Op-Ed | Returning to in-person learning is important for teachers and parents as well as students

African-American teacher reading to school children
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If you heard a deep sigh of relief across New York City a few weeks ago, it might have been around the same time that parents of students at Archdiocese of New York Schools found out our kids are returning to the classroom next fall with no remote or hybrid learning.

For some parents, whether in public or private schools, remote and hybrid learning has had some benefits. It’s been a blessing to spend more time with our children and to bear closer witness as they grow into the well-rounded individuals we aspire them to be. But it’s not been without serious hardship, for both parent and child.

I have two children who have attended or currently attend a Catholic school in Inwood, the same school I went to years ago. Regardless of where our kids go, I know parents like myself have had to make tough decisions with information that kept changing daily. I’ll be forever grateful that my family remains healthy and safe due to the oversight that school leadership provided to help prevent the spread in our Catholic school communities.

Unlike so many of our fellow New Yorkers, our family was fortunate—we could work and study from home with relative comfort. While it was a tight fit for everyone in our home, and our schedules were crazier than normal, we tried to make sure the kids kept up with the work without burning out.

Still, it wasn’t easy—for ourselves or for the teachers. I witnessed every day how educators were “all in,” doing their best to engage our children and encouraging them from the other side of a small camera. But it wasn’t the same as being in a classroom setting, especially for my youngest. While trying to stay optimistic, it was hard not to feel disheartened.

While the pandemic reminded us about so many things that are out of our control, it also helped reinforce that there are things we can do to help our families stay healthy and ensure our kids thrive. Going back to solely in-person learning next fall is one of those choices that makes sense intuitively after watching students and their families struggle with remote learning.

For nearly a year now, families have been caught in the push and pull over health and safety. How do we keep our kids safe during a global pandemic, but also support their education in a healthy and holistic way? How do we do any of that in a way that’s fair to the families with essential workers putting their livelihoods on the line, while making sure our kids don’t feel abandoned or isolated?

We’ll probably never have satisfying answers to those questions—families are doing the best they can with their individual circumstances. But knowing that my children’s school system will offer fully in-person education again next fall is an incredible reassurance that I wish every parent can feel soon. It is an option that all families deserve.

For parents like me, parochial schools offered an opportunity that I wanted my children to have—an education at an institution with a long-standing commitment to social consciousness and academic excellence, and the results to prove it. To find a school that can offer that, and for it to be affordable enough for us and other families, is something we’re incredibly thankful for.

In fact, countless other New Yorkers have relied on our Catholic schools to provide a worldly education centered on core principles and values that encourage the pursuit of knowledge and social justice. In a world like ours today, as complicated and confusing as the last year has shown it can be, that has been proven more important to me and my family than ever before.

To know that my kids will get some sense of normalcy next fall is a relief in and of itself. Having them back in a classroom where they can pray, learn, and grow together with their classmates and teachers is another blessing to be grateful for.

Gina Christoforatos is a mother of two whose children currently attend a Catholic school in Inwood.