School systems across the world are now navigating an unprecedented situation. While there have been regular instances where the flu virus has closed schools for days at a time, never since the development of today’s modern school systems have the institutions been faced with this level of crisis. In times like these, it becomes clear that schools are so much more than brick and mortar buildings where students go to learn.
Schools are, naturally, entities designed to educate children. However, they also provide healthy meals at least once, and sometimes twice, per day. For students whose parents have income deficits, the meals are provided free each day. The schools also provide free transportation to and from their buildings. They afford the students a safe place to learn surrounded by educators who have been trained to expand the students’ understanding of not only the specific classroom content, but also to develop an enhanced appreciation of the entire world around them.
In these schools are educators, administrators, educational support staff, clerical workers, maintenance workers, transportation providers, safety officers, and health care workers (in most settings). Much like large corporations, school systems, regardless of their size, provide a community within the community. Students attend as students of a select grade who also become members of select groups or organizations. They find select teachers whose content they most enjoy. They find friends, frenemies, and others that they are best to avoid.
In school, students learn not only specific content, they also learn how to learn. This is, perhaps, one of the most important skills to be developed. They also learn many unspoken rules, implied within the social framework of the school. For example, they learn what level of activity and noise level are acceptable within each teacher’s room. They learn that there are ways to disagree and ways not to disagree. They learn to work collaboratively and independently. They also learn that some students have a more in-depth knowledge base than others. They learn that some students struggle where others excel. They also learn that everyone is in the school together and that, ideally, everyone will complete together, even if that means on different paths.
School is the first place where many students learn that they are part of something bigger than themselves and their immediate families. This allows them to develop relationships dependent on their behavior and commonalities with peers. These, too, are important in the context of growing up.
Today’s schools are faced with not only trying to maintain the template of old, but trying to forge something entirely new. While they have had to adapt by becoming security conscious, proactive and reactive, this new situation is very different. They are trying to establish a new sense of normalcy amid a pandemic. This is the new normal, where everyone is encouraged to maintain a distance from one another, where temperatures must be taken before group travel is allowed, where the villain is odorless, colorless, massless, invisible, and transportable.
Schools face the unparalleled task of developing a safe and healthy environment where students can be educated consistently, amid the fluid external threat of illness. This is not something that educators were trained to implement; however, kudos to all the administrators and educators who are actively working to develop non-traditional instructional methods to allow students to learn in the safest environment possible, given the circumstances. While there is clearly no ideal manner in which to deliver instruction, many approaches have been shared. From on-line assignments, to interactive formats, to any number of variations in-between, educators are working diligently to establish a strategy for students to return to the learning continuum. It is a new time in the history of the United States; it is also a novel time for students and educators. While things are unlikely to return to the old normal quickly, there are heroes among us everywhere trying to ensure that student safety is maintained and that effective instructional delivery is re-established as quickly as possible.