Do you remember what it was like as a child to experience the hot days of summer, the get-togethers with friends, swimming at the beach, camping, traveling, and thinking this kind of life could go on forever? Then the realization dawned on you that those days were about over and school was beckoning. Ah, yes, to give up your wonderful laid-back days of freedom and no homework.
Getting ready for school was a big event. My sisters and I would shop at a department store and spend the money we had saved during the summer to buy lunch boxes, notebooks, pens, pencils, paper, and whatever else we thought we might need. At that time in history, they didn’t sell backpacks for school or those would have been on our lists, too. My parents would buy us new clothes and shoes. Once all of this was accomplished in August, we were on countdown for the first day of school which started the day after Labor Day. The first day was always a little nerve-wracking, especially if it was the year you started changing classes and having different teachers for different subjects. I liked school, books, studying, and learning new things, so I was filled with anticipation when the day arrived.
Due to COVID-19, everything has changed. Our daily motto is to “wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and wash your hands frequently.” There is a big controversy over whether or not masks are healthy for you. I have read a lot on both sides of the issue from medical specialists and they can’t agree, either. For parents with young children, they are unsure whether sending their children to school with masks will be effective. Young children are apt to pull off the masks, play with the elastic, and most likely will want to swap their mask for their friend’s mask that might be more interesting or colorful. There may even be some situations where students cannot wear masks due to a medical condition. Children staying six feet apart will not be able to share projects or swap crayons or books. At most schools, parents must drop their children off at the front door where someone will meet them and take their temperatures to check for fevers. The parents are not allowed to go inside. Nothing about this pandemic is easy.
School openings for 2020 will be different for everyone across the country. In Vermont, school will start on Sept. 8. For parents, there has been confusion and anxiety over whether to send their children back to school at this point. For some, it is a no-win situation. The parents must go back to work to pay their bills.
One of our local districts, the Kingdom East School District (Kingdom East), includes schools in Burke, Concord, Lunenburg, Lyndon, Newark, Sutton and Union District #37 (Millers Run: Sheffield and Wheelock). Superintendent Jen Botzojorns has been relaying information via videos on Facebook to answer questions. There are three options for learning this year: in-person learning at each school; a virtual academy called Kingdom East Virtual Academy (KEVA); or homeschooling through the state of Vermont. All students and teachers must wear cloth masks if they are going to physically attend school.
Superintendents, teachers, and their teams have all been working very hard to make sure that whatever option is chosen will be a good one for your child. Teachers are faced with making classrooms safe for those attending in person. They have been working with the results of surveys, talking with parents, and planning lessons to comply with all rules. There will be separate teachers for children physically going to school and those attending KEVA. The teachers will not work in both places.
In an article for WCAX written by Cat Viglienzoni and Olivia Lyons and updated on Aug. 12, Gov. Phil Scott said, “Many of our kids are not doing okay.” He believes that “…the state’s students need to return to school in the fall to help meet their developmental needs and their families’ work situations.”
It has been noted throughout the country that young children are not as likely to contract COVID-19 or to transmit it to others. Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said in an article by Maleeha Syed and Joel Banner Baird in the Burlington Free Press on July 28, that “Children are quite resilient and can meet new norms of behavior.”
Kingdom East has requested once parents choose one of the three plans that they adhere to it for the entire school year rather than having students switch back and forth depending on COVID conditions. Obviously, a time could arise when it would be in the best interests of a child to switch, but that would depend on each situation.
Whatever mode of learning parents choose for their child, they will be spending some sleepless nights wondering if they did the right thing. Only time will tell. Everyone should understand that the decision made by one family may not be the correct decision for another family. Teachers, parents, and students will need to work together as situations develop.
Life is a journey. Only with patience and fortitude will we all be able to get through this pandemic together.