2020. The year that keeps on giving.

Will it never end?

Believe it or not, 2020 is marching along one day at a time just like every other year in history. The holidays and landmarks are occurring as they always have, though we may not feel as festive. What’s ahead for the busy fall season of football, festivals, and holidays? Heaven only knows, but this fall will continue on as the season has every year since anyone can remember.

One of fall’s significant landmarks? The beginning of the new school year. It is happening as it has always happened, if not quite the same way. But like the end of the last, unprecedented school year; like Memorial Day; like July 4th; like the heat of the summer and the cool of the pool–ready or not, here they come. The kids are coming back to school.

Our county has selected the hybrid model. Parents were offered the option of virtual or face-to-face learning, with the understanding that this is a very different creature from the online learning of the late spring. In school or at home, this is a real school year with real classes and real grades. For the little ones, the elementary school students, this requires a serious commitment of energy and time by the parents. Keeping a 5-, 6-, or 7-year-old on task is no small undertaking, especially when they are distracted by the interesting environment of home and not surrounded by a classroom of their peers all doing the same thing.

I do not fault the parents who chose virtual schooling; in fact, I admire them. They chose what they felt was best for their children, even though it means a fair hardship for themselves.

Nonetheless, about half of our kids will be back in the building, and we are spending two weeks preparing for the extraordinary task of keeping them safe while giving them as normal a school day as possible. All of our teachers are based in the building, though each grade level, K-5, has been divided into virtual classes and building-based classes. It’s only fair to allow the teachers to be one or the other. Preparing lessons for both, or trying to include computer-based students in the goings-on of the face-2-face classroom, would be daunting at best.

The virtual teachers have decorated their classrooms just like always, but with an eye toward offering a variety of backgrounds for videos. They are making virtual tours of their rooms so the kids can see the reading area, the math manipulatives, and the science equipment. The teachers will be demonstrating concepts as they always have. I have seen more than one tear from a virtual teacher who is aching for a classroom of eager faces and voices, but it is what it is. We are here for the kids, and this is what they need right now.

A new concept–Bitmoji classrooms

For those of us in the building (I am a media center parapro, and currently its only staff), it has been nearly two weeks of anticipating all the what-ifs. How do you let children visit the library and check out books, while following the CDC recommended quarantine of returned materials? I have a plan. How do you teach music and art without sharing instruments or tools? Those teachers have a plan in classrooms so colorful the kids won’t be upset by the changes. How do you move them through the hallways without the usual din of class changes? It isn’t easy, but we have a plan. How are we going to keep them in their masks? Can we give them outdoor, socially-distanced breaks to take them off and breathe deeply? We have a plan.

Fewer kids in the same building means more space, and, at least for now, fewer students per teacher. In addition, we are all hands on deck. The office staff, the specials teachers, the additional instructional staff, the custodians, the cafeteria workers–we are operating as one entity, one organism, with only one goal in mind. Keep those kids safe, make them feel safe, but give them their childhood. Give them the joy of something normal in their lives. Give them the hope that things will get better.

Like everything else in this incredibly contentious year, people have very strong feelings about the manner in which we are going back to school. I pass no judgement on them one way or the other. I hear and understand the arguments of both.

But the reality of it is–ready or not, here they come. We must find a way to educate our children and get their learning back on track. We cannot sacrifice this generation to a pandemic we did not anticipate, and for which have no precedent for guidance. I will tell you, as an educator in the trenches, we are doing everything in our power to keep the children safe. There has been an endless parade of meetings, mixed with extraordinary efforts to make a sanitized school as colorful and welcoming as possible.

And…we also have plans in place in case they send us home again, for a day, for a week, for a semester, for the rest of the school year.

2020, the year that keeps on giving.

You will not break our spirit; you will not steal our joy (not permanently, anyway); and you will not claim our children. You will not stop us from living our lives. 2021 is now in view, the light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Ready or not, here they come.

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