Parents clutching checklists and excited kids roam the aisles of our local markets.
Fresh box of sharpened pencils, check.
Sticky notes and glue sticks, check.
Positive attitude ... still checking.
While starting the school year is always a mixed bag of anticipation and dread, this year (like last year) comes with extra baggage by way of the COVID-19 pandemic.
School boards, health departments, government leaders, parents hash out appropriate safety protocol given an expected fall surge of COVID-19 transmission, and no one seems fully happy.
But we’d like to take a moment to look back at where we were when the pandemic began, and when in-person learning ceased by state mandate.
Besides the immense logistical lift required of parents and employers, many of our first concerns were about our kids.
It wasn’t mere health concerns — we’d known already young people were a lower risk group for serious COVID-19 illness and worried more for those they’d infect at home — but for the toll the fear and lack of socialization and structure would take on their formative minds.
Parents and teachers brushed up on stress warning signs, and we checked in with kids frequently on their feelings.
Recognition on a mass scale of the pivotal role school plays — not just in academics — but its social importance in teaching people how to deal with each other, happened in its absence.
Academically, the adults also learned a few things about COVID-19 and the methods of protections in schools that are effective and the ones that aren’t.
An Aug. 30 story in Bridge Michigan found Plexigass partitions and desk barriers coming down, as they were found to have little effect on containing viral spread and in some cases, impeded good air flow in classrooms. HVAC upgrades were winners: A Georgia study found coronavirus infections down 39 percent in schools with improved ventilation systems. But opening windows, air purifiers and proper use of fans (vented outdoors) also showed positive impact.
Social distancing was found to have no significant difference in students spaced six feet apart versus three feet apart in a March study that reviewed 251 Massachusetts school districts.
Temperature checks in airports yielded few results, and were an expensive and time-consuming measure, the article reported, and while cleaning surfaces had little to do with COVID-19, the practice cut down on other transmissions, like Staphylococcus aureus.
Hand-washing and sanitizing were both winners.
Mask-wearing is broadly endorsed in the U.S. by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, and while some experts dispute their effectiveness, a Duke University report found masks reduced the spread of COVID-19 in schools studied in North Carolina. CDC studies differ, with a October 2020 study concluding masks are “a protective element” and a May CDC study that “required mask use among students was not statistically significant (in reducing spread) compared with schools where mask use was optional.”
We will likely learn more as we go — an endorsement of education if ever there was one.
This year we are profoundly grateful that our kids can start the new school year in person. While there may not be as many hugs and protocols may differ, it’s important that we keep our kids’ well-being in the front of our minds.
So we’re greeting the year on a hopeful note, and as we check off the items on our list, are making sure that our positive attitude isn’t in short supply.