Since March of 2020 many things have changed. The pandemic has caused so many lives lost. Some who survived the pandemic are left with lasting health issues. There are so many hasty retirements, folks who were not necessarily planning to retire yet, but now it has just become time. There are businesses and livelihoods lost, plans entirely scuttled some never to be re-written. Nowhere does this seem to be more apparent than in New Mexico where our indoor face mask policy was the only lifted earlier this spring. Exhaustion…its palpable here. While loss is felt by all, one great area where too many have fallen behind is in the education of children that have been irrevocably impacted by the pandemic.
In New Mexico most schools were closed for a year with all learning moving to remote and online. Of course if you had asked any educator prior to the pandemic if teaching Kindergarten online was a good idea there would have been a guffaw and the ensuing laughter would have ended any question. Yet, there we were…March 2020 and after the extended Spring break our kids are online and going to school. My family was so very lucky that our charter school was fast to implement, adapt and move forward with the curriculum. This value became even more apparent when schools didn’t open in August, but remained fully remote until March 2021. Almost a year to the day since the schools had closed.
Families were left trying to help kids keep up with as much help as the schools could muster, but the training that was needed to make online learning effective is primarily geared to college age students. Again, the concept of online learning for elementary age kids was an incredible challenge. Some will point to home schooling, but a home school curriculum is designed differently. You have a set of lessons and texts provided by the program, they expect that there will be an adult figure administering the classes, etc. The school environment in these programs is the home and that is largely designed by the family. Efficacy of homeschooling has mixed results based on various factors as studies have shown. That is not what online or distance learning from the public schools was, nor is. Most teachers weren’t trained, but did their very best.
In Spring of 2020, stories began to emerge of the heroic teachers who were working as hard as they could to move all content online, a herculean task in itself. First there were packets to pickup and return, then the programs started to move online, but some of the software designed to support the process did not work so the best laid plans were sometimes put asunder. This heroic work was not the case for all schools, teachers and students leaving some with untenable situations. Many working parents were forced to leave their very young children home alone with the hope that they could get online and complete some work. Still others had no internet connection, so while schools worked hard to get technology out to students, online learning can’t work if there is no internet connection. Providers and school districts stepped up in many areas, but still the sight of kids seeking wifi was heartbreaking.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, this fall I consider my college first year students and I can see the difference. Writing a paper requires basic explanation of concepts that should be familiar. Giving instructions to blank stares make me wonder if they are imagining I am a character on their screen. These students are profoundly different. This is something that over time will be forgotten, so I write it here for the future. However, there is hope as education has taken a great leap forward, with online offerings and support that would have been unimaginable before the pandemic.
I look at all of the pointless activities I was involved in before COVID. They seemed so important at the time, but as I look back at that life and consider what to add back into my life now I am careful to only add what is important. Remember what matters in life and considering carefully before I say yes. Before I put my kids in another activity or volunteer for more civic duties I consciously ask the question of what I hope will come from the activity. I think about how much time I am willing to invest and how long I will be able and willing to invest that time. Often these simple questions answer the question. If its worth investing my time, great. If not, then it may be something I will consider later when my kids are in college. Often its not anything that I want to invest my time in, so saying ‘no’ is the right answer. That is one of the best gifts COVID left with me that has positively impacted virtually everything our family does. Oddly enough, I don’t think we are the alone.
We have to find a way to build a better future for our children and ourselves. Focus on catching up on your education, learning a new language, enjoying a good book. Tell folks no and invest that time into things that matter to you. Your life will be all the richer for the journey.