As we reach the pinnacle of this pandemic, both in physical sickness and mental exhaustion, a new debate is forming.
Should our children return to school, even with the growing health risk?
Should we even reopen schools?
Every parent learned a few short months ago, the value of their child’s teacher, along with the dedication and fortitude it takes to support your child’s learning in the home. Let’s be honest; most of us want schools to reopen so we can return to some sense of normalcy with our lives. Whether that is returning to the workforce, regaining your independence from your child, or never, ever again having to teach your own child.
There is no denying the canyon-sized divide that is weaving throughout our nation over the validity of this Pandemic. However, something we can all agree upon is that this virus is prevalent throughout our community, and people have died from it.
Those are facts.
Facts that should not be dismissed, as I plead with you not to gamble with the health of our teachers, our children, and our community. No one is immune to this virus, just as we are never immune to the actions of others.
Our community is built on the actions of all, not just a few. Teachers have long since dealt with the growing threats that have plagued our schools in the last twenty years. As parents feared to send their children to school after the Sandy Hook shooting, teachers stood together at the doors united in providing a safe learning environment for our children. Practicing drills that could have incited fear in our children, our teachers instilled a sense of awareness and understanding of the importance of protecting ourselves, just as we would in practicing our fire drills.
Again, during this time of uneasiness, we ask our teachers to put aside their personal fears and beliefs, to develop an enriching and quality learning environment for our children.
Right now, teachers are adapting their classrooms to be able to provide our children with a quality education in a safe environment.
They will remove most of their furniture (center tables, reading nooks, paint easels, ect.), leaving behind only the solitary desk for each student.
No longer will their walls be covered with posters about thinking maps or adding, but posters on how to wash your hands and clean your area.
Instead of interactive games on the tables, there will be bottles of hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes.
Marks will be placed on the floor to visually and physically give classmates a safe six feet of distance between one another at all times.
They will create individual supply holders for each student, knowing that the days of collaborative work, sharing, and small centers are over.
Teachers will create schedules that will forgo their breaks, taking lunch with their students in the classroom, only being allowed to hand out prepackaged food.
They will develop lessons on how to teach our children the new hygiene protocols in conjunction with classroom procedures.
And finally, they will create new ways to keep students engaged in learning while staying in their seats the entire day.
They will do all of this just a week before our children enter their doors, devoting their personal time and accepting the risk as they always have for the sake of educating our children.
As a parent, I have to accept what my children will lose this year at school. The natural human connection of two friends sharing a book together in the reading center, the comfort a student feels within their teacher’s encircling arms, the excitement of learning to play the piano in music or tap a tune in dance, and the playful release of energy on the school park equipment; it is all lost to them now. But, they will still have the feeling of finally being connected to their friends, even if they have to stand six feet apart.
Even though the teachers cannot wrap their arms around my children, I know that they will still be able to love my children and educate them in a way no virtual school could offer.
There might not be keyboards and tap shoes, but there will be other things my children will have that they could never get at home. And while they may not be able to swing from the monkey bars, at least they will feel the fresh air in their lungs and the sun’s rays on their faces, as they run with their friends, six feet apart.
So, all is not lost, but it will be abnormal.
As a parent, who has made the arduous decision to send my children to school, I will have to begin educating them on the changes they will now face at school. It is my job as their mother to create a positive mindset as they return to school.
I will teach them the importance of protecting themselves by wearing their newly acquired “ninja” mask and having them wash their hands for 20 seconds (which is a long time for a child). I am ensuring they can visually understand the distance of six feet, so they can keep it from their classmates in the hallways as they walk to their classroom. I impress upon them the significance of respecting others’ beliefs and fears. That respect means treating others the way they would like to be treated.
Just as I would never tell my children to not participate in a safety drill at school, I will never encourage my children to disregard the safety rules put into place by my children’s school administration.
Regardless of my personal thoughts on this pandemic, I will show my support for my children’s teachers by ensuring my children protect their teachers and classmates from contracting this virus. Because, as much as we want to believe it is nothing more than the flu, for some, it is a death sentence.
So, for all those parents who have made the decision to send their children back into the hallways and classrooms of our schools, I ask this of all of you as a mother:
Please ensure that our children do not feel fear as they pull the mask over their face, instead help them to feel the excitement that they get by returning to school to be with their friends and be an active learner. Help them understand that washing your hands is something we do in school to be considerate of others, just as we raise our hand to speak in class. Impress upon them that we keep the personal space of another out of respect.
Teach your children that this time is not about fear, but building a stronger, healthier community filled with respect and empathy for all.