Alexandria, VA – It’s no surprise that Maria Magallanes would be in the spotlight for managing to find a novel, neighborly way to cope with raising active children while social distancing in a time of stay-at-home/safer-at-home. Maria was the Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 2015.
Magallanes is a reading specialist at the Cora Kelly School for Math, Science, and Technology. She came from Colorado to take the position at the STEM magnet school and has long been praised for her out-of-the-box creativity and innovative approach to teaching.
In April, when schools in Alexandria and Fairfax County were officially declared closed for the year, three women and their families formed a private social bubble to support each other as they coped with the home schooling and socializing challenges of their combined five children.
In the quiet Rose Hill neighborhood of the Fairfax County section of Alexandria, the families of Monica Kramer, Tara West, and Maria Magallanes pioneered a unique new normal, covertly keeping a COVID-consortium classroom and day camp, sharing schooling and meals and even field trip adventures secretly—that is, until The Washington Post caught wind of it!
Featured on a recent CBS Sunday Morning broadcast, the women spoke of their overall positive experience, citing the support each brought the others in the most difficult moments these past six months. Each family brings to the virtual table experiences and assets that have enriched their lives.
Speaking to CBS, Maria explained how relationships evolved from good neighbors and casual friendships into their close-knit social bubble. More than trusted friends, they have become a veritable family. “I see Monica’s kids and Tara’s kids as my kids, and they see my kids as their kids, and so it’s like we have three moms and three dads, and we’re all on board, and want the best for our kids. That’s why we have this bubble.”
Social isolation inside or outside a bubble is daunting. In times of social and political upheaval, tempers are short-fused and sometimes flare. There has to be a strong sense of community within a bubble, especially one comprised of three separate households. Rainbow flags and Black Lives Matter signage appear in front yards and hang from roof soffits. A large handmade banner of hopefulness, advocating peace and tolerance, greets passers-by from the unpainted picket fencing outside one of the bubble homes.
Monica Kramer, a physical therapist, ensures that the kids are motivated to flex those muscles and work their growing bones, as if kids need incentive to keep moving. Field trips to nearby Huntley Meadows Park offer safely distanced nature adventures far from the crowds of Old Town and D.C. In the record temps of July and dog days of August, a kiddie pool proved to be just the ticket, given that public and most private pools were closed all summer.
But it’s not all fun and games. The moms emphasize that you have to have structure, particularly in the virtual classroom. You also require personal space now and then. Meals are commonly shared, although each family has its own Sunday night special or some other solo meal.
So far so good. The kids are less diplomatic about the ups and downs of living in a social bubble. As in all family groups, there are disagreements and power struggles. They admit to not liking each other all the time, but the consensus is they are indeed one big happy family. They all agree that the personal freedoms they are able to enjoy supersede any perceived disadvantages, such as sharing toys, games, and sometimes parents. The kids love not having to adhere to strict COVID rules of engagement, playing mask-free without social distancing circles and incessant sanitizing drills.
Tara West, a social worker at the Inova Mount Vernon Hospital Outpatient Neurologic Rehabilitation Center, agrees that the experience has been extremely positive. “You have to know who you’re with and know that there’s potential risk, but the benefits outweigh the risks.”
With the new school year going virtual for the foreseeable future (like everything else), their social bubble may not only be a lifesaver and a model for families moving forward, but also serve as an exemplary model of parenthood, again proving that old pearl of wisdom: Children learn what they live.