I held my daughter’s soft hand as her brother raced ahead to the bus. It was the first day of in-person learning at school. Parents waved at each other, smiled, and made comments on the awkwardness of it all.
The morning rush to pack lunches, tie shoes, and race to the bus stop felt like we were grazing the edge of normal life – that gave me a little comfort from the guilt I was feeling the night before for choosing not to homeschool my kids.
As we approached the bus stop, I let go of my daughter’s hand and watched her join her brother in the line of masked children ready to board the bus. My heart sank.
What have I done? I thought, as I watched the children act like shackled cattle shuffling to their containment. Each child kept to themselves and quietly followed suit as the driver directed the new protocols. Did I just choose the fate of my children? They trust me with their lives, and I just sent them off to participate in the National Experiment of In-Person Public School during a global pandemic. Cue the mom guilt train…
I tried to remind myself that we prepared for this. They know what to do.
“Make sure to keep your hands to yourself. Oh, and use the sanitizer I gave you!”
Can they see the concern on my face? In a pale attempt to reassure them, I called out,
“Don’t forget to have fun! I love you!”
Hopefully that rounded off their little emotions, and they feel okay for the day ahead.
The afternoon came. I wondered if my children would arrive home covered in invisible COVID after spending an entire day around more people than they have in the last seven months.
The bus arrived and flashed its lights like a celebratory omen.
One by one each kid stepped off the bus. Their eyes were bright; you could tell they were smiling. Within seconds, stories were filling the air as the children were relaying the events of the day – new best friends, class awards, and recess fun.
These kids were different kids. They were happy.
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To be clear, they weren’t unhappy when we put them on the bus that day; they were fine. All of us were fine – surviving, coping through COVID as we have grown used to doing. But after witnessing this unbelievable transformation, I realized what in-person learning is giving us that so many of us have learned to live without and call normal. That is connection.
This cannot be lost. It is what makes our humanness flourish and feel alive.
Connection, put simply in my own words, is the energy exchanged between humans through words, actions, touch, gestures, and memories made together. Connecting with others is vital to the being part of a human being.
Connection is the bravery for our students to introduce themselves to someone new, and to experience the freedom after overcoming something beyond their comfort zone. It’s the joy of new friendship, the mess of complicated friendships, and the resolve to do what’s best for others. Connection is the power to tear down limiting beliefs through the affirmations of others, to lift someone out of sadness by showing kindness, and to inspire a person to take action and achieve something great. It’s the praise from a coach for a job well done. It’s being noticed by a teacher for listening to instructions. It’s being asked to play kickball at recess. It’s hearing someone compliment your artwork hanging on the hall wall.
Our kids feel the impact of these connections, good or bad, on a larger scale with in-person learning simply because there is a higher frequency and a greater variety of connecting moments at school, be it a teacher, student, principal, nurse, or coach. Every exchange has transformative capabilities to influence the dynamic within their little worlds. This is crucial for self-development.
These children, though masked and six feet apart, are experiencing self-empowerment, expanded confidence, greater self-awareness, and grounded-ness in who they are by stepping out of their homes and connecting with friends and teachers. The growth in their personhood and overall wellbeing has been undeniably the most remarkable thing to witness.