Like a lot of parents, I want my son to have a normal school year. He’s entering the first grade, and I think a lot of us view that as sort of an important moment — as much a rite of passage as a foundation for ongoing education.
I also know that, whatever happens between now and Sept. 8, when schools in West Virginia are scheduled to open, it won’t be a normal year. Not for him. Not for his mom. Not for me. In a way, it’s a shame, but we have come to grips with the fact that we can only slide around a global pandemic so much. More than anything, we want our kid to be safe.
Besides, normalcy is overrated. My first-grade experience was far from average. Granted, there wasn’t anything like COVID-19 around. Even cooties had been eradicated long before 1982 — contained to the point that, if a classmate teased you about having them, you’d automatically assume they were a young-looking cop who had gone undercover at an elementary school.
We had it much easier back then. Our only hangups centered on punk fading to New Wave, the disturbing movements and almost human eyes of the robot gorilla playing the keyboards at Showbiz Pizza and general Cold War paranoia.
Anyway, I have one of those late-August birthdays that landed my parents with a decision when I turned 6. They opted to forego kindergarten and put me in the first grade. Then, halfway through the year, they pulled me from one school and moved me to another (they moved me back 2 1/2 years later). Sure, I’m socially awkward, generally don’t like myself and blame my parents for all of my problems, but other than that, I turned out fine.
Kidding aside, I do wonder how the children themselves will handle all of this. I know how I feel about it, but worry in a child operates on a different scale. Wearing masks to school and staying in the classroom all day seems like such a burden to put on young children, not to mention the teachers and staff. Then again, at this stage in their lives, first-graders don’t have a lot of experience to compare against. Those with older siblings might have more of a formed idea of what school is “normally” like, but kids in general can be stunningly resilient in adapting to the challenges they face. At the same time, that resiliency shouldn’t be exploited.
Whatever plans the various county systems and private schools have, it’s going to be an awful lot to ask of everyone to make this work. Like so many things we’ve seen since March, I won’t be surprised if these plans are heavily altered within a short amount of time. Schools might end up turning mostly to online education through the fall and winter, at least. That brings its own problems, which have been discussed at length by parents, educators and administrators going back to the spring.
But what can we do? I’ll say it as many times as I have to: These simply aren’t normal times. Children are going to be affected one way or another, regardless. Maybe we end up giving everyone in the K-12 system a mulligan. When the coronavirus is finally under control, perhaps we all go forward realizing that the children ages 5 to 18 in 2020-21 had an abnormal year, and, like the kids themselves, we adapt accordingly.
In the end, it’s not just about education. It’s about keeping kids, their parents (or grandparents serving as parents), school personnel and faculty members healthy and safe. We can only guess what is going to happen in the coming weeks, but we have to act with those factors as our first priority, despite whatever wishes we have about a normal school year.