Monday, August 17, 2020

Hey, Leaders? Would You Mind Leading?

It's Monday again. I have a bit of a lingering, unexplained headache, yet another messy bun in my hair, and some shit on my mind. Let's do this.

Since quarantine started (or whatever else you want to call it as many people have started throwing that word around without meaning it even 10%), the days of the week have been largely meaningless to me. Except that Mondays are the days when communication with our school district re-opens and I brace myself for the anxiety-inducing shit show on its way.

Sometimes it was schoolwork sent from teachers. (And don't get me wrong there, the teachers have been the bright spot in the storm - the dread over the work was purely over the level of sanity it would cost me to drag my kids through it.) For a while it was news on how long our schools would remain closed. This Summer, it's been vague explanations for how they plan to conduct the 20-21 school year while pushing our questions into some unknown time in the future when they'll magically be ready to answer them - probably at the same time the doors to our schools are being forcefully unlocked. And I just gotta say.....I'm over it. 

I think I'm part of a shrinking cohort of people who are steadfast in honoring the dangers of an un-researched virus that's killing the citizens of our country by the thousands while also feeling exhausted by the lack of leadership among our, ya know, leaders. From the smallest boss man to the orange Hitler himself. Maybe it's selfish and privileged of me to say so, but being groomed to be a proud American for three and a half decades I'd become accustomed to being cared for and lead in the right direction. When did we decide that those were outdated sentiments?

Don't confuse my disappointment and frustration with wishing to remain ignorant because I think the recent awakening to the injustices and inequality within the systems of our country (particularly the vast, deep degree that they exist) was necessary and important. It's just that instead of using this information to DO BETTER, most of our leaders are just intent on dismantling civility and decorum. It feels like we're being represented by 12 year olds that just inherited a case of dynamite - giggling away as they see what they can get away with blowing up. 

I don't have have the bandwidth to delve into all the (many, many) issues at hand right now, but I'd like to poke at the school thing a bit more as I've got a measly three weeks left to figure out what the hell is going on.

Let's rewind and take a peek at the 2005-2006 school year. 

I was, I guess, technically a college sophomore. My degree program was in Humanities & Social Sciences, but it was with a Childhood Education focus that would eventually transfer into an actual Child Ed program. Follow me? Okay, so, part of my curriculum was to get out and do actual work and research within functioning elementary school classrooms - aka, field work. I was assigned to varying socioeconomic districts across the Western New York area so that I could really get a feel for the types of jobs and educational needs in my area. Additionally, I sat in on or helped out in every grade from K-5. 

It's taboo for teacher-types to say so, but I had my favorite classes. I for sure had my favorite schools. And my professor was a retired teacher and principal from said favorite schools and so hearing about his experience gave me an accidental bias.

Now fast forward to 2010. Matt and I were house hunting and our oldest son was just over a year old. I was relentless about the neighborhoods we looked in because I wanted my kids enrolled in my favorite school and at the very least, within that school's district. I wouldn't budge. I'd seen some shit!! I knew what I wanted my kids to have and where they'd be able to get it.

I obviously had some time to wait before I had any kids enrolled, but by the time my oldest started Kindergarten, we were up to three kids and I knew we'd be a part of this district for the long haul.

The vast majority of our experiences were good ones. We never had a bad teacher. I found compassion in every corner. There were a multitude of ways for me to be involved and invested in my kids' education and school community, and I was invited to get to know the staff and students as though they we were all part of a large, welcoming family. There were still cliques and the occasional mean girl or two - all of life is high school, afterall. But I was largely under the impression that I'd made the right call and the district was delivering on all of my previously learned expectations. There was growth, pride, inclusion, diversity, opportunity, and caregiving. It was all there, and my kids grew as students and as friends.

Enter a pandemic.

I don't think anyone faults our leaders and lawmakers for the existence of such a wild curveball. In fact I think many of us have compassion for the last minute nature of difficult decisions and hastily thrown together alternatives to normal life. It's just that as time has gone on, things haven't improved. If anything, we're seeing more and more that when things get truly, truly difficult - our leaders don't know how to lead. And they certainly don't know how to be humble and compassionate about it. 

As of right now (three weeks before the first day of school), we have a choice of two options - hybrid or full remote. Very few people in our district are happy with either option. The parents who are choosing hybrid are angry that their children won't be getting as many days of actual instruction as the fully virtual kids will. The fully remote parents are angry that they don't have the same access to all the available courses at their grade level, and that they'll be given random (possibly newly hired) teachers from any school and any grade level across the district. Either option creates a disadvantage in comparison to the other group of kids.

Me, personally? Well if you've followed my Quarantine Chronicles or know me in real life, then you know that our oldest son has some health concerns that we have to honor above all else. You also probably know that I don't trust humanity to be respectful and diligent where social distancing practices are concerned. So my family has (so far) opted into the fully remote option.

However, since we decided that our kids would be staying home this school year regardless, our choice was never between remote-hybrid-full time school. It's been remote vs homeschool. Homeschooling offers a lot of flexibility and freedom to our family that has been appealing to me since my kids were preschoolers. I've always been attracted to the idea. It's just that...since there is a remote option, I see an opportunity to remain current with district curriculum and grade level, as well as the natural opportunity to interact with their known classmates and school staff. Since this school-at-home situation is (hopefully) only a year or two long, I want to chose the option that will allow them to rejoin their classmates at grade level with as few speed bumps as possible. They'd remain on a level playing field with their peers if they played along with the same options offered to their fellow students.

But what happens when the available option doesn't offer your hoped-for advantages? If my kids are thrown into piecemeal classrooms with a teacher from another school and classmates from across the district, how does that offer them the opportunity to continue strengthening the social relationships they've been forming for the previous six school years? What's the point?

If you could be a fly on the wall at our district meetings, you'd be witness to anger-motivated uncivilized discussion fixated on pointing out all the ways our district is failing our community in their lack of preparedness with the guy in charge rolling his eyes and denying everything. If it weren't for our dedicated teachers, the whole district would be up in flames. The newest petition circling the community was created by High Schoolers demanding better. They are angry that they have to make the choice between AP classes (which are not being offered virtually) and keeping their ill parents healthy. Our KIDS know better! 

For our family, I'm upset that my rising 6th grader, who experienced school as a middle schooler last year is now going to be treated as an elementary student and in addition, will not be offered Spanish or Orchestra classes. He is personally upset about missing out on developing his orchestra skills. I know we have options privately, but how is it fair to set these kids on a path of education they've come to expect and then take it away from them while still bragging about being one of the top school districts in the area? In my opinion, the top districts would be jumping through burning hoops to offer their students the very best.  

So here we are. Three weeks to go. Not knowing what school will look like. Not knowing if I'm okay with the options presented to us. Not knowing if I'm going to have to rush our family into homeschooling suddenly because the subpar choices offered to us have proven to be too little too late. Not knowing why I've fought for over a decade to live right here, with so few options, because I insisted on remaining a part of this district. 

Rolling with life amidst the unknown is a skill, I know - one I haven't developed in all areas of life. I struggle the most in the areas that concern my kids. I'm struggling with letting this be and not pushing hard into the options at hand - my mama bear is growling and ready to pounce, and my trust has been shaken. We deserve better.

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