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These Two Local Families Chose Remote School Last Year. Their End Game was Far Different.

Leanne Vigue Miranda

Last October, the end of the school year seemed a long way off for Rhinelander mother Leanne Vigue Miranda.

“I live day by day because, otherwise, that prospect of, oh my gosh, I have to continue this for eight more months is super scary,” she told WXPR back then.

Miranda is the registrar at Nicolet College.

She decided it would be safest to keep her kids, fourth-grader Phoebe and kindergartener Luna, in remote learning this past year because of pandemic concerns.

We talked to her again after the school year ended. We wanted to check in with the parents we interviewed in the fall. How did a year of remote work and remote learning go?

Miranda said juggling her work at home with the kids’ at-home education caused high-level stress, all the way to the last day of school.

“That has definitely been reduced since the girls finished their schooling. I feel a lot less stressed,” she said. “When it finally all ended, it was a big celebration day.”

Phoebe and Luna spent hundreds of hours in front of screens for their education in the last nine months. That fact still leaves Miranda uneasy.

“I don’t think the guilt will ever really go away for that. I think I’ll always wonder whether that was the right decision for a lot of different reasons for this past year,” she said. “I still wonder. Did we do long-term damage? I don’t know if we’ll ever know.”

School days spent staring at screens, while a safer COVID option, meant Phoebe and Luna were missing out on seeing other kids, seeing teachers, seeing people.

“It just wasn’t the same. You could tell that they were missing something and sad,” Miranda said.

Luna, for example, hungered for that interaction.

“I don’t know how many times she went down the stairs to check to see if the neighbor kids could talk and play even though they weren’t home. She just had some sort of hope that maybe they would be there. She would constantly do that throughout the day,” Miranda said.

The girls eventually started going to a few hours of daycare, which helped, but still wasn’t quite the same as school.

Credit Shelley Watz
Shelley Watz's fifth-grade son, Trevor, in a virtual class.

Shelley Watz’s family faced similar issues.

In October, she was working from her Rhinelander home with two fifth-graders trying to learn remotely.

This week, on Watz’s porch on a quiet side street, she told us how it’s gone since the fall.

The online school experience for Trevor and Payton went from bad to worse, she said, and without interaction with friends, so did their wellness.

“The mental health of [the kids] just started declining. They were very upset with themselves and they felt like they weren’t learning anything. It was to the point where they weren’t even the same kids because they were so stressed out about everything,” Watz said.

Virus susceptibility in the family originally kept the kids attending school from home.

But, eventually, the kids’ deepening mental health challenges overcame even the virus concerns.

“You can tell that they’re just down. They’re not their normal selves, and I’m like, you know, for safety reasons, mental health reasons, they need to get back in,” Watz said.

The family made a different decision than Miranda did. Instead, the plan was for the kids to return second semester.

Once they found out, they started a winter countdown not to Christmas, but to that day.

“They were so excited. They kept going, January 18, January 18, we’ll be back in school. They were just super excited,” Watz said.

Since then, things started going well for Trevor and Payton.

They got caught up in their classes and finally saw friends again.

The mental health struggles mostly lifted.

Now, Watz has the luxury of retrospect.

“If I could have done it differently, I would have put them back in school right away,” she reflected.

A fourth-grade math class at Rhinelander's Central Elementary School.

Leanne Vigue Miranda plans to send her girls back to in-person classes this fall.

Luna will be a first-grader.

“It’s exciting to see my friends,” she told us hopefully.

Keeping the kids home over the last year was a tough decision, but Miranda feels it was ultimately the right one.

But after a year of screen time, juggled schedules, and isolation, it’s a decision she hopes never to have to repeat.

“It was a fun year. One time only, hopefully,” she said. “I don’t want to have to do that again.”

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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