Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Pandemic School, by Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Today, teen contributor Riley Jensen is sharing her thoughts about starting school this upcoming year. Riley will be starting her senior year; it’s an important year with a lot of big decisions. She knows she wants to be a forensic scientist, which means college and tests and campus visits. She also has found her home, her people, in the theatre program. I did not think last year when I saw her perform that it would possibly be my last time seeing her perform on the high school stage. As her mom, this was very hard to read. We’ve cried a lot, talked a lot, and we’re trying to balance making the best decisions for her with the best decisions for our family with the best decisions for our community, all in the midst of a deadly viral pandemic in a state with really consistently high numbers of infection, hospitalizations and death. Here’s a look into the mind of a teen trying to navigate education in the pandemic.

This year while many other schools have made the decision to start school off virtually, my district decided that students would have a choice between online school and in person school. Only half of my schedule is actual academic courses while the other half is made up of extracurricular courses. So, I made the decision to do in person school since I can’t really be a teacher aide from home. Obviously students are required to wear masks and socially distance, but it can be hard to tell how many of the students will actually follow these instructions since they barely even listen to a dress code already.

Thinking about starting this school year has caused me a lot of anxiety. I have no way of knowing what my fellow students have done, who they have been in contact with or how well they’ve been following the recommended precautions. All I know is that if I get the virus at school I will be bringing it back home to my family.

It’s time to put on make up . . . But will the curtain go up again during senior year?

I also know that not everyone is taking this pandemic very seriously. I see people’s posts about them going out to restaurants or amusement parks or parties. I see them without their masks. I see them not being socially distant. I’m not completely innocent either. I’ve gone out and seen large groups of people. Nobody is really doing what they’re supposed to be doing anymore.

So, when I get back to school, I will be surrounded by people who have gone out and done things without a mask. I will be surrounded by people who don’t think this pandemic is that big of a deal. I will be surrounded by people who probably haven’t even looked at the number of cases in weeks. I will probably not be safe.

Senior photo by Rescue Teacher Photography

There are things I could do to make me more safe obviously. I could just show up to my extracurricular classes, but I don’t drive. I know that’s my own fault but that doesn’t change the fact that I still don’t drive. I could drop a few classes and sign up for early release, but then I won’t get all of the credits I need to graduate. At this point I don’t really know what to do, but I’m scared.

I am terrified of the thought that I might get sick and bring it home to my family. I’ve seen the statistics and I know that school is not a super awesome idea. It’s just so much to process. I barely even know what I want to do with my future, but now I have to figure out what to do without putting my whole family in danger of getting sick.

This whole thing is just stressful and scary and something that I never even thought I would have to think about. So, I’m just going to do my part in keeping everyone safe and hope that everyone else does the same. It seems that’s all anyone can really do at this point.

Sunday Reflections: They’re Sacrificing Our Poorest Children, Same as it Ever Was

As the end of July approaches, parents (and school personnel) have been anxiously awaiting to hear what we’re going to do about school this fall. This in the middle of a global deadly viral pandemic in which our numbers have started rising exponentially again. This is arguably the worst time to be thinking about how, exactly, we’re going to handle school in the fall.

When we returned from Spring Break in March of 2020 we were quickly notified that our schools were going virtual. While this worked fine for my junior who is arguably gifted and self sufficient, it was a disaster for my youngest who has an IEP for dyslexia. And by the time it was all said and done, neither one of my children wanted to touch a computer again. We are one of the many families for whom virtual schooling was a disaster.

The Teen doing virtual school in Spring 2020

This doesn’t mean I want to send my children back to school again in the fall.

Bety Devos wants schools to fully reopen but not many are listening

DeVos blasts school districts that hesitate at reopening

I live in the state of Texas, in which our numbers are rising. We’ve broken records every day for the past week and a half. At the same time, new science has come out that indicates that the virus is indeed airborne. Which means that our kids will be sitting in schools with questionable HVAC systems for hours on end and we’re going to just hope for the best. I guess.

This past week our national leaders began a huge push for in person, fully opened schools. This came from the top down and involved people like Betsy Devos indicating that only around 0.02% of our children will die. That’s right, the Secretary of Education who has never worked a day in a school has indicated that she is perfectly comfortable sacrificing 0.02% of our children to open our schools. madeline lane-mckinley @la_louve_rouge_ did the math on Twitter and that’s 14,740 children: https://twitter.com/la_louve_rouge_/status/1282344581455998976.

