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Into the Unknown: What Will Education in Bakersfield Look Like in 2021?

As 2020 drew to a close, we all stared with a wary, but hopeful gaze toward the new year. What will 2021 bring us? Will the kids get to go back to school? Will people be able to play and watch live sports again? When can we go to a concert or church again? Will the vaccine that scientists rushed to create be our savior? Or, will the side effects from such a new medicine outweigh its possible benefits? With coronavirus numbers spiking in the winter again, is the mask-wearing, social distancing behavior we’ve grown accustomed to our forever normal? So many questions and still no clear answers, only hope for some sort of resolution.

During the past twelve months, the coronavirus knocked us down and whether we contracted it or not, it has affected EVERY. SINGLE. HUMAN. In some way or another. A huge casualty of the pandemic has been our children’s eduction. Last March, students across the country were told to go home and quarantine “for a few weeks” while we “flattened the curve.” Kids didn’t understand what it meant to “flatten the curve.” All they knew was that they weren’t going to get to go back to school again for a while, they wouldn’t see their teachers in person, have recess, ride the bus, or even see their friends everyday. Just for a few weeks, they were told. Those weeks turned into months as the virus continued to spread, and the hope of finishing out the school year in a standard classroom, was extinguished. “Drive by and pick up a packet!” the schools said, “See you on Zoom!”

Sports were canceled, class trips postponed, graduations were even held virtually. No senior prom, no preschool graduations, no 8th grade trips. Everyone had hoped by fall the virus would be under control, but it wasn’t. So our kids continued to Zoom and learn virtually as best as they and their parents knew how. Though parents and caretakers are getting better at navigating distance learning through a screen, it’s still not working for a huge number of students. Learning at home with no physical interaction with teachers or peers is HARD. However, if distance learning with the public school system isn’t working for your family, there are a few other options.

Instead of using the public school distance learning model, a number of parents have opted to homeschool privately, using their choice of curriculum. When the world shut down, the homeschooler had an advantage, since they had already been used to learning outside of a classroom. They knew the ropes and could offer advice to the first-time homeschool parent. Many of these seasoned homeschool families also belong to a charter, or “umbrella school,” which helps with curriculum guidance and funding for private programs.

As the months of distance learning stretch on, those who don’t want to homeschool may want to research another option - a private school. Private schools have mostly had the benefit of operating under a daycare classification, so while the children are still required to wear masks, social distance, and learn behind plexiglass, they have not had to shut down as often as the public sector. There are no less than 20 private educational facilities in Kern County, and while the majority have a religious background, there are still plenty that do not, if a parent prefers that route.

While exploring options for schooling this new year, parents and children may be wondering what is going to become of their favorite sports. Just last month, the California Department of Public Health released new guidelines for both outdoor and indoor sports. The article released on December 14 mentions that,

“Youth and adult sports include varied activities that have different levels of risk for transmission of COVID-19. Outdoor activities that allow for consistent wearing of face coverings and physical distancing are lower risk than indoor activities that involve close contact between sports participants and high exertion that increases spread of exhaled particles and limits the ability to wear face coverings consistently. The competition between different teams also increases mixing across groups and outside of communities, which also contributes to the potential for spread of COVID-19 disease.”  

Face coverings are still recommended for participating in any type of sport, during low contact sports such as running and tennis, moderate sports, such as volleyball and cheerleading, and high contact sports like wrestling, football, and basketball.

The unknowns of the new year seem daunting. When will we go back to normal? Are children going to get to go back to in-person school? Will my child’s favorite sport return? Are we wearing masks forever? It seems they are here to stay, at least for a while and are going to be recommended, if not mandated almost everywhere in public for sports AND schooling. Going back to in-person schooling, private or public, will require masking, social distancing and other measures to limit transmission of the virus. But, at least there are a number of schooling and sporting options for parents and students to choose from.

Whether you choose to distance learn, homeschool, or turn to a private school, only you, the parent, can make the best choice for your child. As we navigate into the unknown waters of another pandemic year, one thing is for certain; the community of Bakersfield will continue to support each other and come out stronger on the other side.

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Tags: Education, Featured Story, Food & Home, Health, Safety

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