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Families at Hartland clothing swap say they’re ready to send kids back to school

  • Carly Cote, 9, left, looks over clothes with her mother, Karen Cote, while Mackenzie Pierce, 9, decides on a book while her mother, Erika Pierce, all of Hartland, Vt., sorts through clothes at a back-to-clothing school swap at the Hartland Recreation Center on Saturday, Aug, 22, 2020 in Hartland. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news — Jennifer Hauck

  • Emily Fortier of the Hartland Recreation Center helps Carly Cote, 9, try on a pair of sandals at a back-to-school clothing swap at the Hartland Recreation Center on Saturday, Aug, 22, 2020 in Hartland. Carly said she was eager to be back at Hartland Elementary School, where she will be starting fourth-grade this fall. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/22/2020 7:05:28 PM
Modified: 8/22/2020 7:05:26 PM

HARTLAND — Even after a rush of people descended on a back-to-school clothing swap as soon as it opened at 8 Saturday morning behind the rec center in Hartland Three Corners, the tables were still piled high with clothing.

Donations had poured in last week, John Leonard, the town’s recreation director, said. It was a bit of a surprise.

“It should be mandatory to take a sweatshirt,” Leonard said. The clothing covered six long folding tables — the kind familiar to anyone who’s attended a public meeting or a pot luck in an Upper Valley municipal building — that had been pushed together under a big, red-and-white-striped tent.

Given the ongoing debate about whether students should return for in-person learning this fall, the back-to-school swap might have seemed counter-intuitive. But there were 15 people waiting for the event to start, Leonard said. A similar event held last weekend in Woodstock drew about 60 people shopping for an estimated 150 children, according to Beth Robinson of the Ottauquechee Health Foundation, one of the groups that helped organize it.

There is no end of doubt surrounding the reopening of schools, but if the attendees of Saturday’s swap are any indication, many children are ready to go back, and their parents are ready, too.

“I think it’s fine,” said Erika Pierce. “I have reservations, but I would any school year.”

It seems likely to her that with all the precautions in place schools are set up to have a healthier fall than they’re used to.

“They’re going to be screening everybody, so I think there’s going to be less illnesses,” said Pierce, whose children, ages 9 and 7, will be going into fourth and second grades at Hartland Elementary. With some children staying home, there will be fewer children at school, she added.

Her husband took leave in the spring from his work with a well-drilling company to stay home with their children. Pierce’s job, as a grants and contracts specialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, provides their health insurance, so she had to keep working.

“It was a sacrifice, but it was what we needed to do at the time,” she said.

Remote learning wasn’t ideal, she said. “It’s like asking us to do our own surgery.”

Her children went to the recreation department’s summer camp, which was held outdoors, and did well. School will be held in outdoor classrooms as much as possible.

“I think it’s healthier than trying to keep them home in a box,” Pierce said.

Leonard, too, said he feels children are ready for school, and vice versa.

“At this point, I’m OK with it, because I’ve seen the effects of lack of socialization,” Leonard said. His children are ages 6 and 9 and attend Hartland Elementary. Vermont is fortunate to have had so few cases of COVID-19, he added.

“I’m ready for my kids to go back,” he said. “If we do have to come home again, then so be it.”

In running the rec department’s summer camps, Leonard noted that there was a longer “honeymoon period,” when children get to know each other, before the inevitable conflicts emerge. “They were so happy for each others’ company again,” he said.

Amy Fredland, who attended the swap with her son, Simon, 8, is heading back to school, as well. She teaches at the Upper Valley Waldorf School in Quechee, which resumes with a mix of in-person classes and remote learning next month.

“We think there’s a great possibility to have a successful fall,” Fredland said, but noted that the school is ready to return fully to remote learning if necessary.

Meeting the precise needs of every family is going to be harder than it has been in the past, but she’s looking forward to the challenge, Fredland said.

“I don’t know what my students need, because I haven’t seen them in six months,” she said. At the Waldorf school, teachers remain with a cohort of students as they progress, and she’ll be teaching their fifth-grade year.

“I’m looking forward to reading their cues,” she said. There are fears associated with going back to school, but “it’s just a matter of putting them into perspective,” she said.

Families have had to re-evaluate life more broadly than just deciding whether to send a child back to school, Fredland said. And the effects of the novel coronavirus are probably wider than we understand.

“Some professionals are indicating that this global pandemic is on the level of traumatic events” experienced by whole communities, she said.

There’s a yearning among parents and children for a return to school. Asked how she and her children feel about resuming in-person classes, Karen Cote said, “Excited, exclamation point, exclamation point.”

Kids need to go back to school, and parents need to be able to work, she said. She’s planning to go back to her job, teaching nursing at Vermont Technical College in Randolph.

She isn’t particularly worried about kids going back to school because of the precautions in place.

“I think they’re going to be as careful as possible,” Cote said.

Melissa Reynolds has been able to work from home, but only part of the time, so the reopening of Hartland Elementary is as important for her as it is for her son, who’s starting first grade.

“I’m glad the kids get to go back,” she said.

Her son, small as he is, understands that he needs to keep to his own space, Reynolds said.

As a single parent who can’t always work remotely — she’s a secretary at Dartmouth-Hitchcock — school is a key support.

“I’m looking forward to it, and I know my son is, too,” she said.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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