Quite the conundrum

As I write this, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, school superintendents around the state are awaiting guidance from Governor DeWine’s office, the Ohio Department of Education, and the Miami County Health Department regarding the standards they must meet to reopen school for the 2020-2021 school year. While many people incorrectly assume that the summer months are a time of rest and relaxation for school personnel, nothing could be further from the truth for school administrators who are trying to prepare for a new school year.

After all, students show up on the first day of school expecting schedules to be finalized, facilities to be clean and functional (both inside and out), textbooks and electronic materials to be available, and buildings to be fully staffed.

In talking with some of my former peers, I know how frustrated they are trying to predict what ever-changing expectations they will be required to meet for the health and safety of their students and staff when school is set to open in just a few short weeks. What makes their job almost impossible is that, based on the history of predictions and advice for this particular virus, they know that today’s expectations may be obsolete when school is set to begin.

But, they’re trying to prepare for the new school year today. Planning for a new school year doesn’t begin the day before school starts.

I wouldn’t trade places with them for a million dollars.

I certainly do not profess to be an expert on coronavirus, but I do know a thing or two about how kids develop and the important role schools play in that development. Based on what I know is best for kids, I can say with certainty they need to be in school.

And, therein lies the conundrum. The dangers presented by this pandemic are real, but just as real are the dangers to many, many young people of not being in school surrounded by peers and support personnel who give their lives stability and meaning.

The fact is that while academic subjects are what receives all the the attention, school provides so much more than that for children. For some, it is where they receive the only good meals of their day; for others it is their only opportunity to be around positive adult role models; for still others, if not for school personnel, they would not receive the dental or medical care they need; and some would have no school supplies or even appropriate shoes or clothing if school personnel didn’t ensure that they have them.

In still other cases, children’s very lives are protected when school personnel see evidence of abuse or neglect and report it to Children’s Services.

Now, these responsibilities may come as a surprise to those who attended school two or three decades or longer ago. You might say, “This sounds more like a social agency than a school,” and you would be correct.

But, that is the reality of education in the 21st century. It is no longer just about the three R’s.

Additionally to caring for students’ health and safety, at school, children learn how to make friends; how to be empathetic towards others; are exposed to different races and cultures; understand how to share and get along with their peers; and they learn about conflict resolution.

They learn discipline; how to follow instructions and take turns; how to organize themselves; respond appropriately to a structured environment; work as a team; problem solve; set and achieve goals; communicate effectively; and the importance of persevering when times are tough.

They learn how to ask and answer pertinent questions; debate a topic from a perspective of knowledge; use technology as a learning tool; and they are given the opportunity to express creativity and individualism, primarily through the arts.

Of course, most students are introduced and even taught many of these skills within the confines of their own homes, but it is in a school setting, when they are surrounded by peers other than family members and supervised by adults who are trained in the field of child development, where they can refine them.

These are skills they will use the rest of their lives, and they are not ones learned while pounding on a keyboard. After all, the evidence tells us we should be reducing, not increasing our kids’ screen time.

It seems that many outside the world of education believe that allowing kids to remain at home and learn their academic material online is a fine alternative to actually attending school and working on all the other skills necessary to succeed in life.

But, let’s not fool ourselves. It’s not.