age that they know to keep their masks on, and take all of the necessary safety and health precautions we have grown accustomed to during this pandemic." Her daughters have expressed mixed feelings about the new school year, stating that they miss things like chatting with their friends in the hallways or eating lunch in the cafeteria together. They also do not have the opportunity to interact with many of their friends who were placed in a different cohort than they were.

Morel is now able to work remotely and feels as though she is beginning to find a balance between juggling her own workload and supporting her children's learning. Internet connectivity has become one of her family's biggest challenges. "One thing that does impact my work is when we are all home and simultaneously in virtual sessions," she said. "So, I have been mindful when to schedule meetings around the times when my daughters are in school, or if I am in a meeting I may let those in my meeting know that I have to turn off my video to lessen the strain on our internet connectivity." While she is saddened that her son's first year of college is occurring at home, Morel is proud that he has been able to adapt to his 'new normal' and make the most of the situation he has been put in. "I think it's safe to say that we will all be happy to be able to get back to some sense of normalcy either because a safe vaccine is developed and/or we simply learn to adapt living with the virus to carry on with our normal routines and lives."

Alma Morel is candidate running for the Hawthorne Board of Education.

Hawthorne resident Jennifer Flores is happy with her decision to opt into the school's hybrid learning model overall because she understands the need for social interaction, school structure, and face-to-face instruction from teachers.  A teacher herself for the New York City Department of Education, Flores explained that she was "on pins and needles waiting on the decision to open schools." Prior to the Hawthorne School District releasing their reopening plans, she had to evaluate what her options were regarding her career. She said that she was fortunate to work from home thanks to the accommodations her job extended to her. "It’s extremely difficult to conduct my own live sessions when my son needs help with multiplication and navigating Google Classroom. I find myself having to choose between my own family and the public I serve." Being an educator allows Flores to understand and appreciate what the Hawthorne teachers are going through in order to help their students transition back into the classroom. "It’s reassuring to know that educators recognize the tumultuous experience the last school year brought. My hope for the new year is that students make up for the time lost last school year," Flores said.

Local mom Amalia Rodriguez recently relocated to Hawthorne from New York and also works at a school in another district. The hybrid schedule, which includes 2 days in-school instruction and 3 days remote learning at home, seems to be working out for her family so far thanks to a local child care facility that offers a remote learning program.  Even with the program her son is enrolled in, she said, "The remote days are a lot harder for him to focus. Not many five-year-olds can be attentive to a screen all day, take in multiple instruction and work at the same time." Rodriguez shared her concerns with this plan. "I fear that he’ll fall behind since three days are harder than two, but I have faith that things will work out."

Anna Logothetis of Hawthorne is overall dissatisfied with the school district's hybrid model, and wishes that there would have been a decision made for either all in-person or full-remote learning. Her children miss socializing and get frustrated on days when they need extra help and attention. Having just finished medical assisting school and being in the middle of the interviewing process, Logothetis's career plans were put on hold. "There are no jobs out there at the moment willing to let me work for the two half days hybrid provides, and I don't have anyone in the home to help with childcare, so I'm home doing full remote with my kids until further notice." She is trying to have a positive outlook on the rest of the school year. "My hopes for this school year, as well as our year in general, are that we learn the bigger lessons within this journey. To be kind, patient, helpful, and understanding. That we find our way back to something familiar, that works for everyone. Praying we come out the other end stronger for it."

Whatever unique challenges local families have been faced with, the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly impacted working mothers across the state. The decisions they make today will not only affect their own careers, but their children's futures as well. Only time will tell how today's choices will mold our nation's future.

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