When we talk about “Back to School,” I feel like we talk too much about COVID. I mean, it’s happening. It’s been happening. For a really long time. It’s just become a part of life at this point; masks at the grocery store, hand sanitizer stations and social distancing— there are case counts and people are sick and there are vaccines and everyone knows everything.
I’m starting school in two days. Real, in-person, masked in the building, school. Last school year, I was in-person only towards the end of the year, for a total of two months. My first day of school was a zoom meeting, in my bed. That was basically most of my school year, too. Microphone: off. Camera: off. Asleep during advisory and all my classes in my bedroom.
This is different. Everyone’s talking about masks and social distancing and vaccines and cases. There will be another wave, there will be more cases, more and more things are going to keep happening until they stop. And we are far, far, far from the end of this pandemic. But — the wandering through the hallways to find new classes and the exhaustion from having to wake up at 7 a.m. instead of 10 a.m., comes with starting school, too. Plus meeting new teachers and trying to keep track of homework assignments and a confusing new schedule.
I understand that COVID is the height of everyone’s concerns right now. The children. The cases. The masks and the mandates. We all disagree on what we think is best. We debate and argue and shout about one thing or the other and it only gets worse during the school season, because everyone wants what they think is best for the kids. But we can’t ignore the regular ups and downs of a new school year, either. Those outside of the pandemic. I mean, we’ve all been there, right?
My sisters are both in elementary school. My older-younger sister is starting her 4th grade year. And when I asked her what she’s worried about, she widened her eyes and said… MCAS. I mean, of course she doesn’t want to take the MCAS— who wants to take the MCAS? She was also in school for around the same length of time as me last year. She also had to wear a mask and social distance and hand sanitize every 0.5 seconds. But that’s not really something she’s concerned about. The kids have adapted. We’ve adapted. We’ve learned how to deal with this, accept it, and now, the kids worry about even scarier things. Like standardized testing.
Everyone is worried about something.
Everyone is excited about something.
There are kids who are starting their first year of high school. Nervous freshmen, stepping into the Big Scary High School with no idea what to expect. Kids starting middle school with similar anxieties. Kindergarteners, going to real school for the very first time! There are still little kids getting new backpacks and brand new school supplies for their first day, children bringing their teachers flowers or little presents. They’re going to make new friends and play on the playground during recess.
And there will be little kids who cry and hug their parents because they’re afraid to spend the day away from the people they love. Freshmen getting lost in the hallways because they don’t know where their classes are. Teenagers reeling from ruined sleep schedules and the fact that they are expected to do algebra at 7 in the morning. And, eventually, there will be bullying. There will be failed classes and missing assignments or classroom disputes. Who played with who on the playground and little-kid-cliques forming at the swing set. Cramming for tests and pulling all-nighters to get a paper written. Procrastination and anxiety and stress — but that’s all part of a normal year. This is what everyone has felt, at one point or another. Global pandemic or not.
So yes, we should be worried about the coronavirus. What it means for students, for kids. How we are going to handle it. But we should also remember everything else that’s going on, too. This isn’t the only thing that kids are worried about this year.
It’s not just COVID. Obviously, that is an important concern. But there is so much more that comes with starting school that we should not overlook. The good and the bad. New friends and friendly teachers and the library and nice outfits and my new position at Veritas. I’m excited for English and writing and reading — I’m excited for debate club and colored pens and messy backpacks, stray papers and the adrenaline that comes with stress-writing essays hours before they are due. There will be downsides, there will be math homework and forgetfulness and misunderstandings and wardrobe malfunctions (inevitably). For the good there will always be the bad. We can’t let the threat of COVID make us forget about all the happiness that comes with starting school. And we can’t let COVID take up all the negativity, either.
Because there will always be algebra, and MCAS and… and gym class.