Determined to learn to read my library books all by myself, on the Tuesday after Labor Day in 1954 I entered Ann Pratt’s first-grade classroom. The excitement I felt that day never faded because what I experienced in classrooms from Concord to Graham to Otterbein to Germany and back to GHS again never disappointed.
I realize not everyone remembers the back-to-school season with such fondness nor anticipates it nowadays with such passion. I am, however, deeply saddened this year that so many must grapple with some level of trepidation as school doors open for the new academic year.
In mid-March with just over two months left on the school calendar, everyone was blindsided by statewide shutdowns – schools included. Making the best of unbelievably difficult circumstances, families, students, and educators somehow reached the finish line, albeit with lots of unfinished business. And in the 25 weeks since the school bells stopped ringing, a cloud of pandemic concerns has settled over our country in general and our communities in particular.
Lacking meaningful guidance from Washington, forced to sort through misinformation – some inevitable, some deliberate – and intensely desiring to provide a normal school year in abnormal times, anyone connected in any way to the schools had a rough summer.
And now the time has come, filled with hope and fraught with fear: it is back-to-school time again in communities everywhere.
Like many others, I am praying for success for all students, all families, all educators. One strong aspect of modern schools gives me hope for that success: choices. True, five months ago when one weekend transformed parents into homebound teachers and teachers into online lesson deliverers, almost no one felt much choice in the matter.
But during years of learning and teaching in public school settings, I participated in and benefitted from all kinds of choices: college-prep courses in high school, a college degree with on-and-off-campus programs, teaching a foreign language elective here and abroad.
Probably the most enlightening experience in choice came when Marcia Ward suggested I tutor at the Graham Digital Academy/A.B. Graham Academy. Talk about hybrids: on-site classroom teachers guided students through online curriculum while homeschooling parents used the academy’s curriculum center and enrichment programs to supplement the school experience for their children.
We are indeed fortunate that the number of school choices keeps expanding: vocational schools, college-level courses on campus and in high school classrooms, work-study programs, internships, to mention a few.
Out of pandemic necessity, this year many schools have opted to offer new choices. Some students will attend school in person, others will learn virtually, and many children may experience a mixture of both situations. The choice, including homeschooling, belongs to the parents.
Such choices, however, are not easily made when considering the learning style and psychological underpinnings of each individual child in a family as well as childcare needs. In my familial circle, one self-reliant fourth-grader already has a desk set up at home, but her younger sister will attend a church-based kindergarten; meanwhile, their teaching mother will deliver her Advanced Placement lessons in some semblance of classroom/virtual duality. Another mother and children are returning to school as teacher, special-needs elementary student, and high school senior working toward eventual college admission while hoping to lead her marching band down the field as drum major. And in a stroke of genius, a friend’s high school senior doing all her work online will babysit for another friend’s children on their virtual days at home!
Of late, it has been pointed out that we are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat. My, how that applies to the current school situation! We must remember that parents and students are not the only ones rowing. Entire school staffs – teachers, administrators, cooks, custodians, bus drivers, nurses, aides, secretaries – will be expected to man the front lines in the possible presence of a virus we do not totally understand. They too go home to family members that run the gamut in age and health. They too have decisions and choices to make on top of many new, untested schooling methods.
It is more important than ever, then, that we adults make another absolutely crucial choice: to respect, support, and empathize with one another as fellow community members – regardless of choices made. There is no place in modern society, especially now, for judgment and derision: our children simply cannot afford to learn such negative lessons. We adults must offer students at all levels positive educational experiences; we must model for them compassion; we must provide for them a sense of perspective that includes a variety of viewpoints. Let us each live by the choices we have made, and allow others to do likewise.
I try to live each day treating others as I wish to be treated, and my mother taught me to say nothing if I couldn’t say something nice. More and more these days, I am social distancing myself from social media with the too-frequent foolish and meanspirited messages I read there; but I will share a recent Facebook post, an updated version of my personal guidelines:
Response to parents opting for homeschooling: Great! I know that wasn’t an easy decision.
Response to parents opting for online learning: Great! I know that wasn’t an easy decision.
Response to parents opting for in-person learning: Great! I know that wasn’t an easy decision.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.