I can’t speak for other schools in my school district, or schools in other districts. And I won’t, because I just don’t know, and as such it wouldn’t be fair to offer an opinion.
But I do know that there was no one – absolutely, positively no one – working at my school, which is for students in grades six through eight, who thought we’d be out a long time when we left the building in mid-March after classes throughout the district were “temporarily” suspended because of the coronavirus.
We weren’t really surprised that there was a suspension. We suspected as much, and had talked about it openly for several days.
“Two weeks. We’ll be gone for two weeks,” said a teacher who has always seemed to have a good sense – almost a sixth sense, in my opinion -- of how big-picture decisions within the district were going to play out, sometimes before those decisions were even made.
“With nobody here, the maintenance staff will be able to really clean this place from top to bottom and disinfect it, and then we’ll be back and we’ll just move forward trying to figure out how to make up for those two weeks we weren’t here. Maybe we’ll have to give up our Easter break, or at least shorten it.”
I believed her. We all believed her because she had always been right. And that she said it in such a matter-of-fact, convincing and confident fashion only served to add credence to what she was saying. We thought to ourselves, “OK, that’s how it’s going to be. I can live with that.”
That’s just another example of the fact that no one back then had a real grasp of just how serious, how big, this thing really was. It was, in no way, shape or form, being called a pandemic. Now that word, and more like it, just roll off our tongues as easily as the word “the.”
I wish I had had at least a hint that a prolonged hiatus was coming for a variety of reasons, one of the biggest of which in terms of the schools being that it would have allowed me to deliver an important message to the many students with whom I have a connection. I could have gotten to them before they left.
My speech would have gone something like this:
“We’re going to be out for a long while. It will be the next-best thing to a summer vacation in terms of the length, only the weather won’t be nearly as good. So, you’re going to have a lot of free time, and I don’t want you to waste it. I hope you will take advantage of what is really a great opportunity.
“I want you to do things specifically, but not necessarily for your parents, your grandparents, or your guardians, or your teachers, or our principal or anybody else, although they would all probably would be happy if you did them. I want you to do these two things for you, not only for right now but going forward, even well into the future.
“First, I want you to read a lot – every day, and not just for a few minutes, but for a good while. Read what? Anything you want – anything that’s appropriate, that is.
“Make it something you like, something you want to read. If you like music or entertainment, then read something about music or entertainment. If you like tech stuff, then read tech stuff. If you like fiction, then read fiction. If you like sports, then read something about sports.
“Whatever it is that you like, read it, because if it’s a subject that you’re interested in, you’ll read it. And if it’s not something you’re interested in, then you’re not going to read it. You know that, and I know that.
“I want you to read because it will help all of you to become better readers, and you have to be good readers to have a chance to be anything and do anything after you graduate from high school or college. Every job involves you being a good reader who can read quickly and understand what you read. It’s just the way it is.
“Also, I want you to look around and take in everything – everything you’re seeing, hearing, saying, feeling, touching and experiencing – and commit it to memory, because what is going on with this coronavirus and how it has forced the closing of school and so many things, is unprecedented. It has not happened in any of our lifetimes. For that matter, this may not have happened before – at least to this scope – in the history of the world.
“Years from now, when you’re my age or even just your parents’ age, your kids or grandkids or whomever will ask you about what happened back in the olden days of 2020 with something called a coronavirus. You’ll have to tell them what the coronavirus was, and what it did. You’ll tell them that it brought not just this country, but the whole world, to an almost complete halt. Everything just stopped.
“With my parents and other people of that age, what they lived through and remembered and what I always asked them about, was the Great Depression of the 1930s, the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and World War II, and the assassination of President John Kennedy in 1963.
“For people in my generation, it was the 911 attacks in 2001.
“This coronavirus thing will be at least be one of the big memories of your lives. Younger people will lean on you for all the information you can give them. Don’t you dare disappoint them.”
I hope perhaps that the students at my school – and students everywhere, really – have been doing, and will continue to do, this reading and remembering. But I don’t know for sure that they will to any great degree at all, and that really bothers me. It was an opportunity lost to help them in really pragmatic, useful ways.