By Melba Newsome
February 11, 2021
Every day when Oscar Barrett picked up his three young children from his mother’s house, his first question was “how was school today?” Most times he received shrugs or non-committal and disinterested responses like “fine” and “OK.” Anything beyond that came from 10 year-old Hallie, who had excelled at school since Pre-K and tested into the gifted classes.
The 33-year-old father recalls the September afternoon when his daughter interrupted his vacuuming for a heart-to-heart talk. Oscar was completely taken aback by what she had to say.
“Dad, I’m worried I’m going to fail the fourth grade,” she said near tears. “I missed a few assignments and I forgot to get my log filled out. I just feel that school is a lot harder.”
Like most students in North Carolina, her schooling had been upended for nearly a year. On March 12, Union County closed its schools after detecting E.coli in the water supply that posed an acute health risk. Two days later Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statewide shutdown for public schools for two weeks, a closure he later extended to the end of the school year.
For the rest of the school term, Walter Bickett Elementary sent take-home packets for the school children. Oscar’s mother, Regina Barrett, stepped in, initially just for child care. Then, as the weeks ticked by, she took an active role in their learning to make sure they didn’t fall behind.
“In the summer, we did some reading and spelling and I had workbooks for them, not every day but I tried to keep them from getting rusty,” says Regina.
When the shutdown began, state and district leaders speculated that the disruption could last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Those rosy predictions were long gone by the time the new academic year rolled around. It started off with the children totally reliant on virtual learning and with Regina juggling the roles of grandmother, caregiver and teacher.