Perhaps you’ve seen the memes floating around social media of celebrities, like Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo, illustrating how they’ve been feeling during 2020 via scenes from their movies. I identify with Ruffalo’s meme (right). From June through September, Ruffalo shows himself as an angry Incredible Hulk. Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s how I feel right now, too.
This is my third column (officially six months) in which COVID-19 is affecting every aspect of our lives and, frankly, I’m furious at this point for our nation’s kids! When the 2019-20 school year abruptly was cut short in March, I thought kids would eventually complete the school year face to face. But they didn’t. Now, here we are, six months later with the pandemic still raging (and still no end in sight) and we’re debating whether to send kids back to school.
Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution to the schooling situation and, in my opinion, every option has its drawbacks: Can working parents’ monitor their kids’ online learning well and still do their jobs from home effectively? Probably not. If online learning programs created by traditional school systems haven’t improved since the abrupt end to last school year, will it leave our kids academically behind in the long run? Probably. (My 16-year-old niece informed me there was little accountability for completing assignments while taking online classes through her public school last spring and there was a lot of cheating among students.) Will teachers and other school staff and kids inside brick-and-mortar schools contract COVID-19 and pass the virus to family members? Probably.
Ultimately, if kids go back to brick-and-mortar schools, unless their school has no safety plans in place related to COVID-19, I’m certain kids’ experiences in school will not be the same—or even as good—as pre-COVID. Why do I say that? One of my friends teaches kindergarten. When I spoke to her last week (end of July), she told me she worries she won’t be able to hug her students. “You have no idea how many of these kids miss their moms, especially at the start of the year,” she said. “Hugging them is how I comfort them and I don’t know how I’ll help them if I can’t give them a hug. It’s who I am as a teacher.” Hugging may not be a huge concern to most, but think about other ways in which learning will be compromised to avoid sharing of manipulatives and other learning tools or to avoid close proximity between students.
Of course, we all want our lives to go back to “normal” and it seems many people are acting as though life already is normal. Maybe I’m the one living in the Twilight Zone because my husband and I are still being as safe as we can without being complete shut-ins (though we’re close to that). At this point, I’m disheartened that this virus continues on (and on and on) and parents and educators are forced to choose between sub-par options at the ultimate expense of our youth.
At least I can provide you a calming voice this issue: Julia McFadden, AIA, who writes about returning kids safely to K-12 schools in “Business”, has a comforting writing style and a positive outlook. I admire McFadden who as associate principal with Svigals + Partners also led the engagement process for the new Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn. We need more people like McFadden who are offering guidance in their professional capacities to circumvent complex situations.
My best wishes to parents, students, teachers and staff of America’s schools for the 2020-21 school year.