By Kristian Bland
No one knows exactly how schools are going to work this year. Parents and teachers alike are still trying to wrap their heads around all the changes administrators are constantly revising. They make changes to the changes they changed a few days after they changed the final draft of whatever guidelines seemed to make sense at the time. If all that sounds way too confusing with the start of school looming right around the corner, it’s only because it is.
While parents are busy dealing with the mental gymnastics required to process and prepare for all the sudden policy shifts that keep whipping back and forth between this schedule and that plan, and teachers are just trying to figure out how to set up their classrooms without drowning in mercurial social distancing requirements for eight-year-olds, there’s not much talk about how all this is affecting students.
Kids these days don’t have it easy. If they’re not busy trying to figure out how to do their homework or study for quizzes when their schools can’t afford to send them home with books or even photocopied worksheets, they’re stressing out over the constant reminders about how important it is they do well on the next state test, or worrying about school shootings or whatever other horrible new thing is going on in the news at any given time. And that’s not even getting into the embarrassing thing that happened to Becky in gym class last year that somehow got made into a TikTok that’s just now going viral three states over just before school starts.
The point is, kids have a lot to worry about. Bullying has always been a problem for students, but now it follows them home thanks to the internet and social media. Active shooter drills are part of the standard school experience now, right up there with old-fashioned fire drills that now seem somehow quaint by comparison. The laser focus on standardized testing puts insane amounts of pressure on them to perform or face dire consequences. It’s a lot to take in when you’re a kid just trying to get through puberty without your head exploding.
Now, on top of all that comes the coronavirus. Regardless of how adults feel about the virus and how politicized it’s become, the fact is students will have to deal with the decisions made by grown-ups, for better or worse. The whole situation is confusing for parents trying to make their work schedules line up with school schedules that keep changing, but it’s even more confusing for kids who don’t really get a say in the matter.
With school ending abruptly last year, students went home and just never went back. Now they’re going into all new grades, sometimes at all new schools, with all new requirements and expectations no one is very sure of yet. Kids like structure and routine, and if there’s one thing the virus is good at, it’s disrupting any kind of certainty about the future.
Wyatt, going into seventh grade, is having trouble adjusting to the uncertainty of the constant changes. He said, “I just want to see my friends again. I knew a few of them were going to do online school but most were going back to campus, and I thought I’d at least get to see them. But now I won’t because our last names are in different groups, so I guess I’ll just have to make new friends this year.”
Sunny, a senior in high school opting for online classes this year, just wants to get on with it. “I think it’s going to be hard but I’m ready for it,” she said. “I’m so bored.”
Perhaps the purest statement on the whole thing comes from a third grader named Malcolm, who just wants to know when he can see his second-grade teacher again. “I didn’t get to tell her bye,” he said. “I missed my goodbye hug.”
School is more than reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s students seeing their friends, adapting and maturing, and depending on their teachers always being there or figuring out how to cope when they’re not. It’s dealing with bullies and mean kids and finding ways to coexist together. It’s struggling in one class while coasting through another. It’s stressing over the uncontrollable and worrying about the inevitable. Going to school, whether in person or online, is a vital part of growing up, and like growing up, it’s all about learning how to handle change.
And the virus has changed everything.