Back to school. Back to life.

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Two weeks ago, on August 31st, my son started fourth grade. Worrying unnecessarily, I thought the six months of watching TV, playing video games, and working out at home with a personal trainer–instead of a group–had altered his ability to get in a routine.

On the contrary, my son woke up, ate breakfast–at the table instead of the couch–and got ready without complaining once. Meanwhile, I packed his lunch bag and reminded him, yelling from the kitchen, to puff his asthma inhaler before brushing his teeth.

Although the morning ritual was pretty much the same as the one pre-pandemic, we made the decision to skip the bus ride. I couldn’t help but look at the once-loved yellow bus, as a giant Petri dish. Perhaps the most lasting effect of Covid-19 is that we have inevitably turned into germaphobes.

As we arrived at the school, I couldn’t help but feeling a sheer happiness I hadn’t felt in months. The faces of kiddos and parents on foot–covered by masks–or in the car line, were lit with excitement.

I am sure some of them were anxious and scared too. However, the desire to accomplish some degree of normalcy, was a price that we were all willing to pay.

Nevertheless, the happy return to the brick-and-mortar did not depend solely on the decision of trusting parents. Without the compassion of teachers and members of the administration of my county’s school board, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

It was their devotion to teaching and their love for the students that made the beginning of a new school year a dream come true. For months they were in the eye of a political and ideological storm that flooded–and continues to flood–the airwaves with grand-standing positions that considered everybody’s impact, all the while omitting the children’s.

As long as I can remember, the speeches of politicians, environmentalists, activists, celebrities, and many others, almost always include this phrase to appeal and justify their causes or choices: “It is for our children’s future.”

So, I ask, when did opening schools around the United States for in-person instruction become the exception?

Attending school is one of the most important aspects of a healthy childhood–especially young children–regardless of socio-economic status. Kids need to be around other kids to mirror behaviors and develop their humanity. As much as children need to learn math and the ABC’s, they need to learn to play and laugh.

Moreover, if we consider the special needs of vulnerable and low income populations, keeping children out of school means they are probably going to bed hungry. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, almost 30 million students were fed daily through the National School Lunch Program before the pandemic hit.

But, above all, when poor kids are not in school, they are most likely neglected or in the hands of abusive caretakers. Almost 20 million children were born in single parent homes in 2019 (16 million to single mothers.)

Therefore, if the parent has to go to work to keep his or her job, the young are left alone, in the care of their elder siblings, or simply cared for by strangers.

The sad reality is that, for a vast majority of impoverished kids, school is the only safe haven where they are treated with love and are told that their lives matter.

Based on the local Covid-19 data of cases and transmission, one would think that the decision of sending our sons and daughters to school should be ours, the parents’. Unfortunately, millions around the US found that pure politics and media expert pundits are the ones in charge.

Yesterday afternoon I joined the virtual meeting of the School Advisory Council (SAC) of my son’s elementary school. I have been a member for three years, and it was great to see familiar faces.

Besides reviewing bylaws and announcements, the best was the Principal’s comment about how proud she was of the faculty, but especially of the students. She said that they have risen to the occasion, wearing their masks, and following all other procedures without protesting. It truly is amazing that the little people are showing they are the adults in the room.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

Xiomara Spadafora 

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