by Shea Buchanan

It’s no secret that the last six months have read like something out of a Ray Bradbury or George Orwell novel. Although it’s not the first time in our history Americans have faced an epidemic, it is the first time in our children’s lives and probably in our own lives that we are dealing with an issue so full of unknowns with a wide range of potential outcomes. And one of the biggest decisions needing to be made collectively and individually at this point is about education.

Government officials, district and school administration, and parents all have important choices to make regarding the upcoming school year. There are decisions being made about whether there should be a physical opening of schools or switching to online learning for at least the beginning of the school year or creating a hybrid between in-person and online learning to name a few.

Some say schools must open up physically so students who don’t have the social and emotional support at home can be in safe spaces and so children who suffer from food insufficiency will receive nutrition. Others say we should push back the opening date. Districts are coming up with alternative calendars and possibilities, holding townhall meetings, providing surveys, and scrambling to find a way for learning to be available and equitable for all. All of us can agree that the education of our youth is vitally important.

But COVID 19 is a novel virus which means it’s new. We are learning new things every day about how it affects people, the ages that are affected, how easily it’s transmitted, and on and on.

The task is Herculean at best. And there is no one decision or even compromise that will make everyone happy. All stakeholders are experiencing a myriad of emotions at this point. But let’s put the children first.

Like a captain of a ship directs sailors and the actual course of the boat, so parents’ feelings and attitudes inevitably direct whether their children are going to face the challenges ahead with confidence and a positive outlook or if they are going to be overwhelmed by waves of anger and fear. If parents are constantly negative about school and decisions being made, students will potentially act out with anxiety, depression, and other negative behaviors. If families instead choose to engage their children in genuine discussion and help them gain some positive coping mechanisms, students will be much more likely to face the uncertain future with a sense of stability and confidence.

Children are like sponges. They internalize what they hear, even if we think they aren’t paying attention. As parents, we have the responsibility of helping students maneuver whatever educational decisions are finalized. And young people are concerned about their education and their health too. So, the goal of adults should be giving children a strong emotional foundation for what lies ahead.

One way of helping children face the school year in a positive way is to show them that we, as the adults, are willing to calmly take in information, consider all possibilities and options, and then discuss them as a family. Another way is beginning or ending every day with what was good.

Ken Kershaw, an amazing educator once claimed in a class discussion, “The only thing constant is change.” If we keep this in mind, I know it will help our children pilot the educational path of this upcoming year in a way that provides them stability and a focus on the future.