I had one item left on my very modest summer bucket list: a local hike-in swimming hole. It was the last day before school, and we finally got out of the house hours later than I’d planned. We ran into both obstacles I’d hoped to avoid: lots of people and a sky full of dark clouds. Less than five minutes into our swim, it began raining. Then pouring. Then run-for-cover-under-the-nearest-tree-and-still-get-soaked-while-both-girls-futilely-try-to-keep-a-stiff-upper-lip deluge. All I could think of was, 2020 strikes again (shaking mental fist at fate).
As much as it near brought me to tears, it felt appropriate for the day before Grace would start kindergarten in a way that is nothing like I ever could have imagined. We have eagerly waited six years for the emotional drop-off at the cheerful classroom full of photo-ops, the new friendships, the opportunities for growth and independence. We have worked so hard for that moment and all of the ones that would follow. She was ready. She was excited. She would have rocked it.
However, Kindergarten, like much of life lately, looks different for us this year. When our school district decided to start the year fully online, I cycled through emotions: relief (we didn’t have to make a decision that we feared might endanger anyone’s health), grief (she will never have the kindergarten experience we’ve always looked forward to), and finally apprehension and doubt (one hour of virtual preschool with therapy was already emotionally taxing for her and me; there is no way Grace will make it through a synchronous full-day virtual kindergarten schedule).
No matter whether your child has gone back to school in person, hybrid, or completely online, you’ve also likely been through a series of challenging emotions. This year is not easy. It is not normal. It does not support the way students learn best. But, unfortunately, it is life right now.
As a former teacher, I remember the first work day of every school year as one when the administration gave their best performances of what I always scoffed at as ostentatious, rah-rah attempts to pump us up. I was never sold on them. But in this desperate time, here’s mine:
When it started raining at the creek, I scrambled for solutions to quickly return to the car, but none of them seemed pleasant or easy. I was disappointed and frustrated. Then my husband shrugged and said, “We’re already wet. Wanna swim?” So we did. At first the girls “enjoyed” it with nervous eyes and gritted teeth. And then we found ways to engage and distract them, and we played well past when the rain stopped until genuine smiles revealed chattering teeth.
It reminded me of a quote I hadn’t thought about in years, one I’d appropriately discovered days before Grace’s heart surgery:
Ok. Maybe you won’t dance your way through this school year. You may find it difficult to make it through most days without reaching for the Costco-sized bag of chocolate chips (a personal favorite) or wine. But look back to March. See how far you’ve come. Remember how many days you thought you’d never make it through and realize that you’ve survived 100% of them.
One day, even all of this will be but a repugnant memory. In the meantime, here are a few tips for the school year:
- Especially if your child has an IEP, touch base with your team. The IEP is a fluid document and should address changes to how the curriculum is being delivered. Schedule an IEP meeting.
- Explain how you anticipate the changes of this year will impact your child. Share your concerns.
- Suggest ways you anticipate small changes could help (e.g., limiting the amount of time in virtual instruction/reducing services or therapy to match your child’s virtual attention span, providing additional breaks, hard copies of documents that will be shared via screen, interspersing preferred activities with non-preferred activities). Ask for suggestions.
- Discuss how your child will access the regular education curriculum.
- Discuss what IEP goals will be targeted.
- For additional talking points, see special education advocate Charmaine Thaner’s post here.
- Be realistic. Distance learning is probably not what you want. It is probably not how your children learns best. But if your school decides that is how they will operate this year, your IEP team may not be able to offer an alternative. We’re all emotional right now. The lasting trials of the past few months, compounded by the possible implications of the coming school year can be beyond overwhelming. Please remember that the choice of your district to institute a particular policy was not driven by the staff with whom you’re making contact. Know that your child has rights, but start with a conversation, not demands.
- Keep perspective. I’ve seen parents on social media bemoaning how this year will impede their child’s progress. That may be true. But it’s also affecting most every child around the country. If the school day is too much for your child or you, take a day off. This is survival mode, not thriving mode. Within reason, do what you need to do to get by. Children are resilient; they’ll be better adept at returning to normal once the smoke clears than we adults will be.
- Take a break. We are all stretched thin. Find a time or activity that helps you decompress and make sure you schedule it into your day. Remember to apply your oxygen mask first before helping others.
- Remember, even this storm will pass. Just keep dancing.