How many times have we heard it said that “these are unprecedented times?” That statement may have provided some comfort at the start of the pandemic, but it is time to face the reality that the chaos families are experiencing is here to stay.
This year, back-to-school season fills us with anxieties about the safety of our children and their prospects for academic progress. Americans are obsessed with viewing everything as a television show that cathartically wraps up in a nice, little bow at the end of the scheduled 30 minutes. Yet, tough times in the real world require us to admit tough truths. For instance, the pandemic we’re living through does not have an expiration date. We have to stop acting as if the coronavirus will disappear just because we desperately want to get back to normal. It won’t.
Let’s do the adult thing and face facts. Studies show the pandemic has demolished children’s reading and math scores as well as their mental health. I haven’t seen a clear fix that fits every family’s needs, but I do know that if we're paralyzed by how awful it all is, we won’t be able to save our children. They need us to model what it looks like to stand strong when the world makes us weak.
I have a few suggestions to help not only protect our kids in school but provide solace as we navigate problems we’ve never seen in our lifetime.
Take the time to grieve what we have lost
We are in month 17 of a global health crisis that has taken the lives of loved ones and obliterated our way of life without any warning. As social creatures, we need to interact with one another to feel fulfilled, yet we are suffering under a detached, socially distanced set of mandates that have cut us off from our support systems. We are privately mourning our relationships and worrying about the possibility that some things will never be the same again.
I know my children miss the ease of playdates, sitting side by side with friends and just being a kid. We lost that peace, and just like any other loss, we need to grieve to fully accept that what has happened won't change.
Analyze what your “today’s normal” looks like
It’s too soon to say our current situation is the “new normal,” but it’s certainly today’s normal, and that’s a million miles away from the norms we took for granted two years ago. For parents sending their kids to the chaos that is our current school system, there is uncertainty in how long we will have to patch together some reasonable semblance of schooling for our children.
What does your family define as safe?
Are you considering homeschooling?
Do you have a plan for childcare in case in-person learning shuts down again?
How are you going to guarantee your children are still getting the necessary social interactions they need to grow?
Students who are already at a disadvantage in our schools (students of color and/or those experiencing poverty) are going to fall further behind. According to a McKinsey & Co study, it is estimated that white students will lose one to three months in math and students of color will lose at least three to five months. We must think intently about creating the best possible plan for children — one that fits our unique situation — and we must do so knowing the best plan won’t be a perfect one.
Prepare and understand the culture of your children’s school
Has your children’s school articulated a plan that aligns with the new normal that you have determined is best for your family? Already, several states, including Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Georgia, have opened their schools for the 2021 – 2022 school year and had to quickly close again due to coronavirus outbreaks. If there is no clear plan as to what happens if there is an outbreak in your school, except for sending people home and back to remote learning.
What is your plan for remote learning to ensure that your children are not left behind? Parents need to think realistically about what they may need to do to prepare in case remote learning is thrust upon them again.
Accept the changes and be willing to adapt
Acceptance is always easier said than done. The school system was created to not only teach students the fundamentals but to provide a place to learn core values. It is hard to accept that core values are not something schools can teach because not everyone has the same values that your family may. It is important to understand that schools are changing and, to protect our kids’ futures, we need to be willing to fight the patterns of wanting to go back to the “way it was” and focus on what is best for our children now.
There is no clear story or path or even direction to how we are supposed to protect our kids in schools during a pandemic. Tough times are testing us, and we can’t afford to fail. We must do what we can with what we have, as our ancestors who lived through depressions, wars and natural disasters have done in times past. We, as parents, need to take charge and be our own saviors for our children. If we don’t, who will?
Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of
brightbeam. He was named CEO in April 2019, after formerly serving as chief executive of Wayfinder Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. In the past, Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, ...