Dear U.S. bishops, as laypeople, we are committed to living out our baptismal call to…
Editorial: Resetting expectations for school this fall
Ready or not, it’s back to school time. Yet returning to learning this fall will be unlike anything we’ve experienced in recent history.
Catholic school administrators and teachers around the country have been working all summer to create individualized plans to continue to educate students in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Policies and procedures now accommodate social distancing and mask-wearing. They incorporate plastic barriers, temperature checks, enhanced air circulation, thorough sanitation and cleaning measures. And they limit or prohibit close interaction among teachers, students and parents/volunteers.
Nearly all schools have plans in place to allow for both in-person and virtual classes, and many will begin the school year by offering a hybrid of the two.
No matter what measures or changes are put into place, this school year will be anything but normal; and as parents and students set about preparing for a new semester, they will need to reset expectations.
What does this mean specifically? Resetting expectations for fall 2020 (and, realistically, likely spring 2021) is going to involve mourning what might have been and refocusing on what still could be. Parents can help their students navigate the disappointments of missing sporting seasons, plays, field trips and basic socialization by talking these changes through with them before the year begins. How will this year be different? What will be missed most? What can be added to help make up for what is going to be lost? While we need to acknowledge the loss of many things we have come to see as “normal,” we know that opportunities for creativity can spring forth, too. Just think about this past spring, when we saw formal graduations turn into joyous neighborhood car parades.
Resetting expectations for this school year also means being flexible. Any school plan, no matter how thorough, is hardly foolproof, and anywhere large numbers of people are gathered, outbreaks of COVID-19 are possible. Parents and students should be prepared for plans to shift at a moment’s notice, and for what that might mean, especially for parents who work full time. This is where Catholic organizations, at the very least, can and should continue to be flexible with their employees, allowing them to work from home or adopt nontraditional work schedules to accommodate being home with kids.
Resetting expectations is going to mean growing in and exhibiting patience. No one wants to be in the midst of a global pandemic, but for our own sanity and sanctity, we must do our best to maintain patience despite uncertainty — patience with teachers, administrators, our neighbors, our children and ourselves. Each of us, institutionally and personally, is trying to find a way forward that serves the common good, and there are many opinions as to how to achieve that goal. Hot tempers, exasperation and frustration do not advance us down that path. Conditions are primed for division, and we have to be mentally prepared for fault lines to spring up.
Resetting expectations means paying extra attention to mental health for students, parents, teachers and administrators. During times of challenge, strain and uncertainty, it can be easy to become discouraged or depressed. We should do our best to get regular exercise, eat well, pray abundantly and find frequent opportunities for gratitude.
Resetting expectations even applies to parishes without schools. How might they be able to support parents and students as we enter into this strange new school year? A special outreach to families with school-age kids, in particular, by parishes could help parish leaders understand the needs of families and enable them to devise a plan to meet those needs. At the very least, a ministry of presence to families who are having a difficult time navigating the challenges of the new year would be welcome.
Finally, resetting expectations as we enter the school year means leading with charity above all else. If we enter into this year with the right mindset, we have the opportunity to make Catholic education pay off in the best possible way: by the growth of all involved, from students to parents to teachers and administrators, in virtue.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young