A little boy, barely three feet in height, walks into his school for the first time. His parents anxiously watch from the sidewalk, hoping his classroom is welcoming and his teacher is kind. He walks slowly into the building, assessing intently with his eyes which are barely visible above his mask. You can tell from his body language he is terrified, but he is trying so hard to be brave. His heart is beating so hard in his little chest it’s a wonder you can’t hear it as he walks past.
The teacher takes a deep breath, assesses who is in the waiting room for her next virtual session. She fixes a smile on her face and presses join. This session is only twenty minutes, but within the first 5 the little boy is jumping on his couch and showing off his Batman underwear. His mother is visibly irritated, but she pushes through. By the end of the session, the teacher has tears in her eyes. She says goodbye and lets her head fall to her desk, wondering how in the world she can keep this up until January.
This is the year 2020, or more appropriately the year of COVID-19. To help prevent the spread of the virus and encourage social distancing, parents have been asked to leave their babies at the door. Students are entering new buildings, with different classrooms and unfamiliar faces. They are craving normalcy, but are staring up at expressions they can’t read. Yearning for smiles, for hugs from teachers they never got to say goodbye to last school year.
Teachers are working tirelessly to provide students who chose in-person instruction as “normal” an environment as possible. In between the constant reminders to wash hands and pull up masks, educators are teaching students who have fallen below grade level material from last year before even thinking about this year’s curriculum. They are simultaneously working with administration for contact tracing when a child in their class tests positive for COVID-19. Lesson plans are changing at a moment’s notice when told they must provide instruction from home for the next 14 days.
There are no preparations for classroom Halloween parties. No pep rallies for the Friday night football game. Children are falling in cracks that are widening to valleys. Learning from home simply isn’t working. An unprecedented number of students face the very real possibility of failing their classes this semester, ultimately affecting graduation rates this spring.
As if the concern for academics isn’t enough, the insurmountable damage to the mental health of children and adults alike has grown leaps and bounds since COVID-19 has reared its ugly head. Typically taboo topics of anxiety and depression have taken the stage as parents and educators have fought for in-person instruction. Parents are desperate to keep their children in good health, but in doing so are running themselves into the ground. Children are seeking natural close-contact and interaction with peers, but are advised against it at all costs. Parents are longing for separation between work and home. One day runs into the next until it all begins to blur together into one endless barrage of technical glitches, fighting children, and making meals that vary from that weird chicken dish from Pinterest that still isn’t gone.
When our children’s children read about the global pandemic of 2020, they will likely have various opinions. Whether students should have attended school without question, or stayed home at all costs. What I hope we can agree on in the meantime is that we have all done the best that we can in a seemingly impossible situation. Compare it to an infinite line of dominos. If one is to fall, it is only a matter of time before they all come crashing down. The importance of education cannot overshadow the overall health and well-being of our children. Parents have to work to put food in their babies’ bellies. Grocery stores must be stocked, products must be manufactured, and education must go on.
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