I gifted one of our daughters a unique, hand-crafted puzzle as a Christmas gift this past season. I found it at a farmer’s market in a nearby town knowing she has the patience and drive to work on perplexing problems. The Stomachion Puzzle, it reads, “…can be made 536 unique ways yet extremely difficult to find even one.” It has proven to be just that; a truly mind-bending challenge that no one in our family has been able to put together; not even once!
Last evening, our local school board approved a vote to move towards a hybrid-approach for this coming school year. Blending distance-learning with the potential of one to two days a week of on-campus learning, this hybrid-method has many parents with a myriad of questions.
- What if my kids aren’t at school on the same days?
- What kind of child care will be available to students whose parents cannot work remotely?
- If childcare options are available, or off-site after-school programs, then why not full-time school ON campus?
- What happens if the teacher is exposed and is either pre-symptomatic or a-symptomatic, as the teacher will be the vector to both sub-groups of students?
- When would the students merge into full-school experiences again?
- How will elementary students be able to learn and stay engaged while remaining 6-feet apart at all times?
- What kind of curriculum will bridge the distance learning to on-campus learning?
- How will parents continue to do all of this while working?
I’ve only listed eight questions but, after a board meeting of over four hours there are plenty more riveting questions to digest. Imagine the diversity and complexity of continuing to provide effective instruction to students, Pre-K through twelfth-grade, during a world pandemic! Our district is not unlike any other in the United States; they are having to make decisions based upon information that is constantly in flux. Our schools are having to prepare our students not only for jobs we know have yet to exist but also for a path of education that is yet to be defined. There is no resolve that feels “right” in this predicament. It’s like the puzzle that we are still working to solve.
I have been stuck in many ways lately. Has anyone else felt this way? I know things are continuing to open, which is a good sign, but the shelf-life of this virus seems to be extending longer with each day that passes. So, it is not a grand surprise that my motivation is lacking lustre and not just with solving the Stomachian Puzzle. My energy output alongside actionable items I can do to be better prepared for what is not only coming, but what we are actually experiencing now has been strained. As a mother, I feel like one of my primary roles is to help my daughters be equipped for what is ahead, but there is no way to truly know what is ahead for any of us, which is a difficult reality to sink into.
Sadness and grief have a lot to do with this blocked energy. My heart is simply devastated thinking about what this pandemic has meant for what I believe is best for educating kids. I went from monitoring screens with a keen eye as if I were tooth brushing a toddler to a free-rein system where anything was OK because that IPad was the portal by which all students were asked to continue their learning. We mustered through seven weeks of a make-shift, distance-learning environment, but to do this again… for a much longer period? Eek! Of course, it’s not only school being closed, it’s the layers of impact on all of us from a pandemic that has quickly changed our daily habits. Kids need their peers. Kids need to be learning from others, with others. Kids need to resolve things on their own, outside of the house. And parents, we need layers of support that are beyond the Brady-bunch boxes on our computers.
Last night, I dreamt that I fell out of an airplane and was roaming around in a spot I had never been before. I know that many of you can identify with this feeling of waking from a dream because you felt yourself falling. This dream was different for me. I felt myself not only dropping, but hitting the ground and looking up to see that nothing, absolutely nothing was familiar to me at all. I woke up, immediately understanding the reason for the dream. I do feel like I have landed in a space that is becoming more and more unidentifiable to me. A grocery store or an orthodontist’s office feels like a place of pure sanitation and business; no small talk, follow the arrows, wear the mask, use the hand sanitizer, get out quickly. Parks, recreation centers and school grounds are still closed and as we walk past them with tender memories of birthday parties celebrated with friends, impromptu dinners with family and places where we used to meet new people, but not anymore. The library, a place of summer reading programs and abundant resources is still closed, the local museums once bubbling over with young energy and willing chaperones, remain locked.
Yes, I am eternally grateful for our trails, beaches and bike paths which have all remained open. I am so very thankful for the ability to meet, at a safe distance, friends for walks or at the beach. I am appreciating the slower routine that is part of our daily life now. I have valued this unscheduled, unplanned time with my daughters. I love the family meals that are presently three times a day, with everyone at the table or the couch, because let’s be real, four kids home full time is tiring too! These, amongst many others, are COVID gifts for which I am grateful. However, I am acknowledging the challenges and changes this pandemic has brought about as well. And, working towards a better solution for continuing to educate our kids in partial isolation, has risen to the top of my priority list.
What we did for seven weeks is not sustainable for an entire school year.
There are 536 ways, at least, to think about how to best educate our students in the coming months, or through fall, or through flu-season, or…well, who really knows what timeline we are dealing with! It is not just about being “in-school” or “being out-of-school”. It’s about the ways every community will need to become a village again to support our students in feeling seen, heard, understood and engaged.
So, I’ve switched my mind-set. Instead of tracking and being stuck in the complexity of HOW to make EVERYTHING fit inside the puzzle box, I am beginning to expand my thoughts around HOW we allow EVERYONE to come together OUTSIDE the puzzle frame.
It’s time to think about 536 ways to creatively make the coming school-year work. The school district is working to honor the Governor’s recommendations and mandates. The schools are doing their best to make the new guidelines work. The teachers are defining best practices to innovate instruction so that students continue to progress. The families and parents have been, and will continue to fill in the gaps of time, instruction, social needs of children etc., to make this new lay-out of school work. But there is so much more needed.
We need business owners who were once donors for fundraising events to be platforms of support in other ways. Maybe, even just physical spaces for students to be during non-campus school days. We need the local non-profits to use their resources creatively during their off-hours, perhaps allowing their staff and volunteers to be extended as tutors or school-support on the many on-line platforms students are being asked to source. We need face shields for teacher and staff that can show their many expressions so that students continue to be aware of communication practices that are effective AND allow our kids to feel seen, heard, understood and engaged. We need to bridge families during distance-learning so that no family feels alone. Perhaps that means each school engaging in a family-to-family accountability system so we can show up for each other in non-conventional ways during the fast approaching school year. We will need task-force committees who are pro’s at being flexible and creative as novel needs arise at our schools. We need to re-invent recess, lunch-time, fundraising ideas, on-site parent-volunteer time, school-wide events, classroom plays, music concerts, PE and sport’s teams structures, playdates, childcare, after-school programs, classroom parties and much, much more. We need to think creatively and innovate. These are monster tasks and I feel motivated to begin to do my part.
This pandemic is placing a demand on all of us to come together with all of our skills, talents, preservation tactics and heart. We can stretch our capacity for the greater good. We can show up for our communities and help bridge the gaps . Let’s get to work one piece at a time, separate but together, outside of the box.
#seperatebuttogether #ittakesavillage #parenting #teaching #rethinking #innovating #alltogether #mothering #educating #letsgettowork