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My high school junior has been doing well with remote learning. One thing she’s especially enjoyed is being able to hang out with her close group of friends from her dance school, which she would be less able to do if she’s in school in-person because of the increased exposure risks. Now she has the chance to return to the building four days a week, and she’s not sure she wants to. What should we consider?
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Rameisha Johnson

Rameisha “Ramie” Johnson is a New Orleans native, proud mom, and veteran school counselor and enrollment advisor. When she’s not educationally supporting families or her own children, she is making jewelry and other odds and ends.

We’ve heard a lot about students who struggle with remote learning this year, but we’ve heard less about the students who actually thrive in a virtual school setting. So I appreciate your question. It makes sense that for some students, it’s been a positive change to be able to work more at their own pace and to opt out of some of the usual social pressures of being in school.

Full disclosure: We wrestled with this same decision with my own daughter, and decided to keep her home and start fresh in the fall. That was the right call for us. But it’s definitely worth thinking through a few different sides of the issue before you make a decision for your own family.

You’re right that in-person schooling probably offers some academic benefits for your daughter. Some subjects—like science lab courses or arts electives—are pretty much impossible to do remotely. And even in courses that can be taught remotely, she might miss out on opportunities for hands-on learning that could enrich her experience of the material. So even though she enjoys learning from home, it would be a good idea to make sure she’s truly mastering the material this year.

I’d recommend collecting some data on how she’s doing: report cards, recent work projects, and if you can, some feedback from her teachers. Then talk through that evidence together. If you’re confident that she’s making progress academically, and there aren’t glaring areas for concern, there might not be any particular reason to push her back into the school building for the last month or two of the year, especially since, as you’ve noted, she’s experienced some social and mental health benefits from learning remotely.

Another thing to consider—since she’s a junior—is her access to college guidance if she’s planning to apply to universities in the fall. Can she meet virtually with her guidance counselor if she continues in remote school? Is she able to stay fully apprised of all the upcoming deadlines for applications and financial aid? Can she still sign up for in-person SAT or ACT testing (which we recommend even if her colleges of choice aren’t requiring it)? These are all things to think about as you make this decision.

Finally, there’s the question of your family and how you all feel about her returning to school. Do you feel confident that your school has adequate safety precautions in place? Is the rest of your family low-risk for severe illness from Covid-19 (or are higher risk family members already vaccinated)? Your family’s sense of comfort and safety matters here, in addition to the academic and social considerations for your daughter.

Before you commit one way or the other, you’ll also want to know the process for changing your mind, in case it becomes necessary. If your daughter chooses to stay remote, but then her dance friends go back to their own schools in person and can no longer operate as a social pod, will it still be possible for your daughter to enroll in-person? Or if you try in-person learning and it’s terrible, can you switch back? Find out your school’s policy just in case.

Bottom line: This year has been a wild experiment in virtual learning. It has not gone well for a lot of students. But it has also been eye-opening for the ways that virtual learning can serve some students very well—including those who have particular barriers to being physically in school, as well those for whom remote learning is simply better suited to their personalities. We should learn from all of these experiences so that moving forward, we can figure out how to make school work well for all kinds of students and their families. If your daughter is truly thriving right now, maybe there’s no reason to rock the boat.