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.

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