Main and Mulberry Podcast – July 20, 2020 (w/ Monica Childress, Schilling Farms Elementary PTA)

If you’re worried about your child’s safety this fall, you’re definitely not alone. Hear from a local elementary school’s PTA President, as she expresses her thoughts, concerns, and optimism for the future. She has four children of her own, all at different levels of education, so Monica is more than plugged into the debate about what to do!


Anna: Hello, everyone. I’m Anna Bell. And welcome to another episode of Main and Mulberry. Today I’m really excited to have with us the PTA president of Schilling Farms Elementary and member of the PTA at both West Collierville Middle and Collierville High school, as well as a parent of four Collierville students, Monica Childress. Monica thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today to kind of talk about the upcoming school year for the Collierville school system.

Monica: Hi, thanks for having me!

Anna: Absolutely. I’m excited to talk with you a little bit. Let’s start by kind of learning a bit about you, Monica. How long have you been in Collierville and how long have you been a part or active in the Collierville school systems? Parent teacher association.

Monica: Okay. So we moved from Virginia. My husband was in the Air Force and got hired by FedEx. So we moved here two years ago, almost exactly. And so we’ve been here two years. I hit the ground running. Schilling Farms was just opening that year and they needed a PTA. And so I started attending meetings and became president of the PTA at Schilling. And I think that’s all you’re asking.

Anna: That’s right. And you’ve got four kiddos. Is that right? And they’re all in, we’ve got middle. elementary and high school, right?

Monica: Yes. I have a rising second grader at Schilling. I have twins that are in seventh, going into seventh grade at West and a high school sophomore.

Anna: Awesome. Was it easy to kind of jump right in and get into that organization into PTA?

Monica: PTA was very helpful in getting us going and things, but it was a lot of work getting the PTA started. We were starting from scratch. We were starting from scratch and it was just a lot of work getting going, but last year, great year until the pandemic hit. And we’re, we’re looking forward to this year and trying to switch gears and figure out how to do things,

Anna: How to make this thing work, right? How to navigate through all of this. I know. So the spring semester in school learning did it end abruptly, you know, to say the very least. How were things personally for you guys at home? You know, you have four school age children. Can you talk to us about that time and teaching and kind of learning from home? How was that?

Monica: It was challenging. I am lucky that I just stay home. So at times I think it was a lot easier for me. However, it was trying to figure out me through all the information. The school was great and gave us tons of, but at the same time it was a little overload and that figuring out which thing I wanted to focus on. I actually have a background as a teacher. So that kind of…

Anna: Tapped into that a little bit I bet.

Monica: Yes. But all the apps and getting, you know, figuring out the logins and where, so the first few weeks were a struggle, but once we hit our stride, it was all right. My older kids struggled a bit with it being optional. [Inaudible] them on a daily basis that they needed to do anything was sometimes a challenge.

Anna: Went straight into summer mode, I guess

Monica: [Inaudible] social aspect terribly.

Anna: So now we’re all curious, you know, of course, about the fall semester and how we’re going to get the kids back to school safely. You know, what concerns have you mainly discussed with other parents about going back to school? I know one thing I keep seeing on like, you know, parent Facebook groups, how are we going to get the kids to wear a mask all day? You know, how do you do that? You know, what, what are other parents talking with you about their concerns?

Monica: I think there’s so many concerns. I think the main issues are safety and that the kids don’t lose any ground that they’ve already accomplished and that they keep moving forward. I think, you know, we all felt like getting out of school in March, there really wasn’t that much curriculum that was missed because we were running up against testing and we all know that that ends up taking up quite a lot of time. And so everybody felt like that was, that was okay, but now looking at, Oh my gosh, we have a whole year ahead. I think parents are concerned and looking for as much information as we can to try to make the decisions we need to make that are challenging.

Anna: I know it, I know it’s so many decisions that need to be made and kind of bringing us to current day Collierville schools did release their reopening and recovery plan for the 2021 school year. You know, if you do a quick Google search, you can find that PDF in full detail. Maybe we can touch on some of these, you know, highlight this plan for those that are listening with us today. There were two options for kids in returning for the fall semester. Option one was the traditional in-school learning, and option two was the Collierville Virtual Academy learning and the option for the kindergarten through 12th grade. Those were the options. The decision has to be made by July 29th, by guardians, if they’re going to do the virtual learning route and that decision has to be submitted to the school. So from your conversations, Monica, with other parents, what is the feedback you’re getting when, when we’re asking one another, what are you planning on doing this fall semester?

Monica: We’re all overwhelmed with trying to make a decision. We’re all looking for more information and waiting’ sometimes impatiently’ for more more detail about, about the various options. I think there’s a lot, a lot of unanswered questions that are important questions especially involving the Virtual Academy. I think a lot of people have a little bit more of a, a vision of what the, as I told my kids, the new normal school would be like.

