When the COVID-19 pandemic numbers were climbing to frightening levels in New York City, Paul and Beth Simms didn’t wait for their children’s school to officially close.
“We pulled the kids out in March,” Ms. Simms said. “Paul said in February it was going to be really bad.”
Knowing they had a home on Shelter Island, where the numbers of infections stayed low, the Simms moved here with their children, Charlie, 8, who’s in 3rd grade, and Violet, 10, who is in 5th.
“We didn’t make the decision to put the children into school here until August,” Ms. Simms said. The couple were reading a lot about children’s mental health and the lack of socializing when they were learning remotely.
“The kids were fighting and retreating into their iPads,” she recalled. “The kids love it in the school,” she said. “They’re so happy to be around other children.”
For years, the Simms had rented on the North Fork, then found a place on the Island one summer and within days, “we fell in love with it.” They started watching for Island houses for sale in The New York times. “We bought the first place we saw.” That was three years ago.
Their house on South Midway is a half-mile from Wades Beach. “It’s so peaceful,” she said. “I love it.”
Ms. Simms said the couple are amazed at how much the children love attending school on the Island. “Last week Charlie had a runny nose,” she said, “and Paul decided the kids should stay home until we got tested. Violet was furious. She didn’t want to miss school. In six years of being in school she has never been angry to miss a day.”
This is the first year Violet got grades in school, her mother said. “It gives her an incentive and she responded really well. In the city school, they would give her a long essay report and that just doesn’t cut it.”
Beth Simms worked at GQ magazine as Entertainment Editor before retiring to stay at home with their children.
Paul Simms is a comedy TV writer and producer. He currently has a comedy show “What We Do in the Shadows,” going into its third season. Starting in April, he had to work in the writers’ room on Zoom. He’s also been a writer for the “Shouts and Murmurs” column for the New Yorker magazine.
Although they’re not new to the Island, Ms. Simms said staying on in the fall and enrolling their children in school has made it “a completely new experience. We’ve met other parents and families. Most important, it’s knowing that we’re safe.”
The other day, Ms. Simms took the children to an orthodontist appointment in the city, their first trip back since July. She said the children were nervous about being back in the city.
Attending school on the Island brought a lot of changes for Charlie and Violet. “They hadn’t made friends when we were only here in the summers,” Ms. Simms said. “Now they have friends.”
For Violet, the first couple of weeks were difficult, she said. The children have to wear masks, sit 6 feet apart and it’s hard to talk to each other, especially meeting new people.
“But Violet makes origami cranes,” Ms. Simms said, “and once the kids noticed them, they were drawn to her. ‘Now I have 4 best friends,’ Violet told me.”
As for Charlie, “We were in the car the other day and Charlie was on the phone with my mother,” Ms. Simms recalled. “When he told her he loved school here, I could hear her laugh and say ‘Who am I talking to!’”
Life in the time of COVID has meant a lot of cooking at home, Ms. Simms said, as well as takeout from local shops and restaurants. “My kids could eat the croissants from STARs cafe every day.”
They enjoy getting cheese and breads from the cheese wagon and fresh vegetables from Sylvester Manor Farm. Ms. Sims went on a class trip with Charlie’s class to the Farm and they picked kale and carrots. “‘I’m only going to try the kale because I picked it,’ Charlie said.”
Halloween on the Island brought even more new experiences. “I had never heard of ‘boo’-ing,” Ms. Simms said. “You drive around with a bag of candy, and drop off candy at random houses with a note saying ‘You’ve been booed.’ The kids were so excited — Charlie called it ‘the best night of my life.’”
On Halloween itself, “it was such a beautiful day and they were able to see their friends and get a truckload of candy. Charlie said, ‘Can we stay here forever?’”
Making the move here was, Ms. Simms said, “the best decision we ever made.”