This week we had to say an official “Goodbye” to the school building for the 2019-2020 school year. My son’s principal sent an email message that we could come up this week to get any of his work and books and materials left in the classroom.
I made an appointment that fit into my online working schedule, but as I later found out it would be during one of his scheduled online classes. At first, he seemed unhappy about not being able to come with me, but then later on he seemed okay with it.
When I drove over to the school, the first thing that struck me was how easy it was to park. It is never easy to park in the streets near that building, but today I had my choice of where to park right across from the building.
Putting on my virus gear of face mask, gloves, and sunglasses, I got out of the car, ran up the steps, and rang the bell. Once inside, everything was dark, with only patches of light from the open classroom doors illuminating the hallways.
I signed in at the office and then went upstairs to my son’s classroom. The walls in the hallways were totally bare, and usually during the school year the walls are filled with blazing colors and examples of the students’ projects, work, and art.
As I walked down the hallways, the heft of the silence weighed upon me – making me think that school is not supposed to be like this. A school should be filled with happy and noisy kids. The building must be grieving the premature loss of the children – it’s going to be a long, lonely summer for it.
I went into his classroom and noticed the teacher’s beautiful decorations hanging in eerie silence. The students’ work was piled upon their desks. I went to my son’s desk and collected his art work and other materials. I looked up and noticed the daily classroom calendar stopped on March 12 – his last day of school because of the coronavirus.
I kept thinking about all those days between then and now, and what would have happened in that classroom if there had never been a virus that stopped the world – all the interactions, the conversations, and the hands-on experiences that have now been declared forbidden in this hands-off world.
As I left the building, I looked back one last time, and it was the saddest sight ever. A school building with no students is sadder than a Christmas tree put out on the curb in January.
When I got home, I gave him his materials and he smiled when he remembered a project he did or a piece of art that he enjoyed making. For a moment he seemed lighthearted, but then he looked at the clock and had to get ready for his next online class.
While working in their Google classrooms or Zoom meetings, students of all ages have had to adjust to the online world in ways they never expected. They see their friends’ faces in brief glimpses, as their teachers do their best to adapt their lesson plans to online instruction.
For my kids, this online learning has been going on since March 16 – so we are past the two-month mark here. I am pleased to say that they have adapted pretty well, despite a glitch here and a link that won’t open there. This is new territory, so it seems like the teachers know that sometimes things won’t work, and everyone will have to go with the flow.
Yet this is not schooling – it is a semblance of schooling. People are talking about what will happen in the fall, and some say that we will go back to the building and others think we will not. All I know is that if we can’t go back to a normal school routine, schooling as we used to know it will be over.
Yes, we will have to deal with it, but there are going to be many empty school buildings, and students’ worlds will be inextricably altered. Will they learn? Probably. Will the quality of the education be the same? Probably not.
They may get all the information they require and be able to pass their tests and move up to the next grade level, but that personal interaction will be gone. The way teachers get to know students will be much different, and the continued burden on parents who have to work will be incalculable.
So, this week we said “Goodbye” to the school building for this school year. I am just hoping it’s not goodbye for forever.