Patti Bacchus: Focus on the lessons that matter for kids

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      We’re starting to get a better picture of what learning will look like for B.C.’s K-12 students as school resumed this week, following a two-week spring break in most school districts.

      For most, “going” to school now actually means staying home and doing some “distance” learning, either online or on paper. Students may get phone calls from their teachers or connect with them one-to-one or in groups, online.

      For children of some essential-services workers—and, in particular, health-care workers—it may mean attending a school in person, with social-distancing and sanitation measures in place.

      For others, it may mean going to school to pick up prepared meals to take home, as their families struggle to put food on the table.

      It will vary among schools and districts, and we all need to accept that it won’t be the same as school was before the coronavirus crisis.

      My kids are out of the school system now (thank goodness), but I’ve been thinking a lot about what I would have wanted them to be learning if they still were younger and still in school.

      This is a key moment in history

      This is a staggeringly significant time in history, and we don’t know how the rest of this era will unfold. The coronavirus has brought much of society as we know it—and the institutions and businesses that operate within it—mostly to a halt.

      We’re being tested. Some are responding with remarkable resilience and innovation. Others are having a more difficult time coping. Some will be ill. Some will succumb to COVID-19, or lose loved ones to it. We are all being forced to make and accept changes at a pace that would have seemed impossible a few weeks or months ago.

      We’re seeing increased respect and appreciation for those working in key frontline positions, whether it’s health care, first responders, grocery-store and pharmacy staff, or those who keep the supply chain moving so we all have the things we need to get through what may be a lengthy period of self-isolation.

      So much is happening so quickly, yet most of us are at home, doing our best to self-isolate to slow the spread of the deadly virus.

      We’re all affected

      I’m noticing changes in my ability to focus and stay on a task for any length of time. I pick up a novel and find myself barely getting through a few pages before I’m distracted. I feel rattled by this collective nightmare.

      I suspect kids are feeling it too.

      I wouldn’t expect kids to learn the same content they’d be doing at school if COVID-19 hadn’t swept the globe. Rather, I’d want to figure out age-appropriate and personalized ways to learn about the virus and how it’s affecting the world, how the world is responding (compare and contrast one country to another), and how people are coping.

      I’d be getting my kids to create some kind of a journal, either through drawings, writing, or video, about what they’re experiencing and how they’re adapting and coping. I’d ask them to think of tips for others their age. I’d ask them to imagine where we will be in three months, a year, or five years.

      It would be something they could someday share with their own kids and grandchildren and tell them about what it was like to live through this pandemic and how it changed almost everything in just a matter of weeks. They could talk about the ways people adapted, and about how neighbours supported neighbours and entire communities banged pots and pans every night in a show of appreciation for healthcare workers.

      They could talk about how the people stayed home to protect themselves and others, in a collective battle against a microscopic enemy. Hopefully, they could eventually document how we weathered this storm, for the most part, and what changed forever and what went back to normal.

      Those are the lessons I’d want my kids to learn this spring.

      Think of the parents

      As my husband and I near the end of our third week of self-isolation—in which we’ve stayed home, aside from a few trips for groceries or takeout food—we’ve been thanking our lucky stars we’re not stuck in a home with kids and having to work from home at the same time.

      This crisis is hard on everyone, but it’s really hard on some. Some families will be worrying about loved ones who are hospitalized with the virus or sick at home. Some may be grieving in isolation. A lot will be feeling financial stress due to layoffs or business failures. Parents of kids with special needs may be having to go it on their own, without their usual supports.

      Some students will be living in substandard housing and may be in crowded, conflict-ridden living situations that make any learning extra hard.

      Just getting through each day will be an accomplishment for many.

      Go easy on yourselves, and each other

      This is a time to be kind to ourselves and each other. It’s time to ease up on expectations of our kids and our educators. This is a time that we need to get through as intact, healthy, and sane as we can. Missing a few units in math, social studies, or chemistry doesn’t matter right now. How they lived, and got through, the COVID-19 era will form part of our kids’ identities for the rest of their lives.

      I’ve seen people posting detailed daily schedules for their families that may work for some but that seem incredibly ambitious and unrealistic to me, especially for parents who also have to work from home. This is the time to drop the screen-time rules, let kids sleep in if they like to, and make life as easy as possible for everyone in these trying conditions.

      Great leadership

      It’s been heartening and confidence-building to see how the Ministry of Education, school districts, and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation are coming together to work out plans for K-12 education over the coming months and finding ways to support vulnerable students in these unsettling times.

      News of a tentative agreement in the contract-renewal negotiations for B.C.’s teachers was also a bit of good news over spring break, and it means the adults in the system can focus all their efforts on supporting students. Congratulations to the parties for getting the deal done.

      I know there’s a lot of anxiety and frustration out there as well, but as hard as it may be a times, we all need to take deep breaths and appreciate the work that’s being done and all the individuals who are doing it.

      We will get through this. What do you want your kids to remember about this time? What lessons do you want them to learn? Focus on the things that matter now and the other stuff can come later.

      Patti Bacchus is the Georgia Straight K-12 education columnist. She was chair of the Vancouver school board from 2008 to 2014.