‘We’re in this together’

Bus at LES 1st day 09-10-20
A bus drops off students at Luray Elementary.

By Randy Arrington, publisher

LURAY, Sept. 13 — The cloudy, foggy setting seemed eerily fitting on Thursday morning as students disembarked from buses cloaked in masks. They were met by teachers and administrators offering welcoming and inspiring remarks through their own facial coverings. They were then lead into a building with cautionary signs on the walls, directional arrows on the floors and rooms half-full of masked people.

Not the image parents envision for their children on the first day of school. How many signs were held up by a student between 7:30 and 8 a.m. on Thursday morning noting their grade level and stating proudly, “First Day of School 2020”? The usual excitement built into that moment, now intertwined with anxiety over the unknown.

A sign of the times to be sure, but it shouldn’t be seen as a sign of living in fear or diminished opportunity. It’s simply a sign of mandated community health precautions to keep our students — and our teachers — and our families — safe. It’s the new normal, but the new guidelines and altered environment shouldn’t dictate success or failure in our schools. And if all parties involved pull together, it won’t.

The obstacles will be challenging and steady, if the last six months has been any indication of what the next few months may hold. Within a few hours of opening the doors for the new school year last Thursday, Page County Public Schools announced its second case of COVID-19, one week after announcing the first. However, neither isolated incident seems to have prompted any outbreaks.

Let’s hope it stays that way — and it can, if we remain vigilant in our efforts to keep the highly contagious virus at bay, especially now that more people are beginning to interact with one another. As the school division’s “Welcome Back” video advises — Wear your mask; wash your hands; and maintain social distancing.

We’re all in this together — not only the motto of the new school year, but also a rallying cry for the pandemic as a whole.

But in the awkwardness of our new environment, let’s not forget about the “smiles under those masks” mentioned by school officials in the video posted on the division’s website. (Also featured as PVN’s “Video of the Week”) Just because part of their face has been covered doesn’t mean that teachers and school officials have stopped caring about our children. If anything, we would bet their attention to detail and overall nurturing of our children will be heightened during these uncertain times.

We also predict there will be a greater interaction between teachers and parents during these confusing times.

How do you get on Schoology? Why isn’t my Dojo working? What do we do if we lost our internet connection? What do we do if we lost our packet? When do I do this? How do I do that? The questions for teachers will likely double this school year — coming from both parents and students — but if they can find ways to relieve their stress in the off hours and get through it, the result could very well be a better relationship with parents and a better understanding of their students. This, combined with smaller class sizes, should foster more personal attention, and that should lead to a better learning environment despite all the masks and new hand sanitizing stations.

We’re all in this together.

So teachers, be as patient with the parents as you are with the students — and even more importantly, parents PLEASE be patient with the teachers and administrators. Our underpaid teachers are being asked to move mountains with a pick and shovel. They are in uncharted waters, just like the rest of us. So take a breath when you get frustrated, and show respect to our teachers — we are all in this historic journey together.

There will be plenty of challenges to fuel frustration, from the single parent that has to juggle daycare and learn new technology, to the first-year teacher who has to adapt to a unique learning environment without the benefit of experience. But there will be experienced teachers who mentor them, and there will be friends and family that reach out to lend a hand to that single parent.

It takes a village; and we are in this together.

Expect the unexpected, as cases of COVID-19 could find their way into the school system again, causing a group of students and/or faculty to be quarantined, a single school could be closed temporarily, in-class instruction could revert to ALL remote learning in pockets or across the division. No one knows for sure what will happen, but we all need to be ready to adapt, adjust and pull together to accomplish a common goal.

Of course, as everyone does, we hope for the best; but we also believe in being prepared for what may come. As much as our world and environment has changed in the last six months, the one thing we can truly count on, is that it will continue to change over the next six months.

But if we continue to pull together as a community, we may find a few silver linings behind those grey clouds that hung over the first day of school for 2020. It’s been a historic year, in the worst way, but we hope that our readers and our community may find new experiences and make new connections during these challenging times that lead to new learning — for students, teachers and parents.

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