Anna: Oh, I like that. I like that. That’s a coined phrase. The new Virtual Academy.

Monica: Yes. So I think you know, that’s the main thing is we’re just all looking for as much information as we can obtain in order to make the best decision for our kids. So.

Anna: For sure. What do you think maybe is the ratio of the camps, you know, between, for parents being, for going in traditional in school learning versus the, the virtual camp learning at home? What would you say might be the ratio right now?

Monica: So I think from, from the elementary school families, I think a lot of, actually that one, I think is a little more, maybe 50, 50. There is people considering homeschooling as well. That’s the third option that’s kind of not…

Anna: Very true. Not talking about quad was much. Yeah.

Monica: And then I think as you get to the older kids, I see a lot of older, older students looking at virtual learning, but they have so many questions. For us, my oldest is adamantly wanting to go to school. And I think, you know, you have to look at each individual child, but, you know I think that that’s a good choice for him. I, like anyone else, worry about safety issues, but you know, I have to trust that it’s gonna, it’s gonna work out.

Anna: Right. Absolutely. You’re right. You can only do so much. You’ve got to take in all the information you can and try to make the best decision for each child. Like you said. You know have you guys decided for each child, what, what you’ll do this fall semester?

Monica: We’re waiting for more information. And just really trying to picture each child and each of my children, it’s a different answer. So, and then I, and I go from day to day with a different answer for myself. When he presented the boys, once the document came out, we sat them down and told them the three options and asked them their opinions. And we said, really, we’d like you to spend some time thinking about it. And mom and dad get to make the final decision. And they immediately said what their opinions were. And we said, well, we need to do a lot more research and things. And so we really haven’t come to a decision. I, I do wait anxiously to hear more information about each avenue. It’s, it’s a very difficult decision.

Anna: Have you heard any more about, you know, meetings or anything like that, where more information can be shared?

Monica: I have heard parents proposing ideas about how we, as a PTA have talked about me trying to either have a meeting or a questioning or email. But we haven’t, we haven’t gotten any official word that any of that is possible. We’re all…

Anna: One day at a time in it. It’s just one day at a time. You know, I’m glad you started to touch on this because you know, the kids have to be having a hard time with all the what ifs of the fall semester ahead. Talk, talk to me about those conversations with the, with the kids and the transitions. You know, I know you said they jumped to a quick decision, but with the research, how are you, how are those conversations? You know, what did they look like when you talk with them?

Monica: So with my kids, I told them what each, what I assume each day would look like so that, you know, the virtual learning and that they would need to be, we assume, need to be on at certain times. And you know, it would be a managed thing. We also talked about the new normal school being different and that they, you know, my older kids would need to wear masks. My elementary student would probably be in his classroom the entire day, recess including lunch, being in the classroom and things that I think is important. They understand what that would look like, so they can make an educated decision. And then we talked about, you know, homeschool and they, weren’t going to be playing video games all day long.

Anna: I’m sure, Oh man.

Monica: I said, it’s not at all. You know, no matter what we do, it is not at all going to be what we did last spring. So so that was kind of a reality, like, okay. You know but I try, I just try to paint as realistic of a picture. And I, I really try to put a positive spin on everything. I mean, granted yes, I have my own concerns. But I don’t really want to let my kids know about all those concerns at this point, because we don’t have the answers. And I’ve definitely learned with kids. If you don’t have all the answers, it’s better to not get them worrying.

Anna: Right, unnecessarily. Right. Yes. Yes. So kind of tell us, are you concerned about recess options? I know in the plan it mentions that, you know, playground equipment, communal gym equipment, those things aren’t going to be used. So, you know, in my mind, what does that mean for PE or recess? Does that concern you as a parent?

Monica: Yes, it does. Especially having a little, you know, I mean, he’s going to be a second grade and even throughout this pandemic, you know, when we’ve gotten together with a few friends, you know, we try to, you know, try not to be touching each other and, you know, we tell and it’s so hard cause they they’re they’re children and they’re there…

Anna: That’s what they want to do.

Monica: Yeah. So yeah, so I, I really don’t know how that will look. I, I worry less when it’s outdoors though. I mean, everything I’m hearing is that, you know, in the outdoors, the germs can dissipate better. So I’m hopeful. But knowing that the playground equipment is closed and that they can’t share any kind of other equipment and think, well, they could play tag and I’m like, Oh, but they’re not supposed to touch each other. I don’t envy the school staff and trying to figure this out. I really spent a lot of time thinking about the teachers and that they have to try to implement all of this. And my heart goes out to them because they’re going to be, you know, somebody else has told them all these rules and they have to try to get these kids to do these things.

