Schools Are Essential, Too

Despite the myriad of challenges that have arose in this doozy of a year, there have been a few net positives that have come along with it. Many essential services have remained functional or quickly adapted thanks to technological advances and the ease of remote work. Groups like the NLC have been lobbying for better municipal funding to improve existing local infrastructure, and long overdue conversations regarding policing and broader criminal justice reforms have become part of the cultural zeitgeist. Perhaps most importantly, though, is the way in which many schools have used the summer to come up with new ways to educate children and keep them safe at the same time.

The initial school closures this past spring made valiant attempts to keep students engaged and up to date with remote instruction, ensuring the safety of staff and students as the covid-19 pandemic spread. However, this remote-only approach also highlighted the importance of in-person interaction in education. According to the CDC, these interactions contribute to the “the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children.” Lack of in-person education then directly impacts a student’s ability to succeed in these areas and “disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities.”

The social stakes are incredibly high when it comes to effective education. Yet, in a matter of a few months, many school districts have released reopening plans that emphasize a hybrid approach to classroom instruction to ensure students receive the benefits of in-person interaction and help mitigate the spread of covid-19 at the same time. Here in Polson (BMS headquarters), for example, the district has included an option for families to send their kids to school a couple days a week (Mondays and Tuesdays for students with last names in the A-K range or Wednesdays and Thursdays for L-Z) and learn remotely the remainder of the week.

The approach to schools re-opening will no doubt vary state to state and district by district, as will the success of these approaches. But the resiliency of teachers and school staff members, as well as the speed in which districts have adapted to this crisis, are laudable and cannot be overstated.

If we have learned anything in 2020, it’s that we face a myriad of unsolved issues. However, we have also learned that despite these problems, many of the institutions we deem essential or hold dear can evolve to meet our ever-growing needs and our education system is just the latest example. Reports of successful reopenings abroad provide a shred of hope that the latest evolution in our education system will contribute to the success of our students without significantly endangering them or their teachers, and this latest evolution should give us hope that our system will continue to adapt as needs change.

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