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Pandemic life: Grand Rapids mom balances two jobs, two kids, and virtual school

woman takes a photo in the mirror of her and her two kids getting ready in the bathroom
Courtesy of Danielle Dix
/
Grand Rapids resident Danielle Dix helps her children Leah (left) and Poet get ready for a day of virtual learning.

For many people, 2020 is an ongoing collision of difficult, stressful situations. As COVID-19 cases surge in the state, Michigan Radio is talking to Michiganders about how the pandemic is affecting their lives.

Danielle Dix works the third shift at a West Michigan hospital. The Grand Rapids mom has a second job in retail. All the while, she's trying to keep her two children on track in online school.

Facing COVID head on

Dix is a team lead in the environmental services department for Spectrum Health's three hospitals in Grand Rapids. She and her co-workers clean the facilities and Dix often works on floors where COVID-19 patients are being treated. Michigan’s second wave of COVID has been especially bad in West Michigan.

"We're just making sure that our staff is using the correct (personal protective equipment) and everyone feels comfortable with the PPE that they're given," Dix told Michigan Radio's Morning Edition. "For the past few weeks, we've had some new staff members come in. They feel a little nervous at first facing it head on. It's a little nerve-racking."

In addition to her primary job at the hospital, Dix also works at a clothing store. She notices stark difference in the way she and her colleagues are treated in the two industries.

"In the hospital, our particular department is so needed. We get a lot of recognition, which feels good. We clean the hospital, we sanitize the hospital, we make it so that it's safe for the patients and the staff and the visitors," she said.

"As for the retail business, you have those few that are still, you know, anti-mask. Sometimes we have to remind them that it's not just keeping them safe, it's keeping us safe, and everyone in the store."

School days, work nights

Dix's son, Poet, is 6, and in first grade. Her daughter, Leah, is 3, and in a pre-kindergarten program. Both are in Grand Rapids Public Schools, which are fully virtual right now.

Dix's complicated schedule has her starting work at the hospital at 10 p.m. and ending at 7 a.m. When she's done, she'd like to go to sleep, but the kids' day is just beginning.

"When I get home, I get them up. I get them ready, get them dressed so that they can be on their iPad (for school)," she said. "I'm running from one room to the next just making sure that no one's (screen is) freezing and our wi-fi is doing OK. But we're coming up with a routine that's starting to work finally."

Dix is going through a divorce, but her mother lives with her and pitches in.

"I'm running from one room to the next just making sure that no one's [screen is] freezing and our wi-fi is doing OK." -Danielle Dix on virtual school

"She is 70 and she's not really tech savvy, but she does what she can to help my 3-year-old kind of stay focused, as much as you can keep a 3-year-old focused in front of an iPad," Dix said, laughing.

Dix squeezes sleep in when she can.

"I'll go to sleep after their last class and my mom will watch them while I sleep. I don't necessarily get eight hours of sleep, but I'm not sure what parent really does," she said. "I'll get a block of time, about five hours and then when I put the kids to bed at night, I take a little nap with them before I go into work."

An educational plan disrupted

Dix chose to put her son and daughter in Montessori school programs that are part of GRPS. In the shift to online school, she's felt the loss of what she'd planned for their education.

"The Montessori style is almost complete opposite of what we have to do with virtual learning now. Montessori is really hands on and using objects and nature to problem solve," Dix said.

However, she has high praise for the school staff members.

"Teachers are doing an amazing job because they not only had to revamp their entire teaching style for this, they're [also] continually making the adjustments based on what would be the Montessori style. It's been a difficult time for them as well."

Disappointing news

Earlier in the school year, GRPS had planned to phase in a hybrid model with some in-person learning. That's not happening now. The district's decision, and explaining the change to her kids, was tough for Dix.

"It was really disappointing. Working at the hospital, I completely understand because I see [the COVID risks] firsthand. So, I understand the reasoning behind the decision, but we were looking forward to going back so that they can get that socialization that they really need."

Dix's son, Poet, has autism spectrum disorder. Experts have told her the effects are comparable to Asperger's syndrome. While Poet's academics have been above average, social interactions were an important focus for him in kindergarten last year.

"That was something that we were working with, and he was starting to do really well with it. Now he's starting to revert a bit because he doesn't have that interaction with anyone," Dix said.

Dix is upbeat and hopes the kids are getting the basic educational skills they need, but being at home, staring at screens, not seeing other kids, is not what she wants for them.

"All of that is a concern of mine, that they're getting the wrong impression of what school is."

Editor's note: Quotes in this story were edited for length and clarity. You can hear a portion of our interview with Danielle Dix near the top of this page.

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