At the start of every school year, there are always feelings of uncertainty, excitement, and anticipation. This school year more than ever, we are facing these feelings to the extreme. After a year (or more) of home isolation, canceled school events, and a drastic shift in the way we approach education, students are finally returning to the classroom. Students are returning from distance and hybrid learning to full time face to face learning. This shift should feel familiar, yet both students and parents feel hesitant and worried. Their minds are flooded with questions.
Is it safe to return to school?
Will sports and school activities resume as normal?
What is it going to be like to have full classrooms?
Will I make friends and fit in?
As an educator, we are feeling these same pressures too. There are two issues that are paramount: safety and wellbeing of our students. While everyone must make decisions that are best for their families, know that educators are doing everything they can to make schools safe physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Last school year, many educators saw a decline in socialization. Students forgot how to talk to each other. Whether that is due to the home isolation, the fear of COVID-19, or the disengagement in online learning, students forgot how to interact with their peers. Even when face to face in classrooms, students kept to their bubbles and barely talked to their peers and teachers.
While preparing for student return, myself and other educators had the opportunity to talk to students about returning to in-person learning. The most resounding conclusion was the student’s desire for interaction. They want to talk to their peers and teachers, hold debates and discussions. They want to be engaged in hands-on and real world activities. They crave the socialization that school brings and they want more from their education, everything they lacked in the past year. Letʻs all give them opportunities to engage and make meaning in their world again.
The best advice we can give to a student returning to in-person education is to advocate for what you need. If you feel unsafe and want to wipe down your desk again, do it. If you want more hands-on activities in your classes, ask for it. Regardless of the safety restrictions, whether you need to wear masks, frequently wash your hands, or still be physically distant from your peers, now is the time to grab hold of your education and school experience. Join the club. Play the sport. Take the internship. Talk to a new group of kids.
Everyone needs to reconcile with their feelings and anxieties about returning to school. We can only do what we feel is best for our wellbeing and health. COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon so letʻs enjoy the time that we have now and make the best of the opportunities presented to us.