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An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

A Spring Break Like No Other: Snapshots Of Anxiety, Hope And Humor

Jodi Felton
Eighth-grade teacher Jodi Felton used her canceled trip to Jamaica as a theme for a spring break video for students.

For families across the region, this week is a spring break like no other.

Schools have been closed for four weeks, and the remainder of the year remains uncertain. Family trips have been canceled. Parks, playgrounds and spring break camps — all closed to prevent coronavirus contagion.

Every household has a different story. We spoke to two parents, a teacher and a high school senior to get snapshots of the strange week ahead.

Kids Need Structure

Kristy Braun of Waxhaw, who has children in third and sixth grade, has been worried since schools closed.  She has friends whose children are in public schools in Iredell County and Lancaster, South Carolina, or in nearby charter or private schools. They all seemed to be getting real work when their schools switched to remote learning.

In contrast, Braun felt like the Union County system was slow to roll out new material and told kids the work wasn’t mandatory or graded. She didn’t want her kids drifting and falling behind.

"Right now you guys can’t just have a wide-open day with nothing to do," she told them. "I don’t think that’s healthy. Like, we all have things we need to do to kind of move forward."

So she bought them workbooks and has them doing two and a half hours of work every morning – assigned by mom.

Union County plans to start offering new material April 20. Like most districts in the area, it’s giving teachers a break this week.

Bron’s family had planned a spring break trip to Florida; now they hope to do it next year. She says she plans to keep her kids on schedule throughout spring break.

"You know, they’re nervous, too," Braun says. "So I like for them to have some focus during the day. Like, 'OK, yes, there’s a lot that’s out of our control, but right now what I can do is work on my schoolwork and do what I’m supposed to do.'"

They Need To Rely On Each Other

When it comes to assigned work, Yvette Townsend-Ingram has the opposite concern. Her son is a junior at West Mecklenburg High.

"My son has lamented that he’s having trouble keeping up," she says. "It’s like they’re piling it on, trying to keep them from getting behind. It’s almost like they’re afraid that, you know, they don’t want them to be idle."

Townsend-Ingram says her son will get a break from academics this week. If this were a normal school year, she and her son would visit family in Raleigh. He and his friends would drive to community basketball courts.

Credit Yvette Townsend-Ingram
Teens play basketball in front of Yvette Townsend-Ingram's house.

"But now, courts are shut down. I do have a basketball goal in front of my house, so that’s pretty much what they do," she says. "They play basketball out in front of my house, and it is very hard for them to understand the social distancing thing."

That scares Townsend-Ingram, but she won’t order her son to stay inside.

"This is traumatic for them. This is unusual for them, so they need to rely on each other," she says. "So I’m literally washing stuff down in my household that he has touched, because I have underlying health issues."

Townsend-Ingram is a former substitute teacher who’s now involved with a west Charlotte school advocacy group. She’s spent a lot of time in high-poverty schools, and she says she’s encountered students who are hungry, abused, even sex-trafficked. She thinks the school shutdown is hard for all students, but for kids who relied on school as a refuge, it’s much worse.

"It’s like trauma on top of trauma, if you will," Townsend-Ingram says.

Having Fun While Worrying

Jodi Felton has similar concerns, though you might not guess that at first brush.

Felton is an eighth-grade social studies teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. She says she’s having fun using iMovie, Tik-Tok and SnapChat to entertain her students – and entice them to their online lessons.

She cheerfully notes that her plans to see Jamaica over spring break are off — but she used the trip as an inspiration to make a "welcome to spring break" video for her kids, decked out in beach clothes and an inner tube, sitting in front of her TV with a beach screensaver.

Felton doesn’t have children, and she says her “virtual Jamaica” spring break will involve lots of reading, some binge-watching, "going outside as much as possible, walking the dog, maybe going for a bike ride on the greenway, if that’s even a possibility at this point."

It’s when she thinks about her students’ break that things get a lot darker. Felton says many of them don’t have safe homes even in normal times.

"And I feel like this added stressor of some parents not being used to having their kids at home all the time, on top of, you know, maybe money, finances and job stress – you know, I really fear that some of our kiddos will be in a not-good abusive situation," she says.

Yes, that’s the kind of thing a lot of teachers worry about when they’re supposed to be taking time for themselves.

A Story For The Books

But of course many students are doing well. Emma-Katherine Bowers is an International Baccalaureate student at Myers Park High. This has upended her senior year, but she repeatedly says how lucky she is that she and her family can stay home and be safe.

Spring break was supposed to include a trip to Atlanta for Coca-Cola scholarship winners – canceled – and a visit to her grandmother. "But since she’s a little bit older, we have all concluded for many reasons that it was best to cancel that trip," Bowers says.

Bowers also counts herself fortunate that she had already committed to attending UNC Chapel Hill before everything shut down. 

"I do have a lot of friends who were still hoping to be able to go and visit some of their schools," she says.

She knows she’ll be doing orientation online, and it’s not clear what the start of her freshman year will be like. Meanwhile, proms have been canceled and high school graduation ceremonies remain uncertain.

Bowers says it’s OK to be disappointed, but advises her classmates to keep things in perspective.

''Every senior year is a little different anyway," Bowers says, laughing. "So it’ll be certainly a story for the books there."

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Education Education
Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.