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Commentary: School year leaving us with that empty feeling

Steve King
Suburbanite correspondent

If the goal is social distancing – and it is, at least in almost every case – then we've achieved that and then some; actually with a lot of "some" at the middle school where I work.

The few cars in the huge parking lot – you can count the number on two hands, with fingers left over – are much more than six feet apart. It's more like 60 yards. Drivers have not just their own parking space, but also their own parking region.

There is virtually – which used to mean entirely something entirely different, and that's the way it is being used here – no one in the hallways. It's like being on a desolate road where a car passes by only every six hours, if that. Each person in the building has their own floor, or at least almost all of one, anyway. When someone walks by, just as is the case with the cars on the desolate road, the quietness allows you to hear them coming, and then going, for a long time. Indeed, the lights in the hallways are set to be motion-sensitive, which means they are hardly ever one The lights in the hallways are set to be motion-sensitive, which means they are hardly ever on.

The building is all clean and shiny and ready to accept returning students, which it has done in the late summer every year since Coolidge administration, but for the first time, they have had to decline the invitation. It's the picture postcard of the question, "What happens if you plan a big party and no one shows up?"

Well, almost nothing happens, that's what.

With all of the students – and all but a few of the 67 teachers – holding classes together remotely, this big, ol' building, which was opened nearly 100 years ago, in 1927, and has three floors and an annex, along with an attached cafeteria and gymnasium, giving it more square feet than some small communities, is nearly empty. If a building could be a ghost town, then this is what it would look like.

To say it is strange is an understatement of vast proportions. Odd? Bizarre? Unreal? Yes, but to the nth degree. Is there a word, or term, that means more?

Working virtually is well, virtually impossible in some respects when it comes to technology and getting everybody connected. Because of that, a colleague and I have chosen to work together in the same room where she has worked physically for years. In that way, then, we can bounce technical issues, concerns and problems off each other and figure it out. Doing it by ourselves would have been a lot harder.

We've all been working with computers for years, right, so we should have this communication thing – this virtual learning and access thing – figured out. Yes, you would think, but as more and more of us virtual workers are finding out, it just ain't so. We would be better off in some cases to attach a string to a tin can, hang out of an open window and try to speak to the masses that way.

But even when we get connected technically, we find out that we may not always be connected emotionally, even to the ones we love.

As such, my colleague and I have been privy to some interesting and thought-provoking occurrences.

Such as when a kid yelled, repeatedly, at his little sister to close the door and get out of his room because she, repeatedly, refused to do so. Huh, you mean siblings have spats?

Or when a teacher had to stop her instruction after her preschool-aged daughter banged on the door of the basement office until her mother let her in and introduced her to everyone in class.

Or when a mom who was assisting her son, apparently mistakenly thinking that the conversation would be muted to the students and heard only by the teacher, broke right into a lesson with some pointed, frantic questions. Fortunately, the helicopter did not do any verbal, virtual damage with her wings.

Then there was the kid who fell sound asleep during class. Gee, that never happened before when we were all together in the building, right?

At some point, when this seemingly endless coronavirus pandemic finally does end, someone with a lot of wit is going to take all these memorable things that went on during this "home-school" portion, as it were, of our country's educational history, and compile them into a book. And we'll all definitely read it, think back and get another round of laughs out of it.

But, at the same time, some of it is not funny at all, such as when all the bathrooms are locked and there's no one in the building with a key.

Steve King