Anna: So kind of some of the differences in, in middle school, I don’t guess middle school, do they still have PE do you know?

Monica: They do not have recess.

Anna: They do not have a recess. Okay. So they wouldn’t have a break that they necessarily would miss out on. It’s more of your second grader.

Monica: Yeah. You know, with the middle school and high school, I wonder about hall passing time and lunch as I, I mean, I guess they can eat lunch in their classrooms in the middle school, but I don’t know. I don’t know how that will look at all. And that, those are the kinds of information that I think all the parents are kind of wanting to get. And I am, I know it had to have been hard to even come up with what we’ve got. So now flood gate of questions coming at them at the district level, and I’m sure that’s challenging. You need those things.

Anna: What could you share with us Monica that you know about the virtual learning Academy? You know, I don’t know very much about it. Have you kind of done any research about it?

Monica: So I have looked at reviews online and, and a lot of other parents that I’m, you know, I’m hearing, Oh, it gets horrible reviews, but I also looked at those are, you know, if you just look at the stars, it looks bad, but then you go on reviews and it’s quite obviously disgruntled. I don’t know, middle school to high school students. There’s a lot of profanity in all the reviews and obvious lack of maturity. I didn’t find anybody that I thought might’ve been an adult really, that was replying. So I don’t put a lot of weight on those reviews. And beyond that, I haven’t, I just, right before this interview saw that a friend in Florida, they’re using Edgenuity and there’s push back at their school district as well. And so I probed hoping maybe they’ve gotten more information but I haven’t received a reply yet, so I apologize. But so there are other schools pursuing this. I have I have heard that our teachers will somehow be assigned like, like I apparently there will be some teachers who will be in the regular classroom and then there will be some that will be assigned to a virtual classroom.

Anna: They will have some kind of instructor to look to.

Monica: That’s what I’ve been told. Beyond that I don’t know how involved that person will be. Cause I know Edgenuity has a curriculum, but it has to mesh with Tennessee curriculum in order for using it. So I’m not sure how that plays out, but I’ve heard that small little bit, which makes me feel better to know that some of our teachers who know our kids and what our life is like in Collierville and things like that we’ll be working with our kids. So hopefully…

Anna: Well, I, I feel confident that the teachers are all going to band together and try and do what’s best for the kids too. I’m sure you probably would think the same is that right?

Monica: That’s definitely, I, I know a lot of the teachers are just so excited to get back and be with the kids and you know, also concerned about, you know, everybody wants to come up and hug everybody and that’s not going to be allowed. And so I think…

Anna: We’re all a bunch of huggers down here. Aren’t we, we all like to hug and, and show love that way.

Monica: Yes. So I hope we’ll be able to find some middle ground. I saw something the other day with alternate ways to, you know, a lot of the teachers greet their children every morning with like a hug, a fist bump, a high five, whatever. And so I saw graphic with ideas for touch free greetings, and I thought, Oh, that’s cool. So people are putting their hats on and coming up with creative ways. And I wouldn’t expect anything less of our teachers.

Anna: I know, you’re right. They kind of feed off of one another, you know, and put all these good ideas out there and they all kind of pick up. So that’s, that’s good to hear. As we kind of wrap up things though, I’d like to give the mic to you for a minute. Monica, is there anything you’d be willing to share with maybe the concern parents that are listening in with us today who might still be on the fence about what, what are we going to do with our kids this upcoming school year? Do you have any advice for them?

Monica: I think as I have tried to come to my own decision as much as possible talk to other parents, get, get their perspective, find out what they’re doing and why or what they’re thinking and why, because sometimes that helps me kind of jog my thought process. And either I agree with them or I don’t agree with them, but it definitely helps my opinion. I also think there’s so much negativity and I feel like if, if we get bogged down in that and there is no good option. And so you really do have to start to go, what are the possibilities? What are, what are, you know, I’ve even done like the whole pros and cons list. You know, these are the things that I see that are great about option A, option B option C, you know, and that I hope will help me to start narrowing or, you know, making a decision, but it is such a hard decision. I think we should really just all respect that everybody has tried their best for their individual students. And it’s not going to be the same answer for everybody. And luckily we have a choice.

Anna: That’s true.

Monica: Instead of just, I mean, one of my friends in Virginia, they, they just found out it’s going to be all virtual and they’re really upset about that. And you know, so at least we have a choice, so.

Anna: That’s right. Well, Monica, we really appreciate your thoughts and your time today. Thank you so much for sharing those with us.

Monica: I hope it’s helpful for someone.

Anna: Yes, absolutely. Well, we sincerely appreciate it. Until next time. I’m Anna Bell, sending you all well wishes.

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