School daze

As Hudson Valley families assess how schools will open, and the options therein, I am hearing and reading a lot from parents. No parents I know are happy. But it’s hard to imagine how they could be. Even the ones who feel satisfied everything is being done to return to school as safely as possible aren’t what I’d call happy.

The word “happy” doesn’t really mean what it once did. As the collective lurches along the blind curves of this strange, rutted, dark detour we’ve all been forced to take, many folks have necessarily redefined words like “happy,” “safe,” “healthy,” and “hopeful.” Some have not done any of that, but thankfully in the Hudson Valley they seem to be in the minimum.

I no longer need to deal directly with the school issue as both a parent and a member of the Onteora school board. My son, Onteora Class of 2016, was sent home from his senior year at Wesleyan University and graduated remotely, so for the first time since he was a preschooler at School of the New Moon in Mount Tremper he will not be entering a classroom next month. My three-year term as a trustee of the school board ended last month.

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Nevertheless, these things affect my family and me, and I’m still invested. My heart goes out to parents, the teachers and staff of local schools, and the school board, superintendent, and administrators trying their utmost to do what’s best for everyone. In an increasingly unpredictable world, I cling to the certainty that these authority figures are doing right by the children. For that, we as a community are fortunate.

Meanwhile, extremely troubling news comes in from schools that have already begun and have not taken social distancing seriously, or enforced mask-wearing. Covid numbers have skyrocketed among Georgia schoolchildren who did not socially distance, for instance. Needless to say, these situations serve as lessons in what not to do.

Thankfully, our local school systems – Onteora, other public schools, and private schools – are being much more cautious. Remote learning options exist. Hybrid remote and protocol-heavy on-site options also exist. Teachers are prepping accordingly. Parents are scrambling to figure out childcare – probably the biggest hurdle for many.

Meanwhile, the Covid exodus from New York City has swelled the ranks of enrollees. My broker friends tell me the numbers of families buying houses has already dwarfed the post-9/11 exodus.

Homeschool networks are expanding. To a large extent, I hear them saying, “We got this.” Of course, all forms of education available in the Hudson Valley – homeschool, private, public, Waldorf, Sudbury, et al. – will no doubt be sharing data on how they do what they do. What works, what doesn’t, who to call for help, who perhaps to avoid. As with so many things since March, we are on a steep learning curve together.

The chronic, pervasive anxiety most of us share makes envisioning a future difficult. That narrowing-of-focus is a hallmark of both anxiety and depression, both of which of course are on the rise. I feel it, too. In the case of education, however, I look to past information that I hope is helpful going forward.

In 22 years of parenting and 17 or so years of teaching, I’ve been around kids from differing educational traditions, and seen many transform into young adults. Homeschool, unschooled, private schooled, public schooled, religious schooled, military schooled, BOCES. I have seen them all.

In my humble opinion, the single most important thing that shaped all of these kids from disparate school experiences, for better or worse, was the engagement of their parents and/or caregivers, most often but not always blood relatives. That more than anything made a difference to the mental and spiritual health of a young adult, Someone who really, really cared, and showed it.

From where I’m sitting, despite the chaos, anxiety, and even hostility, most Hudson Valley kids I’ve seen have experienced that. And it will see them through, no matter what.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Robert Burke Warren.