Last week, we took our son to his elementary school to pick up what had been left in his classroom when the world changed on March 13. We live close to his school, so, at the appointed time, we walked our usual route and entered through our usual gate. He even wore his school uniform and his backpack, and he half-ran the whole way.
We got in the socially-distanced line outside his classroom. A few of his best buddies joined us in line not long after, and they were so excited they could barely contain themselves. They’d seen each other on Google Meets and FaceTime “play dates,” but this was, of course, different. They kept shouting each other’s names at each other, as if verifying that this was real. Kids were chasing each other and climbing on the chain link fences while the parents shouted small talk through our masks.
When it was finally our turn, our son led us into his classroom, where his fabulous first grade teacher Mrs. Patton was waiting to greet him. We’d warned Vincent that there’d be no hugging, so he had to settle for hopping joyfully from foot to foot. He carefully received his parcel of papers and folders, his record of everything he'd learned and done this year, and said his goodbyes.
His breath caught in his throat as he waved to his classmates. “I’m just a little bit sad,” he told me quietly. “I just wish I could still be in first grade with my teacher and all of my friends.”
When we got home, Vincent was most excited to see the letters his classmates had written to him when he was Scholar of the Week back in November. I was most excited to see his “About Me” poster from the first week of school. The mangled spelling and excruciating syntax were a reminder of how much first grade and his teacher had taught him.
Since the shutdown began, I’d spent the past 11 weeks nagging him to focus and to manage his time effectively so he could play. We had a lot of good days, but it was never easy. During the rough patches, supporting him through distance learning meant my parenting pet peeves were layered on top of my teaching pet peeves.
“Did you read the directions?” “Did you answer the question completely?” “Why did you ask for help if you’re not going to listen to me when I’m talking to you?”
Looking over his shoulder, I’d point out that his teacher wanted descriptive language and then watch in rising horror as he hunt-and-pecked “very very VERY cool” onto the page.
We had some real victories together — we finally figured out the challenge level on STMath that had us stymied for more than a week — but there was a lot of struggling uphill. And now, to extend the metaphor, I was reminded that the best part of an uphill climb is the view from the top. Flipping through the record of Vincent’s first year in elementary school, it clicked for me, and I saw his year laid out like a montage in an ’80s action movie. The gradual progression of math and literacy skills suddenly looked like leaps and bounds.
Even after campus shut down on March 13, his learning hadn’t stopped. Thanks to the patience and creativity of his incredible teacher, he’d continued to flourish, even as the new structures required more real world skills and maturity.
The nervous kid who had turned to look and wave at us with wide eyes on the first day of school has transformed into an almost-7-year-old who can manage his own school day practically independently. He knows when his mind needs a break and when his body needs a snack. He knows how to ask his teacher for help and how to encourage and support his classmates, all online. He navigates Google classroom and several digital textbooks with ease, and knows how to mute himself on video calls better than some adults I know.
It wasn’t easy, but we made it through the year in one piece. We don’t know what school will look like in the fall, but, thanks to the hard work of a very, very, very cool almost-7-year-old, I think we’ll be ready for it.