When schools shuttered in March most couldn’t have predicted it would be five months before children would go back and, even then, school wouldn’t be what they’d known. While most of our local children are starting school remotely from home this week, a few will be on campus for a little while, with how that looks varying. It felt like the Twilight Zone when my high schoolers were envious to learn their younger sister got to go back for half days before finishing the rest of her school day online. Less than a year ago my high schoolers were sent home because of a water line break and it was my middle schoolers who lamented the injustice.
All schools are in a no-win situation right now as they undertake an entire paradigm shift in quick time. The most controversial issue I’ve noticed surrounding schools is whether kids should be back physically and if so, how?
Many parents want their kids back in the classroom now, believing that the mental health effects of the virus — keeping kids away from friends, structure, activities and in-person learning — are worse than the virus itself. Still others’ fear of exposure to the virus is paralyzing. To them it is an obvious, hair-pulling choice to remain physically apart.
To many kids, especially younger ones who don’t have the independence that a driver’s license or a part-time job bring. for instance, school is their world. Think about your most vivid memories between the ages of 5 and 15 years old. I’ll bet at least one has something to do with school.
While we continue to figure out best practices at schools everywhere, let us remember to stay connected through other communities too, even if we need to create new ones. For our kids this could be neighbors, sports teams, Scouts, church friends. Even if these interactions mean masks, Zoom calls or no hugs, it is important for us all to stay connected to people who care. There is much news about anxiety and depression being on the rise among kids during this pandemic but I don’t need to see numbers when I think about my daughter’s smile or how chatty she was after going on a bike ride with a friend she hadn’t seen in months. I heard it when my son said he’d choose to be with all 600 of his graduating classmates one last time rather than have any spectators at a graduation ceremony.
At the very start of this pandemic I worried most about older Americans. They are the ones most at risk to have severe health complications from the virus. I worried about their mental health too. They were the first ones to be told to shelter in place, to isolate themselves from grandchildren, their children and friends.
Children, on the other hand, were supposed to be the healthy ones, the resilient ones to COVID-19. We rallied around our high school seniors in the spring, offering them creative alternatives to missing their end-of-high-school milestones. We thought the time would be a mere blip in their lives that they could tell their grandchildren about, their “walking to school barefoot in the snow” story of hardship. But now, in month six, many of those seniors will start college remotely from home. The class of 2021 is now missing the start of their senior milestones, as are a new class of freshmen, sixth graders, kindergartners, student athletes and more. Every child has been affected somehow by the virus.
We are having growing pains as a nation as new habits and attitudes begin to take shape with no clear finish line in sight. Everything is changing; our entire consciousness is changing. We’ve opened the hood of the car and can see everything. It’s overwhelming, but we need to hold tight, remain connected and model to our kids how to do the same.