In normal times, few students or teachers would be spending much of their summer vacation thinking about the approaching school year.
Yet as we know, these are not normal times.
As such, it’s understandable that most families and teachers are thinking long and hard about what the fall and winter are going to look like, which is why the Cheshire School District should be applauded for, late last week, presenting their plan for reopening. It gives everyone involved a sense of what to expect come late August and early September, as students return to school.
The plan is not set in stone, and no doubt administrators have crafted the proposal early so as to allow for feedback. All along the way, administrators have sought the opinions of families as to how schools can safely open, and there’s little reason to believe they’d close off those lines of communication now.
But what seems apparent is this: The Cheshire School District understands the importance of getting students back in a classroom and in front of teachers again, and are planning to do exactly that for the fall semester.
What happened in March was unprecedented, and all involved in the education system should be applauded for turning on a dime and strategizing ways to provide students with the opportunity to continue learning while locked down at home. As Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan explained in April, the District went from a brick-and-mortar model of education that’s been in existence for a few hundred years to a remote-learning one that had to be devised in a few weeks.
The fact that Cheshire did so with success is admirable.
But what became clear over the months of distance learning is that the “distance” part takes a toll. No doubt, some students adapted better than others, but what was always suspected seemed to be confirmed between late March and early June: There really is no substitute for the teacher-student relationship formed in the classroom.
As the District’s current plan acknowledges, this is not just about education in the traditional sense. For an increasing number of students, socialization is done almost exclusively while in school. Friendships are formed in hallways and the important lessons of how to live among different people with different personalities and behaviors begins in school.
All of that is lost when learning is done from the living room couch or bedroom desk.
Of course, the District has an obligation to do everything possible to limit the dangers posed by COVID-19 and, thus, everything must be subject to change. At the moment, Connecticut finds itself in the enviable position of watching the pandemic wane. Low infection rates have equaled less hospitalizations and a decreasing number of people dying per day from the illness. If the current trends hold, Connecticut should be able to manage any small spike in cases while also continuing to reopen.
But that could change. Everything in a pandemic is subject to change, and the District must be flexible in its plan.
Yet, as we learn more about the virus, we also learn more about the things we take for granted. That includes in-school instruction — something most now recognize as invaluable to the health and education of all students.