But let’s ask ourselves, who will these children be?

They will be our most at risk children. Our poorest children, whose parents can’t stay home with them to do virtual or homeschooling. And when we talk about our poorest children, it is important to keep in mind that our poorest children are often our most marginalized children, Black and Latinx children, rural children, and children with disabilities. That is because, like in all things, the system is designed this way. Systemic poverty and systemic racism are intertwined and designed to ignore many members of our society, including children.

TEA Issues Comprehensive Guidelines for a Safe Return to On-Campus Instruction for the 2020-21 School Year

Last week the TEA (Texas Education Agency ) announced that parents will have two options: send kids to school in person or do virtual learning. Whichever course you choose, you are being asked to commit to your track for at least 9 weeks. Though it gives each school district some leeway to make their own rules.

Early on there was a lot of discussion of hybrid scenarios. Putting kids on like an A/B schedule with them alternating between morning and afternoon classes with deep cleaning in between to minimize the number of kids and create more room for social distancing. Other scenarios seemed to discuss half the kids going to school on just a few days of the week while the other ones did virtual and then switching. All of the hybrid scenarios were designed to give everyone an equal audience in front of a teacher and equal time doing virtual schooling. While not ideal, the hybrid scenarios seemed more equitable.

Scout making a zine during Spring 2020 for a school assignment

Now, Devos and the TEA have come out with an either/or option. You can either do in person or virtual education. And then the call came out: if you can, please choose virtual or homeschooling so that the parents that can’t can send their parents to school. Do you see the inherent bias in this type of system? Because the parents who can choose to do virtual either have the financial means to have a parent stay at home to help their child succeed. They also are most likely to have the necessary tools to do virtual schooling to begin with, like strong, reliable Internet access and computers.

So our poorer children – those with parents who must work or who don’t have reliable Internet access or who don’t have laptops and tablets to successfully do their work – will have no choice but to attend in person school, putting themselves at greater risk of catching the virus and taking it home to their caregivers. Their risk is exponentially increased because their parents can’t afford any alternatives.

This doesn’t account for things like the vast disparities in our schools across the nation due to underfunding, redlining, and other issues. It doesn’t account for older school buildings without adequate heating and cooling systems to help with healthy air flow. It doesn’t account for children who can’t afford to buy their own lunches are going to be asked to show up and provide their own face masks, hand sanitizer (which I haven’t seen in a store for months), or more. It doesn’t take into account crowded hallways and cafeterias, schools that have barely had soap in the bathrooms during the best of times, or realities like busing.

I am not here trying to lambast public education or public educators. I believe in and support public education with every fiber of my being. I believe that the world is better when we take care of and educate our children. It’s a net gain. And despite the best of intentions, it hasn’t been going well for a while now in part because we have people who know nothing about education and who are actively trying to dismantle public education in charge and making decisions. And Betsy Devos is just the tip of the iceberg. Most unfortunately, educators haven’t been invited to the decision-making table for a while now at the same time that there has been a systemic campaign to try and undermine both public education and our teachers. I’m a public librarian, in no way affiliated with any type of public schools and I have been reading about and watching this play out for some time now.

But I’m also a parent, and as a parent, it makes me angry. As a citizen, it makes me angry as well. We have long known that educational success is directly tied in with things like self-esteem, accomplishments, and yes, even future crime. It is a moral and ethical imperative and a public good for us all to invest in the health and well-being of our children. Not just the children we have personally given birth to, but all children. We know based on decades of research and evidence that the health and well-being of our children is important for our economy, our safety, and our success. Not just as individuals, but as a collective whole.

I don’t have answers about what school should look like in the fall. But I am angry that so many people are so willing to sacrifice any of our children, even the smallest percentage point, because they can’t think creatively or don’t want to invest the money that would be necessary to make schools safe during a global pandemic. I’m especially angry because I can see that part of the reason that many are willing to make that sacrifice is because I understand whose children, exactly, are being sacrificed on the altar of “normal”, convenience and fiscal responsibility. It’s the same children it always has been, our poorest, our most marginalized, our most in need of our safety and protection. It’s the same as it ever was. And that should make us all angry.

Income inequality affects our children’s educational opportunities