SORRY, WE’RE CLOSED

It’s the tale of two cities. Last weekend my husband and I escaped to Summit County, Colorado, which boasts the lovely ski areas of Breckenridge and Keystone. Although the Colorado wild fires attempted to dampen our spirits with poor air quality, we were not disappointed. Well, that’s not entirely true.

We stayed a couple miles from Breckenridge. The tiny town was crowded with locals as well as regional and international visitors. Main Street was officially closed in order to facilitate open air retail stores and restaurants. I never felt unsafe in the bustling atmosphere. People wore masks and practiced social distancing.

Keystone was a ghost town. The first sign, after walking across the bridge, stated it best: Sorry, we’re closed. I couldn’t comprehend this one sign represented the entire village. I explored the once vital and vibrant main street only to find four people drinking coffee at the only open coffee bar. Last year, Keystone was filled with running children, street musicians and activities designed for the entire family. This year, it was void of life. While Covid 19 was never mentioned, it was painfully obvious that the village of Keystone played it safe and hunkered down until a vaccination or the virus simply dies.

What is the analogy? The tale of two cities parallels the tale of two educational approaches to the virus: stay open, wear masks and practice social distancing (and thrive) or close the campus to in person learning with a sign at the front door stating “Sorry, We’re Closed”.

Keeping children at home, full time, presents insurmountable challenges for parents, students and teachers. Easy for me to say as a retired, stay-at-home former teacher? Since May 1, my voice studio opened for in person learning. I know it is not the same as a classroom full of 30 children. But with forehead thermometer scanning, hand washing, sanitizer and six feet of distancing, none of my students nor I became ill. One of my student’s parents did come down with Covid. Yet the disease did not transmit.

I do not fault either approaches practiced by our school systems due to this virus. Acting as an arm chair quarterback is just too easy and holds no value to the teachers, students and admin working in the trenches. But this much I am certain:

1. This virus is not going away by itself any time soon. Breakouts in the schools will happen.
2. If you close down to mitigate Covid, you will lesson the spread but the virus still remains when you open back up. The cycle will only elevate the fears: close down, wait and see, open up and experience break outs. Repeat.
3. Virtual learning is destroying the lives of special needs children, non-traditional learners and children whose parents are unable to provide direction and stability.
4. Learning online inadvertently creates a “class system” of Haves and Have Nots. Those families with multiple devices, with abundant bandwidth for Wi-Fi will survive. Those without will fail.
5. Waiting for a vaccine contains two misperceptions: the vaccine will have 100% success and the majority of people will opt to receive it.

“A child miseducated is a child lost.”—John F. Kennedy. The class system created by educating children online, even if inadvertent, is miseducating our children. Students who are loved at home come to school to learn, and students who aren’t, come to school to be loved. The computer screen is incapable of transmitting the authentic acceptance, needed by so many of our children, in order to learn.

Paula Baack is a retired teacher of 46 years. Her book “Rescue the Teacher, Save the Child!” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Ms. Baack is available for parents and educators Zoom workshops. Contact: rescuetheteacher@yahoo.com.

WE HAVE TO MAKE THIS WORK!

Malala Yousafzai is my idol! In 2012, I taught at a high school with over 150 students in my choral program. When radicals attempted to snuff out the life of a 15 year old girl trying to get an education in Pakistan, I was shocked and ready to activate my students into Malala’s plight. I had 300 buttons made with the words “Ask Me About Malala!” Those students were tasked to wear and share with at least five people about the attempted murder of a Pakistani teenager who only sought to attend school. In about three days, all 1200 of our student body were made aware of Malala’s devotion to education, which almost caused her death.

At the age of 17, Malala Yousafzai went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is the youngest to ever receive this international recognition. Why speak of her now? She allowed nothing to get in her way to receive an education. As students, parents, and educators prepare for this ominous school year of Covid, economic downfall and riots, a determination to educate our children must take precedence in our conversations. It is paramount to stop the “we can’t send kids to school” or “virtual learning is impossible” discourse which is occupying most American households and educational agendas.

What dialogue should take place between parents and educators? Perhaps borrowing from Malala: COVID CANNOT STOP US. WE WILL EDUCATE OUR CHILDREN, IF IT IS IN THE HOME, SCHOOL OR ANYPLACE. Simplistic? Utopian? Impractical?

No! This is America. But our country is mired in politics, fear mongering and a virus which continues to baffle. We put men on the moon, cured polio, fought for our freedom and the freedom of others in major wars. What happened to the “can do” spirit of this great republic? Let’s try this for a change:

  1. Speak in front of our children about the new frontier of receiving an education. If children are “in person” learning, approach the new sanitized classroom with creativity instead of dread. If virtual learning is the model, talk of teacher support and finding new ways of learning. If the hybrid version is in place, discuss how valuable in school and virtual learning can effect the safety and well-being of all.
  2. Stop the impulse to bury someone’s diverse opinions about our educational challenges with insults and thereby squelching what could be productive dialogues.
  3. Replace opining about the “impossible” situation of our children, teachers and educational platforms with positive language. I would challenge all parent and teachers to join together on a social media platform and share creative ideas to get through the next weeks and months.

Perhaps we need to make thousands of buttons with the statement, “Ask Me About Malala!!” to remind our nation about the importance of receiving an education. If Malala fought against tremendous odds, then we can make this work! It’s time our country decides, collectively, to achieve the best education possible for our children: at home, at school or anyplace!

Paula Baack is a retired teacher of 46 years. Her book “Rescue the Teacher, Save the Child!” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Ms. Baack is available for Zoom workshops for parents and educators. Contact: rescuetheteacher@yahoo.com.