Today, August 17, 2020, marks the beginning of the new 2020-2021 school year in our school district. To say that it looks different from any of the other 152 starts in the over 150 years of the district’s existence is probably an understatement. There have been crises over the course of those many years, from the Great Depression to the Cold War, and yes, even a pandemic a century ago. I don’t know for a fact how any of those events changed the running of the school district, but I do know one thing. Back to school wasn’t online, away from the classroom.
This year, everything looked different. Back to school shopping has been much more restrained. I noticed this on our trips to Target. The aisles weren’t crowded with parents armed with supply lists, nor were the shelves bare as supplies ran out. It isn’t just the looming economic uncertainty or as in our family’s case, the mountain of bills we have incurred thanks to the stresses of this season. The truth is that we didn’t really know what to buy. There was no need to rush out and buy a cute new first day outfit, or to fill a Target trolley with stacks of composition books, colorful pens, and three-ring binders. Beyond a Chromebook, a spiral notebook, and a clean set of pajamas, what more will students need for distance learning? Or as it’s now euphemistically called, virtual academy.
Fact is, they need their friends. They need a semblance of normalcy as this pandemic progresses, as governments make decisions based on politics and partial sets of facts. We talk of numbers and statistics, the impact that this disease has had on the economy and the risk to our physical life and well-being. What I haven’t read enough about is the impact to family relationships and mental and emotional health. What I hear from families- what I see in my own family- is pretty discouraging. There are no winners here. Everyone I know in some way is struggling through the isolation, the loss of routine, the togetherness in a way that doesn’t feel very together. And as much as we are looking forward to something different to break up the summer doldrums, online school is not what my kids were hoping for when we ended the 19-20 school year. Nate was hoping to start high school with his buddies by his side, Sami wanted to be present with her friends for her last year of middle school. Emily’s just hoping to have a senior year. And I am wondering how we will be able to address not so much the academic learning loss, but the social-emotional learning that has possibly been stunted as a result.
But there are bright spots. We have the technology to keep us connected and we’ve been able to utilize it more than ever to keep some learning continuity. Teachers and school staff across districts have worked all summer to provide quality curriculum for student success; I can attest that our district has been hard at work. And while there are times when we feel as though we have no say in our fates, we can control our reactions. We can hold on to traditions. For our family, on the evening before school starts, we read Audrey Penn’s The Kissing Hand. This has been a family tradition since Jacob started kindergarten, and though he’s now graduated from high school, the tradition continues still for the benefit of his siblings. Life might look different, school does look different, but we can still hold onto what makes our family our family even as we adapt to the world around us. And the love that binds us is something that doesn’t have to change.
I wish for you all the best as we embark on this strange adventure called education in 2020. May we grow much during this time. Be well, and find those happy trails. Best wishes for a healthy and successful 2020-2021 school year.