Chacos column: Owning up to the 2020-21 school year
Enjoy the Ride
When we started our educational journey through the pandemic maze just over a year ago, we quickly gave it an affectionate nickname and talked about our life-altering event with other parents of school-aged kids. We named our newest endeavor “Zoom class” and it was zippy and fun to say.
Some friends called their quest “hybrid learning,” depending on what part of the country they were from, while others opted for the highbrow tongue twister, “asynchronous education.” That’s one of those ultra-trendy names where you roll your eyes and mutter, “What in the actual hell…”
Public education during a pandemic became a near-impossible task to execute without constant critique from parents and the community. While we were busy blaming everyone for our children’s ever-changing methods of learning, we overlooked the real education they received during the 2020-21 school year.
At first, remote learning was given overwhelming support, as initial pandemic altruism would naturally encourage us to do. Most of us learned how to find epic Zoom backgrounds, laughed at the full meals our kids ate out of camera’s sight, the pajamas they wore to “school,” and didn’t take the overall experience for more than an experiment in 21st century connection. We didn’t stress about their education during this time because we were in it together and simply surviving a pandemic. The kids were still learning though.
Over months that dragged like years, as time often does when thinking about time, our questions regarding the efficacy of this type of education turned into more than a passing thought. Redundant busywork and computer glitches replaced carefree FacetTme chats and “Tiger King” on television.
Tons of new silly-sounding programs for our kids to learn felt like a tornado of Silicon Valley 20-somethings stoned in a think tank. Kahoot! Pear Deck! Remind! Desmos! We created overnight zombies and YouTube junkies. Still, we reminded ourselves that thriving in a pandemic was a luxury we could not yet afford so we looked the other way. The kids, however, were still learning.
For the middle months of the 2020-21 school year, parents began stressing and pushing back at school districts for depriving our youth a “proper” education. Everyone was finally sick and tired of kids emerging from their bedrooms, all glassy-eyed, simultaneously listless and agitated after months of online learning. Yes, Zoom-fatigue is a real thing, and the system was forced to adapt. So did our children.
Hybrid education swooped in to save the day. Hybrid is an earnest attempt to infuse in-person schooling perched atop an online platform. Its cherry-on-top trademark is a matrix of scheduling only Octomom could understand.
For my part, the shuffling of teachers, last-minute cancellations, and class changes became increasingly difficult for me to smile through. I resorted to frustration and curse words, however, my children showed me grit and told me to chill out.
When we could finally send our children back to socially distanced, full-time, in-person education we all complained some more. We wanted children to return to school but the system we relied on and knew died in the pandemic. I was still thankful my kids would finally be out of the house doing whatever children could reasonably do while crammed together in a taupe, cinder block building with an influx of happy hormones and limited fresh air.
I also knew schools were given new restrictions and placed with ever-changing requirements, sometimes on a daily basis, which made adults bubble over with fire in their eyes. Still, the kids had backpacks full of faith and determination for every day they could be in school learning alongside their peers.
Short of holding everyone back a full grade and starting from scratch again next year, as many of us parents joke about with a touch of sincerity, we must remember that our schools were never set up to teach through a pandemic. Math and reading took a nosedive straight to the bottom of the deep end and our children are more proficient executing a TikTok video than an argumentative essay, but children will resurface soon with a bundle of resilience.
As we wave goodbye to the 2020-21 school year, the kids will most likely hold the door open with grace and gratitude to say goodbye. Surely most adults will yell, “Hey, doofus. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair.
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