When I was growing up, I distinctly recall thinking of the beginning of each school year as a sort of line of demarcation in my life, dividing the previous “me” from the new one. Now, I’d think to myself, I was a third-grader. Things were going to be different. This was the beginning of a new adventure.
Part of that might have stemmed from the fact that I moved schools every few years, so until adolescence, I was very often the new kid. My kids have experienced that effect, too, having started school in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where we moved from, and continued here in Greeley, where we’ve lived for a year now.
But neither Lyla nor Andy told me, when I interviewed each individually in my basement home office, that they thought of school that way. In their minds, life has kind of flowed in and out of school years. Some of the same people are there, some are new, but, by their own description, they aren’t marking time by the beginning and end of school years the way I used to.
That’s different for them this year.
We’re keeping the kids home for school, at least for the fall semester, as this COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage around us. We’re grateful as can be for our great Greeley-Evans District 6 educators for providing such a robustly developed online and at-home education system to make that possible, and we’re probably even more grateful to be fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of that system reasonably comfortably. I know a lot of people who might want to do it can’t, and that weighs on me.
Our philosophy in a heavy, back-and-forth decision-making process on if we should do online or in-person came down to two major suppositions: first, our understanding that District 6 would have very likely started the year online — like nearby districts in Fort Collins, Denver and elsewhere have done — had it not meant a powerfully detrimental impact on such a large portion of this district’s parents, who might not be able to accommodate children staying home for school for one reason or another; and second, the idea that the fewer kids are in school buildings, the math has to improve at least somewhat for the kids and families who can’t do the at-home route.
We’re extremely fortunate to have the space, the bandwidth and the education to effectively provide a reasonably positive learning environment for our kids. We have a spare room, my wife doesn’t work, and I’m working from home still. My parents and sister, who live in Fort Collins, have pledged to help. I think we can make this work. Not everybody can say that in our area, and I count my blessings. But, for those who must send their kids to school, while my family doesn’t have the means to change that reality for them, we do have the means to at least slightly improve their chances of staying healthy by keeping our kids home, and it’s really the least we can do for them and for their dear teachers.
This isn’t to trumpet the righteousness of our decision, by any means. It’s just to give you a window into our process. We’re scared about the virus, too, and personally, I’m particularly concerned we’ll see another forced closure in a few months, at which point we’ll be home anyway, and also will have been exposed as a family. But, while I’m a careful person, fear doesn’t usually rule my life. This is all to say — this was a difficult decision.
I am sad for my kids. I know they wanted to go back to “regular” school. They wanted to see their friends and meet their new teachers. Both are spectacular students — yeah, I’ll brag on them — and both passionately enjoy school, especially Lyla, my oldest.
Normally, Lyla told me, when she goes into a school year she feels excited. Why excited? I asked her.
“I get to see my friends again, and most of the time I don’t see them much over the summer,” Lyla said. “That’s kind of exciting. And I like meeting new friends, because I’m in new classes, and there are new teachers.”
Sigh. My shoulders slumped a little. Not this year, I thought. But then she continued.
“And there’s always something new you’re going to learn when you go into a new grade,” my eight-year-old said further. “That’s exciting, too. Like this last year, during the first semester of second grade I couldn’t wait until third grade, because I was going to learn cursive. In first grade, I was excited because I was going to learn short division the next year. So it’s always exciting to learn new subjects and new types of things. I get really excited about that stuff.”
That perked up my ears and my emotions. I asked her what she was excited about for this year, which would obviously be very different, knowing she had wept when we informed her we were keeping her home for the fall.
“What’s exciting is I get to be with my brother in the same room the entire year,” the angelic child said. “I love him. He’s awesome, and he’s funny, too. And I get excited trying new things. This will be new and different, but it’s kind of exciting to try this new system out.”
Andy’s favorite part of a new school year bummed me out at first, too.
“I’m really excited when I’m going to meet my new teacher,” he said. “And I’m really excited to do new things at school.”
But the seven-year-old, who told me his favorite subjects are math and P.E., is less distraught about staying home.
“I get to do it at home and spend time with my family,” he said, as if wafting sweet music into my ear canals, before adding, “and I like doing stuff on the computer.”
Andy’s a lover of good people and has had wonderful teachers to this point — Lyla, too. We’ve been quite pleased with their dedicated and adoring educators to this point. Both are sad they won’t get to be in a room daily with their new teacher and with their friends.
But both are looking on the bright side. They’re excited to be around the younger siblings more, happy not to have to walk home from school, and surely looking forward to more computer time.
School was my world growing up, and, while my kids have a seemingly more holistic view of their lives than I did, I know it was theirs too. That portion of their world is white where it was once black now, diametrically different from the experiences they’re used to.
But they’re rolling with the punches. We will, too.
Happy back-to-school, friends, however you’re doing it this year. May you and yours stay healthy and happy, and may we all choose gratitude over resentment. It’s worth the effort.
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