Last weekend, I was scrolling through social media and checking on local news when I saw an article about a food distribution event in North Long Beach that took place on Saturday, May 9. More than 2,500 packages of food were distributed by more than 100 volunteers, and cars were lined up for miles.
As has happened countless times since the shutdown began, I was struck by the immensity of the need while simultaneously inspired by the generous and immediate response of the community. The anxiety of the moment has been met, time and time again, by the assurance that help will arrive.
This time, there was something else that struck me about the photos that accompanied the story. “Hey!” I said aloud. “That’s my parking spot!”
This is my sixth school year teaching at Jordan High School, and we’ve been under construction the entire time, with students and staff needing to adjust routes on the fly as new fencing popped up overnight and familiar locations were razed to the ground. A few times, the ever-changing landscape has gifted us with little surprises. When I arrived back on campus in August, I was more excited than I care to admit to find that our parking lot, formerly tiny and covered in dust, had sparkling new asphalt and at least twice as many spaces.
Since the shutdown, our big, beautiful new parking lot hasn’t been getting much use by students and staff. But it has continued to serve our students, their families, and the wider community in a way that fills me with immense pride.
Immediately after the shutdown, Jordan began serving as a meal distribution site for school-aged children in the neighborhood. Two weeks later, I saw my parking lot again when Jordan became the North Long Beach center for Chromebook laptop distribution to LBUSD students preparing for distance learning. Then, just a few weeks later, Jordan became a drive-through testing site for COVID-19. And there again, behind the first responders decked out in PPE, was the spot where my little Honda Civic would be parked.
It makes a lot of sense, of course, that schools would continue to serve such essential purposes, even when classes are taking place off-site. There has always been more to a school than the textbooks, technology, worksheets, and activities contained therein.
At our school, most of our students eat free or reduced-price lunches because of financial need. The same food service warriors who have been distributing meals to the community since the shutdown feed our students every day of the year. For the kids who need more than the lunch lines can provide? I know students can’t focus when their bodies need food. My desk is always stocked with granola bars, and I know a dozen of my colleagues who have a smorgasbord of snacks squirrelled away in their rooms.
True, I’ve never swabbed a student for the novel coronavirus, but I’ve handed out my fair share of band-aids and tissues. I’ve told my students that I’m worried about them, and I’ve gently nudged them to seek outside medical help when an ice pack from our school nurse wasn’t going to be enough. I’ve been a sympathetic ear for all manner of teenage problems and I’ve tried to be a stable and caring presence in their lives.
As a student in the LBUSD, I relied on the staff and teachers that I loved for so much more than my education. As an educator, I’m trying to give back in the same way. And now, even though I only see my students through a computer screen, and I don’t know if they need a granola bar from my stash, I am proud to know that our school site isn’t lying fallow. I see our big, beautiful parking lot on the news and I know that the work continues.