When the pandemic hit, Denise Ladson Johnson made not one, but three plans—one for each of her three children. Her oldest son, AJ, was in college on an academic and football scholarship. When his school reopened in August 2020, AJ went back, but Johnson decided that he would live off-campus, where he could be in a more controlled environment. Her daughter, Mone, was a sophomore in high school. She decided to enroll Mone in virtual learning. Her youngest son, Moses, was in his last year of prekindergarten. Because he was in what Johnson calls his “prime time of development,” she decided that, when her school district’s kindergarten program opened virtually in the fall, she would homeschool Moses instead.

“We worked a plan that was according to fit each one of our children accordingly—what would make each of our children comfortable,” Johnson said. “We could not do one thing for AJ, and then decided that that would work for Mone, vice versa, same thing for Moses.”

For her youngest, Moses, she feared the masks, social distancing requirements, and the ample screen time would be unhealthy for his young developmental stage. “It was too much [sic] regulations and rules for the young ones to adjust to,” Johnson said.

The setup is not easy for Johnson, who is the founder and executive director for the Opportunity Calls Everyone Family Development Center. “I learned definitely out of this experience time management, and to make sure that I keep my children motivated, and keep them inspired to learn and motivated to continue to adjust and understand that we’re in history right now,” she said. She also learned the importance of tailoring each individual child’s education to his or her learning needs. Throughout the pandemic, she even asked each of her children what would make them comfortable to attend school.  

“Make adjustments to what is feasible for your home and your children,” she said. “My way may not work for your way, because all of us are going through this differently.”

Considering children’s individualized needs is something that, going forward, she hopes both families and policymakers will take away from this experience. It’s also why she supports school choice efforts to fund students instead of large systems, enabling parents to find an educational fit  that works for each student’s individualized needs.

“All children do not learn the same,” she said. “Parents should have a variety of choices of what works best for them and what learning environment and style for their student.”

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