Pandemics & Back to School:  Combatting Anxiety

Published on
July 18, 2020
Time to read: 
Green notebook and a plain wooden pencil
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels.

This week’s blog was inspired by threads and posts I’ve read on social media about what returning to school will look like this Fall.

Our family has two teens at home who plan on being in High School this Fall. They plan on attending different High Schools, and we support their choices. Encouraging your teens to make decisions about their futures while young, helps prepare them for making more complicated life choices later on.

When the eldest of the two still in High School first told us they wanted to attend a High School that we hadn’t even considered as an option, they shared the pros and cons of attending that school, and changing school boards. We listened, and then learned as much about that school as possible before agreeing to that course of action.

Everything I read, from the school website to the transfer paperwork available online, told the story of an inclusive, open minded organization, where all students, from all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders and abilities were welcome. We set up a tour for a day when classes were in session. The principal took a few minutes out of her busy day to show us around the school, and then turned us over to another staff member to complete the rest of the registration process, including course selection.

Our child is thriving in that school. They have found their people, people who like them for who they are, who appreciate them for their strengths and enjoy their quirks. When the pandemic shut down high schools, that school and the board it belonged to were extremely proactive. They messaged families to explain how those without technology and internet access would be provided with both.  They regularly messaged families, through email, and the online platform they already used to communicate with families and students.

When the Minister of Education for the province of Ontario announced that schools would open this Fall, under an as yet to be determined model, with a maximum class size of 15 students, the school board emailed all families, and asked for our feedback. They outlined the known conditions about returning to school, and assured us that they would do everything they could to help keep our families safe. They assured us that online learning would be available for the days when the students were at home. They also outlined three potential courses of action. Student cohorts could be taught in an ABAB, AABB, or AAAA/BBBB format. They asked us which schedule we preferred, and if we knew if we planned on sending our children back to school or not this Fall.

The school board also asked families to participate in an asynchronous online brainstorming session.  Families were asked to input our top concerns and to rate at least 10 ideas shared by other families. Our family input 5 concerns, with our teen’s input, then rated over 100 ideas shared by others.

The school board shared a summary of the brainstorming session results with all families by email. I know that 40% of the families who participated voted for alternate days attendance. That means this Fall, our teen attending that high school, will go to classes with their peers on either Mon/Wed/alternate Fridays, or Tue/Thu/alternate Fridays. I know that their peers who have siblings attending different schools in that board, will be attending school the same day as their younger siblings. That means families will know what days they have to plan child care for, and if there are older children in the families, they can be the child care plan for the other children living in their home.

I mentioned we have two teens planning to be in high school this Fall. The only communication I’ve received from the younger teen’s school board and new high school about returning to school, is a notice (by phone and email) that the school board is considering options, and an email about how and where to buy school uniforms. This teen is going through a growth spurt, so we’ll wait for August before ordering any uniform pieces.
This teen chose to attend a completely different high school from their older siblings. They decided they want to sign up for an International Baccalaureate (IB) program, to set them on the path for success for further education. This teen needed a little more nudging to examine the pros and cons.  Once they made a decision, they were ready to press ahead and make it happen. We made arrangements to visit the school during a PA day, and ended up spending over an hour with the IB program coordinator. I watched my teen do their first interview with an adult making choices about their suitability for something they wanted. Then we toured the school, met the principal and other staff. Once again, I was impressed by the inclusiveness of the school my child had found.
Everyone we met during that visit, and the visits that followed, were welcoming and friendly. The vibe of the school (a sign of its organizational culture) was upbeat and positive. The principal, a person who’d been principal to schools my children had attended previously, was happy and relaxed. We started completing the paperwork after the first visit.
Even though the second school board and high school have not communicated their plan to parents yet, or even engaged us in the discussion, everything I know about them suggests that I can trust them with my child’s safety. If I didn’t trust them, I’d be lobbying the high school and the school board for more information.
Why am I sharing this story with you? I know that there are many parents that are anxious about sending their children back to school this Fall. I know that there are school staff, including teachers and everyone else who works in schools, who are anxious about the pandemic and their at-risk family members.
I truly believe that if we work together, making contingency plans for those who will choose to work/learn from home, and those who will pursue a blended option, while taking all reasonable precautions to keep everyone safe, then we will find solutions that work, and help our youth learn the things they need to thrive in our new normal. Whatever that is. Examining known conditions, planning for the unexpected, and having several back up plans in place before they’re needed, is an excellent way to combat anxiety.