On Thursday morning my tenth-grade daughter biked two miles to school in drizzling rain to sit behind a plexiglass barrier and take a math test wearing two masks (vs covid) and a jacket (vs open doors/windows). She was alone in the class except for one other kid. She then went to Band (one other kid) and History (no other kids).
On Friday, she got up and did it again, this time to take a test in her first-period Chemistry class (by herself). Both days she ate lunch on her own, with her phone for company.
Does that sound crazy to you? Ironically, it sounds surpassingly sane to me, and I hope that more of her peers will join her.
Despite what it may sound like, my daughter enjoyed the two days, particularly the second, and is looking forward to going back next week. I noticed a lightness in her step and voice, more engagement and alertness in her attitude, even some singing around the house. I loved getting a detailed rundown of school when she got home, down to the plot of the short story they discussed in English (where there were five kids, “a record!” as she put it). It was a delight to hear the laughter in her voice when she related how they plowed leaves with a golf cart rigged up to a large wooden pallet in Auto (two kids, one teacher, one administrator, and one custodian -- “everyone was there,” she said). It meant a lot to my daughter to meet her teachers, and her teachers responded generously with their time and attention. The campus is empty, but it is friendly and she was welcomed. The question is, will more kids come?
It is not an easy decision to go to high school in Palo Alto right now. It takes some combination of courage, trust, optimism, self-reliance, and maybe also a heavy dose of dissatisfaction with the home environment. Kids have gotten accustomed to waking up late, attending school in their PJs, taking tests while chatting with classmates, sipping hot drinks and snacking in their “classrooms”. Our kids are adaptable and we have helped them to adapt in very difficult circumstances. It was the right thing to do, and we were fortunate to be able to do so.
But now we should help them to adapt back.
Teens do not belong in their bedrooms, on screens, and with their parents or home alone 24x7. They should be exploring, socializing, trying new things, engaging with adults who are not their parents, taking on new responsibilities, getting out of their comfort zones. Many were lucky to be able to retreat to places of comfort during the pandemic, but as it gets safer I believe we must encourage them to emerge from their nests back into the world. I used to joke that my daughter was an easier kid when she was sick. She was pliant, she was calm, she was quiet. But she was not well. Many teens have become passive, disengaged, wary, even depressed. How many of them can recognize that and find the strength to make the extra effort to go back to school?
High school is a mixed bag for some or even many teens. It can be a source of social stress and academic pressure. This can be especially true at our large, competitive high schools. For those students, this respite from traditional school may have been welcome and even healthy. I hope families will share their insights from this past year and help our schools figure out how best to welcome those kids back to campus in the fall, whether it is an extension of the small cohort programs, pass-fail grading, or something else.
But many teens would benefit from a return to classrooms today. The barrier to re-entry is high, and perhaps especially so for those who would benefit most. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on encouraging these children to give in-person school a try.
I want to end this post with a heartfelt thank you to the teachers and administrators of our high schools who have worked very hard (again! still!) to welcome children back to campus, and to all of those who worked to get us to this point. An in-class experience may not be for everyone right now, but reopening can offer a tremendous boost for the mental and emotional health of many children in our district, if only they will take advantage of it. So, thank you.
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