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Challenge: Cabin Fever

Schools Closing; Schools Reopening

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I think we need to be mindful of the profound impact school closings have and later, school reopenings will have on children, parents and educators. We cannot and should not underestimate the impact of the loss of community, the loss of structure, the loss of routine. And for some students, home is not, sadly, a good comforting place.

There are families where children are not well-treated; parents may have addictions or mental illnesses. In some cases, parents are absent both actually and psychologically. Neighborhoods may be unsafe or the home might be a car or one motel room or a basement single room apartment without a stove and only a hot plate and microwave.

I was struck yesterday by someone who commented to me: “What’s the big deal? Kids will be happy to be out of school. The current situation isn’t traumatic for them.” Really? For real?

It was then that I realized that many may not be aware of the psychic price of the virus or the traumatic impact of threats and actual separation and loss on children in particular. There may be many reasons for not seeing this impact but we need to be clear: closing and then opening schools is not a light switch — a transaction free on and off switch.

Sure, some kids may be overjoyed to be home; children who are bullied may be relieved; students experiencing discrimination may benefit from distance. Yet, for others, this is a painful time. They are separated from friends and teachers; their sports teams aren’t meeting; their non-parental mentors aren’t available. Online learning and homework delivered by mail may not work for all (or many) students. Some parents aren’t patient teachers. Being home can be stressful.

This isn’t a snow day; this is a new normal. This isn’t weeks of play. This is struggling with parents balancing work and childcare and health and finances and obligations to relatives and employees. Easy times and sledding down hills? Nope. Tough sledding and fear.

As time passes, consideration must be given to reopening schools and how to do it thoughtfully and well. Resets will be needed. Learning gaps will need to be identified. Resetting goals will be necessary; friendship groups will reform or devolve. Think about reestablishing routines and relationships. Consider changes in curriculum and navigating children’s experiences while at home. Autonomic nervous systems will be on high alert.

Ask any teacher who works with kids what are the hardest days, especially with a group of struggling students: Monday’s and the day after vacation. Think about that.

The reopening time may appear far off but it is not to early to start thinking now. Being prepared is our best defense.

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