Homeschool Confidential
Baltimore magazine|January 2021
The good, bad, and ugly of this surreal school year.
Adam Bednar

In early March, Ezra Harvey sat in his sunny classroom at Roland Park Elementary/ Middle School surrounded by his kindergarten comrades in their matching navy tops and khaki bottoms. But just a few weeks later, Ezra walked down the halls of his neighborhood school—past teachers and colorful artwork—for the last time.

Today, Ezra attends school in his garage. It’s a cold November day, and the now first-grader, dressed in skull jammies (he wears pajamas every day, his sister confides), is doing his morning lesson with his mom, Katie Gill-Harvey, inside the toasty (thanks to a fancy space heater) structure behind his Roland Park house and next to the half-pipe his sister built with his dad. His mom once used this space for her online crayon business, A Childhood Store, and there are still splatters of colorful wax remnant on the floor. Now, the shelves are stacked with books and games and big binders full of finished assignments, and a whiteboard covered in a math lesson sits in the corner. There’s a number line taped to the floor that Ezra will use later to jump back and forth for subtraction and addition problems. It's still school, but different.

Ten months after the pandemic first closed school doors, families have all experienced some sort of destabilizing disruption—from going all virtual to venturing nervously back to school, masks firmly in place, to some mix of the two. This fall, 35 of the nation’s 50 largest school districts opted to educate students remotely, according to Education Next, a peer-reviewed journal, and that included Ezra’s school district—Baltimore City.

“Spring was a disaster [for our family],” says Gill-Harvey. There was no actual in-person teaching—just lots of videos. Nola, her fourth-grader at the time, struggled. GillHarvey would plant herself between Ezra and Nola—the only way they would sit and pay attention—and Google “how to homeschool.” But the idea of pulling her kids from their classrooms didn’t feel right. She was sure the fall would be better, and she felt guilty that homeschooling was even an option for her. “As a parent who can devote time to that, I understand it’s a privilege,” says Gill-Harvey, who works as a part-time art teacher at Greenmount School, where her oldest daughter, Jude, is a seventh grader. The family survived a summer that’s usually filled with adventures and family trips and settled back for what they hoped would be an improved fall. But by day two—even with its enriched plans, daily lessons, and teachers that looped (that is, moved up with their students from the previous year)—Gill-Harvey was feeling despondent. Technology would glitch out, which would trigger spiraling anxiety in Nola, and Gill-Harvey felt like she had to sit and spoon-feed them what the teachers were saying. “We lasted a week,” she says, before submitting the official paperwork to homeschool full-time. “We get a Scholastic magazine addressed to the ‘Harvey Garage School,’ so we’re official,” she laughs.

“WE HAVE TONS OF INEQUALITIES BAKED INTO OUR SOCIETY, AND STUDENTS NOTICE.”

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