Being a few weeks into the COVID-19 shutdown, students across the country have by now settled into new routines for their education.
For those with the capability, that probably means a lot of e-learning work. Although less than ideal, where the technology is available, e-learning can have its merits. But our shared experiences over the past month have made it abundantly clear that computers at home will never adeqately replace a classroom of students with an expert teacher at the helm. The quarantine we are going through is shining a very intense spotlight on the absolutely crucial role played by public schools and on the critical need to fund schools and pay teachers equitably for the indispensable service they provide to our communities.
I have seen a lot of parents posting on social media about the difficulties of trying to keep their children on task during their homebound study time. Many people are expressing their empathy and appreciation for the job teachers do every day. Just think, if you are having a problem keeping your one or two kids engaged in their learning at home without the distraction of their peers, how would you like to keep a room full of 30 kids on the same page each and every school day? Maybe, when this all blows over, we will all have a better understanding of each other and appreciate how it takes all of us working together to do right by our children.
I am also hopeful that through the process of our quarantine, parents who normally don’t get very involved with their children’s day-to-day schoolwork will begin to build good habits so that when schools do reconvene, we will have educational communities where all the stakeholders work more closely together under the umbrella of our common vested interests in the children we all help to nurture. The connection of families to their schools is far too often a missing element in the success of public education.
One thing that we are seeing emerge over and over again is the fact that students are missing their schools. It might seem an unlikely scenario that kids would be sick of being out of school, but that is what we are hearing consistently. The same goes for teachers. We are missing seeing our students. There is a bond that forms between teachers and students through a school year and when that connection is broken for a prolonged period of time, there is a sense of loss. By and large, teachers and students care about each other and the sense of isolation inherent in e-learning becomes quite palpable after a short time. I used to think that e-learning might be the next big wave of the future, but after experiencing it for this lengthy amount of time, I no longer feel that way.
But face-to-face interaction in the classroom is not the only connection broken by this quarantine. There are other vital services that public schools provide for communities that are put at risk during shutdowns like this. Many families, far too many, unfortunately, rely heavily upon the public schools to provide meals for their students. In high poverty areas, public schools often provide meals for students even through the summer months. Without public schools providing food service for families who need it, many children would not be getting enough nourishment. It has been impressive and inspiring to see the creative ways that so many public schools have developed to assure that these families are still provided with meals on a regular basis, even as the schools are closed. Many systems are using their buses as a food delivery service at no additional cost, assuring that any at risk students will not have to go without food.
Some students also rely on their public schools to see that some of their other basic needs are met. For example, many schools have a clothing bank for families in need of clothing for their kids. Often, teachers themselves help keep these children clothed. I’m happy to report to you that I know of several teachers with whom I work who have gone to the effort to contact families about what kinds of items they need and then, on their own time and out of their own pockets, shop to provide those items. These things are normally done discreetly at school, but since schools are closed, teachers are taking the matter into their own hands to continue to provide these kinds of services.
Teachers and schools are also getting creative in their attempts to reach out to students on a personal level while maintaining the proper social distancing protocols. I have seen friends post pictures of their driveways that have been adorned in chalk by cheerful artwork and messages from their children’s teachers. Many teachers are holding Zoom meetings where students can come together to spend some virtual time with each other and thier teachers. Some schools are recording videos with messages from the teachers to the students just to stay in touch. There are also schools which are having staff form a parade of vehicles to cruise through the student’s neighborhoods as a visual message that they are not forgotten.
There are so many silver linings to this unprecedented pandemic shutdown if you know where to look. We have an opportunity, when this is all over, to put the politics of education aside and come together with a common understanding that public education is far too important to be used as some bargaining chip in a battle between the haves and the have nots. When it comes to pandemics like this, the playing field becomes temporarily leveled. We are all in the same boat and that becomes abundantly clear in times of crisis. We should remember what this was like when things get back to normal and we should build on this shared experience to help see public education as the cornerstone of our republic that it always has been.
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