The coronavirus pandemic and the shutdowns caused by it have affected people all over the world. One aspect of the shutdowns has been particularly difficult – the closing of all schools. People can advocate Google Classroom and Zoom all day long but, in the end, it is nothing close to what school should be all about.
Our children are suffering, but we adults may not even realize it because kids are good at adapting, and they want us to be happy. In their minds that means not complaining and being good little soldiers. This is the case with my kids who say “It’s not so bad” or “I’m getting used to it.” What is being said is less important than how it is being said, and their tone is about as enthusiastic as a wet noodle.
Kids crave socialization as do teenagers. This aspect of daily school lives is as crucially important as the subjects being taught. They want to be able to talk with their friends, run around together at recess, or go into a corner and share their thoughts. Google Meets, Zoom, and even one-on-one face-timing is a poor substitute for seeing each other in person.
If we look at what the Chinese are doing with their students who have gone back to school, we see a stark vision of what the future may hold for our American children. Images of a Chinese elementary classrooms show us the kids wearing protective gear and homemade hats to keep people at a distance. Is this what we really want for our children – school never being the same again?
Many parents I know are desperate for their kids to go back to school, mostly because they need to get back to work. Rents, mortgages, and bills need to be paid, and that requires a paycheck. In order to go back to work, the kids need to be in school. They cannot be home alone in their Google classroom. It is a simple equation that at this point is not easily solved because of all the restrictions still in place.
In Europe many countries are easing restrictions and sending the kids back to school so that parents can go back to work. In Denmark younger students went back to school first. Schedules were staggered so that all students were not going into the buildings at once and, in the classroom, desks are spaced six feet apart in order to keep a social distance. Lunch and recess times are also staggered, and this compromise seems to be working there.
Here in New York – the place hardest hit with coronavirus in the United States – these ideas may not work. Logistically, class sizes are too large for that social distancing in the classroom. And let’s look at the practicality of a staggered schedule. If your youngest has school on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week (school at home the other days), and your oldest has it on Tuesdays and Thursdays (school at home the other days), that schedule would require someone to be at home all week. How is that going to get people back to work?
I have heard a wide range of plans from educators I know, and some like this online teaching idea and others hate it. There are some districts that are planning to close school early this year. They are basically throwing in the towel because online education is too difficult for them. Others are talking about starting the next school year in late July. My question for them is what about the current school year? My kids and everyone else’s kids lost a third of the year.
I would like to see students go back in mid-May. My idea is that every student gets tested at the door. I know in schools with large enrollments that this will be difficult, but their temperatures can be taken fairly quickly. If they have one, they are not allowed inside. If they do not, they are allowed in. If a child should get sick during the school day, parents have to be called to get them.
You will probably say that now this kid just infected others, but this would happen even back in normal times when some parents sent their kids to school knowing that they were sick. Does the risk outweigh the benefits of being in school, being social, and living life normally again? I think the answer is yes because children and teenagers require socialization, and the way things are going now we run the risk of having severely depressed kids, and how is that going to help them succeed in school and in life?
We have to get our children back to school with common sense but realistic safety measures in place that include distancing, hand washing, and face masks. Yes, it will be an added burden on administrators and teachers, but they will have to realize that this is as much a part of the school day as math and ELA.
I see what my kids’ teachers are doing online, and I know that they are trying hard to meet their students’ needs, but seeing each other during Google meets is a poor substitute for being together in the classroom.
We have to get our kids back to class and back to normal as soon as possible. Safety is important, but we cannot put our kids into protective bubbles and never send them off to school again, because that would be like us holding their hands for the rest of their lives. Kids need to be able to be kids again. They need to run, play, scream, laugh, and be together. We will do them a great disservice if we keep them away from each other indefinitely, and school will never be the same, and we will be the ones to blame.