For John Lewis, his local school district’s decision to enact hybrid learning during the COVID-19 pandemic made finding a work-life balance difficult and strengthened his belief in school choice.
Lewis, now the co-founder and managing partner of a workforce development consulting firm who worked as a leadership gifts officer at Maine Medical Center during the pandemic, resides in Cape Elizabeth with his wife and two school-age children. His eldest child attends public middle school and his youngest attends public elementary school.
“When schools shut down for the remainder of the [2019-2020] year, that was a big shift in routine. Fortunately, I work from home so I was able to do my job while also helping our children complete school tasks. Because society was thrown into a situation we’ve never experienced, there were minimal expectations from the school,” said Lewis
According to Lewis, his childrens’ school followed a hybrid model for the 2020-2021 school year, with two days of in-person learning, two remote days, and one day off per week for staff development.
Lewis’ wife is a registered nurse whose job does not allow her to work from home, leaving Lewis to juggle the responsibilities of being a parent and working at the same time.
“As you can imagine, this created a lot of unnecessary stress and frustration. The frustration was borne from the fact that around the state, the country and the world, children were attending school full-time, in-person,” said Lewis. “Not only were my children not getting the education they needed and have a right to, my performance at work was suffering.”
Dissatisfied with the education his children were receiving in public schools and believing their motivation for school was dwindling, Lewis looked into enrolling them in private schools with full in-person learning.
“Unfortunately for us, many other parents had the same idea and got the jump on us. There was a waiting list to get into one school, and the other option was out of our budget. If we had the option of school choice, and our tax dollars could have helped with tuition, we would have pulled them from Cape Elizabeth schools,” said Lewis.
Lewis said he’s always supported the idea of school choice, but the COVID-19 pandemic helped cement his support.
“When schools are failing your children, you should have the ability to put them in a school that is better suited. Children deserve a quality education and if the school(s) in their community are not delivering on those expectations, then as parents, we should have the ability to take our tax dollars to another option that will provide what they need,” Lewis said.
Lewis also said he believed parents need to be more involved in their childrens’ education and that education and industry should have a “greater partnership.”
“If your child’s school doesn’t want to participate, you should have the ability to enroll them in a school that will,” he said.
Lewis further spoke critically of a mindset that he believes puts pressure on students to pursue a four-year college degree.
“This pressure forces students to focus on classwork that will help them gain acceptance into a college or university, even though their learning style or interests may be otherwise. Schools pride themselves on the percentage of graduating seniors that are accepted into a four-year institution, thus adding to the societal pressure of obtaining a four-year degree. I also feel this has pushed many employers to require or prefer four-year degrees as a condition of employment, when the degree doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the role,” Lewis said
“As parents, if you recognize that your child is better suited for hands-on learning, but your school system doesn’t do enough to foster their learning style, you should be able to bring your child to a school that does,” Lewis concluded.