A beginning like no other

January is the start of a new year. Spring is the season of renewal. But there may be no more important beginning than September and the start of a new school year.

Typically, we’d be enjoying the last licks of summer, finishing up our back-to-school shopping for new clothes, sneakers, and backpacks. We’d line the kids up to pose for those back-to-school photos that make Facebook great. (The only day other than birthdays or anniversaries that makes Facebook enjoyable.)

With the start of anything new, there is always trepidation. But 2020 and the coronavirus bring with them a whole different level of anxiety. 

Getting off on the right foot and setting the tone for a successful school year is so important for both students and teachers. This year both have their work cut out for them as they enter a school year unlike no other, with a combination of in-person, mask-wearing, socially distanced learning, while mixing in some less-than-ideal remote learning via Zoom and Google Classroom.

Lunch will be served in the classroom. Students won’t be moving to specialty classrooms, and instead will have art, music, and health in their homerooms. What will recess look like? 

Student athletes are wondering if they will get to play, and high school seniors are worried about how they’ll prep for college under the circumstances.

Parents have been hit with a dizzying array of choices and changes on how schools will reopen. Add in the eduspeak (synchronous versus asynchronous learning, anyone?) used by school administrators, and it can be frustrating. If you’ve sat in on any of the Zoom meetings involving the All-Island School Committee, you know what we mean. 

Working parents worry about juggling at-home learning with their own responsibilities to their employers.

Teachers have pushed back against the idea of going back to the classroom while COVID-19 is still a danger. They may have some of the comorbidities themselves that make this virus so scary, or they could be worried about bringing it home to a family member who has a compromised immune system. It’s been disheartening to see some of the vitriol on social media about teachers, who work a lot harder than they’re even given credit for by the public. It would be good to remember that teachers don’t do this job for the money. Many of them could make a lot more with their advanced degrees and intelligence, but teaching is a calling. They bring to the classroom care and compassion, along with the lesson plans. They’re concerned about this year, too, because most of them would take being in a classroom over being behind a Zoom call any day. They want to make this successful, but for the first time in their careers, they have to do things differently. They have to find a way to connect with their students while keeping their distance, and lathering up with hand sanitizer. Can you tie a first grader’s shoe from six feet away? How about unzipping that winter coat that naggingly gets stuck? 

So here we are at this difficult time. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion, but no one has all the answers. We’ve watched across the country as schools have opened with in-person classes, only to close a week later after a spike in COVID-19 cases. There are people who believe that kids should be in the classroom, no matter what — our president among them. And however unfortunate the circumstances, there’s an opportunity here, to test and implement innovation in and out of the classroom. Putting all of our energy into replicating systems and ambitions of the past might miss out on chances to actually change and do things better.

We’ve been fortunate on Martha’s Vineyard thus far that cases have remained relatively low, but recent cases involving Steamship Authority employees give us pause.

We would do well to remember that we’re all in this together. We all need to do our best to ease the fears and anxiety of our children. We all need to take a deep breath — behind our masks, of course — and find a way to help each other make this new beginning a successful one.