I’ve been working from home a lot, but have ventured out when critical to provide client services. At 8 a.m. yesterday I hopped in the car to participate in a regulatory audit in the Inland Empire.
I passed the parked truck of a contractor working on our house. Why was someone still in the truck? Did they need something before I left for the day?
Inside was a kid, about 13. At the last minute I saw he had a laptop. He was sitting in a truck, in our driveway, doing school, while his dad worked. I gave him a big thumbs up and hopped on the freeway. I passed Amazon semis, trash trucks, law enforcement vehicles, contractors and plenty of other folks out for necessary trips like me.
During my work visit every room was labeled with COVID-19 warnings and reminders. Spacing dots were on the floor. I got corrected when I tried to go out my “usual” door, which was now designated as an entrance only.
Such is life in the working COVID-19 world. This morning, before sitting down at my computer, I saw the same child sitting in a truck outside my house, trying to learn.
I’ve refrained from writing these last few tumultuous months, waiting for some good news, and finally it has arrived. Our local elementary schools have started back on partial days, with social distancing.
Some are aghast…how dare they without having the teachers vaccinated? Others cheer and are then accused of being bad parents or heartless savages. Many more folks are in the middle.
Who worries about the kid sitting in a truck doing his schoolwork? Who worries about the family that doesn’t have a cellphone signal let alone internet service? Who is worried about the kids not taking college entrance exams when their peers are? Who worries about the kid losing a scholarship and possibly their ticket to college?
What about those who drop out for good?
Opening the elementary schools gradually is a step in the right direction. They are offering both socially distanced and full online options to teachers and students. We need the junior highs and high schools to follow suit.
As an engineer, I can live in spreadsheets, but I know critical understanding comes from seeing facilities and talking to workers. So too with the spark of education. It’s more than the material, and much more than a screen. Decisions on career paths or staying in school at a difficult time are made in a five- to 10-minute interaction with a teacher.
It’s in-person contact that gets our cars fixed, our goods delivered and our power lines repaired. Our medical needs are being addressed and our water thankfully keeps coming out the tap, and that too requires at least some human touch to happen.
Most folks are finding a way to get through the workday as safely as they can, amid the abysmal COVID-19 response that will continue to plague us. Our kids also deserve an attempt at as good an education as they can get.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association called for in-person education as far back as last summer and continue to support it. The Centers for Disease Control and the wonderful Dr. Anthony Fauci have not said vaccination is mandatory for schools to open. Many studies point to cases reported at workplaces and schools actually originating in social settings, not structured environments with masking and social distancing.
We have lived through a year of moving targets and evolving information. I suspect that will continue for at least another year with vaccine supply problems, resistance to vaccination, and the evolving variants that may necessitate booster shots. Not to mention global travel and other countries that are far behind us.
Zoom numbs our minds as adults. Imagine how our kids feel about six hours or more of screen time, missing their friends’ head nods and waves. Imagine sitting in a truck in a stranger’s driveway, trying to learn algebra while your parents continue to work, as they have since day one.
Yes, we face risk every single day, with every single choice. Right now, we risk losing a generation of students that does not have to be lost if we don’t find a way to deliver the best education possible.
The best education, just like everything from symphonies to landing Mars rovers, requires at least some live interaction.
It’s been a year…it’s time to get on with solutions.
Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, past elected official and mom living in Santa Clarita.