Phyllis Britt

Phyllis Britt

By the time you read this, Aiken County probably will have announced a more definitive plan for returning to school.

In addition to a variety of classroom options, the district is already committed to a completely virtual learning option, so that will be a continuation of what has been happening since March; however, for this fall the district has had more time to come up with a comprehensive program that, with luck, will give students the foundation they need for whatever grade they’re in.

We spent the spring being constantly reminded that everyone was in the same boat and that the important issue was to make sure students feel safe and loved. But as we move into a new school year, a lot of parents and educators are asking, “Now what?” We are wondering if our students got the education they need to move forward into the next grade and if parents who are not teachers by trade have the capability to homeschool their kids for yet another year.

For me, as a grandparent, I’m not terribly worried about my three oldest grandchildren. Ariah is going into 10th grade; Cade, into seventh grade; and Payton into fifth grade. By this point all three are somewhat independent, able to complete assignments without a lot of on-the-spot guidance such as what would be provided by a classroom teacher. So I’m hoping with more regular contact with their teachers – whether in a classroom or in a virtual setting online – that they’ll get what they need in the upcoming semester.

One of my grandchildren is still in preschool, so Maddie will be fine with minimal effort, especially since she’ll be watching her older brother as he progresses through the school year.

But I’m a bit concerned about the other three. Pearce is going into second grade, so she’ll probably be OK. She has mastered reading, and doesn’t seem to struggle much with math, so as long as she keeps reading, I expect things will progress as expected.

But Thomas and Clarke are both going into kindergarten, and that concerns me a bit.

Now, realize I started life in the adult world as a high school teacher. I taught math and Latin, and I think most of my students would have survived a year of virtual learning. But I also spent 10 years teaching kindergarten through middle school in a computer lab. I used to say that if teaching this diverse group had taught me anything, it was this: 1. I can do anything for 45 minutes at the time (the length of a class period for any given class), and 2. I chose wisely in the first place – teaching high school kids, that is.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my years in the computer lab, but the closest I came to having to worry about teaching a child to read was supervising Accelerated Reader tests.

My best friend, Susan, spent many years as a first grade teacher. I often marveled at her ability to keep discipline, no matter how rowdy the class, and guide non-readers into the wonderful world of reading. But I’ve always felt I would be incapable of leading a 6-year-old into that world. I wouldn’t know where to start.

So this coming school year gives me pause. Just think about life in a normal kindergarten setting. The teacher is extremely important. So what happens when Mom has to take on that role.

My Greenville daughter, Liz, called last week with some concerns. Greenville has announced contingencies similar to the ones originally proposed in Aiken County. However, so far, the Greenville officials are saying they will assess things week by week and announce each week whether the kids should to school one day or two days or five days that week. Each week? Seriously? Think about your 5- or 6-year-old not knowing from one week to the next whether Mom is going to be teacher that week or whether he/she will be in a classroom.

And think about the parents. My daughter works for Clemson, and much of her job is dependent on her computer. That’s the good news. She can work from home. The bad news is that now she gets to do her full-time job while teaching kindergarten and second grade. Yes, there will likely be more help from the school district this year, but suppose Liz were a store clerk at Walmart? If that were the case, she couldn’t do her job at home. So then what? And if she were a single parent, she’d possibly have to choose between earning a living and staying home to teach her child.

My daughter also has the luxury of having the girls enrolled in a daycare that has managed to remain open through most of this and still keep the exposure to COVID-19 at a minimum. Again, not everyone can do that.

Then there’s the question raised by many who recognize not everyone has access to high-speed internet or to a computer, at all – both of which will be necessary for any child who is not in a classroom every day. I’ve heard that the school districts are trying to put in place a plan to make sure every child has a laptop, but that still doesn’t guarantee access to virtual learning or a parent who can keep that child on task online.

All of this just shows a smattering of the concerns every district is having to consider when determining a path forward. I don’t envy them. There will always be someone not happy about whatever decision is made, and there will likely be things that come up not considered in the original plan.

The only thing I can say is that we need to be thoughtful and considerate as we move forward. The people in charge are education professionals who are trying to continue to do the best they can for our children. I think we will come out of this with a new appreciation for the job a teacher is charged with. And maybe, just maybe, our experience will translate into a greater respect for our schools’ faculties – and maybe, just maybe, better pay in the future.