CLEVELAND — Very little about this school year has been consistent. Students are in the classroom only to have schools close. Then to go home and learn online. During this uncomfortable year of change, one family turned to each other for comfort.
"We miss them so much," said Maria Wilson. Wilson is a teacher in the Breakthrough Public Schools. Before the fall semester started, Wilson and several other teachers were waiting outside the Willard Street campus waiting for students to pick up learning packets.
Seeing students outside, with masks on, isn't exactly how teachers pictured starting the school year.
"The biggest concern I have is that the students who needed school as a place where they were able to, like get away from certain responsibilities at home or like take a break or actually be children, like they don't have that experience sometimes," Wilson said
Teachers wanted students inside classrooms if it was safe, but the pandemic meant the classrooms inside Breakthrough Schools are empty.
"I don't have children, but I think of all of my students as my children," Wilson said. "And I care about them like that. And their parents understand that."
Breakthrough students like Milie and Xavier Nixon didn't have a choice this year. The charter schools put remote learning in place before the year started, which meant the first day and all the days that followed looked different.
"It was stressful for a little bit," said Milie and Xavier's mom Katherine Nixon.
As kids were learning in virtual classrooms, parents were learning new routines too.
"We got up every morning, we made sure that they ate breakfast and we kept to a schedule," Nixon said. "Even though we were doing a lot of just online computer-based stuff."
"It's a routine, definitely a routine," eighth-grader Milie said. "Because, like, at first I didn't know what to expect, but now I have like a schedule of classes. I know where I have to be, what I have to do. So, it's a routine that feels like this is the regular for me, which is kind of nice."
On the other side of the screen are teachers who use Zoom links instead of school bells to signal a class change.
"We have shifted our focus academically of just making sure that we're getting the foundational building blocks first before we move on to the more traditional things that we would be doing," Wilson said.
With all the Nixons at home, learning off-screen happened too.
"I think every family has a different dynamic, a different situation, a different way that we deal with things," Nixon said, adding that the focus has been "really to stay positive for the kids and be optimistic and to celebrate those little wins."