CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the 12 siblings and cousins who spent last year learning with and from each other in a family learning pod, the first day of school Wednesday brought a wave of emotions.
“I’m excited to go back to school but I’m a little unsure still,” Niayla Reynolds, a high schooler in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, said.
The children in the Reynolds and Thompson families were some of the more than 140,000 CMS students that returned for in-person instruction. It was the first time in a year and a half that any of the siblings and cousin had been in a classroom.
“I’m excited [to] see my friends and to see them every day and not just every month,” Niayla Reynolds said with a smile.
When the pandemic was surging in March of 2020, forcing CMS to switch students to remote learning, the family pooled their money together and bought laptops, headphones, chairs and desks for all of the children, and set up their own version of a schoolhouse in an office space.
For the entire 2020-21 school year, the children from kindergarten through 12th grade attended school virtually together. The goal was to keep the family safe through the worst of the pandemic, and look forward to a new school year in person.
Then CMS leaders announced the 2021 school year would begin in person, and state lawmakers removed the remote learning option for school districts this year.
The family began preparing.
All of the children who were old enough to receive the COVID-19 vaccine rolled up their sleeves this summer. The adults stocked up on vitamins, face masks, and hand sanitizer for the kids.
“We are trying to prepare them as much as possible,” said Keesha Thompson Reynolds, one of the parents that participated in the rotation of adults that oversaw the school work.
And then the delta variant surged.
Kristen Thompson, the aunt of the children who often assumed the role of an educational assistant during the remote learning year, fretted over whether the return to in-person learning would be a safe one.
“I am kinda holding my breath,” Thompson said. “They have to come home and that part is really scary because we don’t know what they’re bringing home.”
But the adults are vowing not to let their concerns overshadow the significance of the moment.
“We’ve done all that we can do,” Thompson Reynolds said. “This is the normalcy we’ve been trying to get to.”
On the first day of school, the children were all smiles while posing for their pictures, eager to go back into the school building for the first time in more than a year.
Should the inevitable isolations and quarantines happen, the office-space-turned-learning-pod is still ready to reopen at a moment’s notice.
“I told them to wear their best outfits and really enjoy life because we honestly don’t know when we’re gonna get that call,” Thompson said.
But for now, the family that spent a year leaning on each other will celebrate the chance to step back into their schools again apart.