Grace will help school staff deal with pandemic stress

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Grace will help school staff deal with pandemic stress

September 22, 2021 - 23:30
The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.

One month ago, with a sense of excitement and trepidation we began a new school year. Our excitement came from welcoming back all of our Homewood District 153 students and staff. We know without a doubt that children need to learn within the walls of a school, guided by talented adults, collaborating with each other and growing socially, emotionally, and academically.

Our trepidation came from knowing that in spite of all of our preparation there would be COVID related issues that we could not anticipate or prepare for. Simply put, we have not been here before. COVID has been a part of our lives since March 2020, but this is the first time we have been back to business as (almost) usual.

The laughter I hear from our children in their classrooms and on the playgrounds, the questions they ask while mastering a skill tell me that indeed school is back!

The safety of these children is our number one concern. We know that it is scary to be a parent right now. Every decision we make has as the highest priority keeping our school community healthy and safe.

The controversy about the best way to do this creates a layer of stress that we are living with. We are doing our very best to make good decisions in spite of the difficulty in doing so in the midst of everchanging guidance, information and recommendations.

I’d like to give some insight into what is happening inside of our buildings. By necessity, our talented administrators, school secretaries and nurses have been pressed into service as public health COVID managers. Rather than being educational leaders that they trained to be, their days are consumed with answering COVID related questions, contact tracing and quarantine planning.

They respond to emails, phone calls and messages that contain questions, criticism and concerns about our COVID procedures. Too often they are on the receiving end of parents who are either angry that the school district is doing too much or too little in terms of COVID mitigation.

Our teachers are managing their classrooms in order to maintain a safe, friendly learning environment. They have had to get away from using teaching methods they know to be best--for example having students work together in small groups--in order to maintain as much distance between students as possible.

The challenge of serving students in their classroom as well as those who are quarantined is daunting. And yet the teachers are there for their students every day ready to help them learn.

In addition to COVID prevention and mitigation, our schools, like private businesses, are dealing with the added stressor of personnel shortages. We do not have enough substitute teachers. School and district administrators are filling in where needed and teachers are giving up planning periods in order to fill in.

Nor do we have enough bus drivers. To give you some idea of the scope of the national bus driver shortage, the state of Massachusetts is calling out the National Guard to drive school buses. Our lunch staff also is stretched thin. We know all this impacts your child’s day.

Working within the constraints of personnel shortages puts stress on everyone including those who are doing extra duty so that we can function in the way we both want and need to.

Quite frankly our talented staff needs some grace. Our principals, nurses and school secretaries are dealing every day with peoples’ charged emotions. Our administrators, teachers, support staff and bus drivers deserve your thanks for the job they are doing.

Please understand that every single person who has dedicated themselves to your child’s wellbeing may be close to reaching their breaking point and it is only one month into the school year. While our staff loves what they do, it has never been more difficult or stressful to work in a school than it is today. They have other job options and we need to do all we can to collectively build them up and show thanks for what they are doing.

I am asking you to be part of the solution: Please work with us not against us.

Please remember how you felt in March 2020 when you realized the enormous role schools play in our community and the incredible job school staff does every day. Let’s get back to appreciating our school staff and schools.

I promise you that we will do everything in our power to work with you to create a safe, nurturing environment where your children can learn and thrive. Be our partner in showing your appreciation, supporting the efforts of our besieged staff and most of all, showing grace and respect in our interactions with each other.

Shelly Marks
President, District 153 School Board