"We just have to ride it out." Lansing family ready for in-person school no longer has a choice. | Michigan Radio
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"We just have to ride it out." Lansing family ready for in-person school no longer has a choice.

Mar 26, 2021

Charisse Tuell is a single mom with two kids in the Lansing School District. Lila, 12, and Liam 8, attend a Chinese language-immersion program at the only school in the district to not return to any form of in-person learning.
Credit Courtesy of Charisse Tuell

A lot of kids in the Lansing School District will have to wait a little longer to go back to the classroom.

Some students with special needs were set to return to in-person learning this week. Then the district pushed their start date to March 29, and on Wednesday, pushed it back again to April 12. That’s because of a spike of COVID cases in the area.

Also, some families that had been planning to join in-person classes recently learned they don't have the option anymore.

Riding it out

Charisse Tuell is a single mom with two children who attend Post Oak Academy in the Lansing School District. Lila, 12, is in seventh grade. Liam, 8, is in second grade. 

Since the spring of 2020, Tuell has been working from home while her kids have been attending school online.  

"My family in particular is very much stuck in this in-between mode where we're struggling, and we really can't do anything about it yet. We just have to ride it out until we get back to school," she told Michgian Radio's Morning Edition.

"On the days that the kids do really well, and our family life flows really well, I would say I'm not very productive at work. And the days that I'm very productive at work, it's very hard for our day to flow well for our family. My work has been extremely flexible. I'm very lucky. But you just you can't be everywhere all the time." 

The kids' view

In the early stages, Lila enjoyed some parts of virtual learning. 

"On the days that the kids do really well, and our family life flows really well, I would say I'm not very productive at work." -Charisse Tuell

"I don't think that I prefer online school over in-person school, obviously, but it was kind of nice being able to, like, eat food at home, and being able to do school from my own room," she said.

For Liam, the transition was rougher. 

"It's just been such a change because normally we would just be like, 'Oh, we're going to go to school,' and hop in the car. But now it's been like, "Yeah, we're going to school,' and I take two steps and just get in class," he said.

"It's been hard to focus. And I've gotten very many headaches, like constant headaches, because I've been looking at the screen for so long."

A chance to go back

When the Lansing School District announced that it was going to phase in a hybrid model that would blend virtual classes with some in-person time at school, Tuell was ready for her kids to be there.

"I thought because we've already had COVID run through our house, the risk was relatively low. And I just felt like, for mental health purposes, the kids really needed an opportunity to incorporate school life back into their lives," Tuell said. "I know they miss their friends and they're tired of being home all the time. But I knew that they wanted it and they were ready for it."

Lila and Liam are in a Chinese language-immersion program at Post Oak Academy. When Michigan Radio first contacted the family about doing an interview, the plan was to talk about the kids first day back in a classroom. But then Charisse got word from the district that the immersion program would have to stay virtual for the rest of the school year. But the message didn't spell out why.

"Honestly, the reasons were not very clear. I'm still not exactly sure. Our school always has to do things a little differently because they were half-day in English and then half-day immersed in Chinese," she said. 

"I also empathize with the administrators. I could tell by the phone call that I got, and by the messages that I received that they were caught off guard, or it seemed that way, anyway. It felt like that a lot this year with a lot of things." 

Plan B

For Lila, the news was tough.

"I was really upset. Part of me was sad. Part of me was also a little bit angry, not at anyone particularly, just about the circumstances. I had really been looking forward to going back, mainly because I wanted to fix my grades and get myself back on track," Lila said. "When I learned that, I was like, well, I'm going to have to put in a lot of extra work, and just do that from home. And that really kind of did it for me." 

For Tuell, it is all just par for the pandemic.

Charisse Tuell's 8-year-old son complains of headaches from looking at screens so much in the past year.

"I feel like the one big takeaway that I've learned from COVID life is not to plan too far down the road because there's no point," she said with a laugh. "There was a part of me that was upset to learn we weren't going back, but it's just been like everything else. It was like, 'OK, let's come up with our new plan. Let's adapt. This is what we're going to do instead.'" 

Michigan Radio contacted the Lansing School District about the decision to keep Post Oak Academy all virtual. In an email, a spokesman said Post Oak is the only Lansing school that won't have any in-person classes this school year.

He also wrote, “There are many complications and challenges with an immersion program, and the school district simply could not overcome all the issues that would allow Post Oak to open.”

A summer break

Before our interview wrapped up, Liam and Lila spoke some basic Chinese to each other then explained what they had said, with Lila gently correcting her younger brother's translation back to English. 

Tuell is worried that more than year of pandemic life and virtual learning could have some long-term effects on her kids' education and development. But she also thinks they're ready for a break. One that's low on screen time.

"I think that this summer is going to be very much about rewarding ourselves for making it through."

Lauren Talley contributed to this story.

Editor's note: Some quotes have been edited for length and clarity.