There aren’t enough words anymore.
They have all been used.
When schools shut down mid-March because of COVID-19, it’s a good bet that most of us thought it would be a relatively short-lived experience. Shelter in place, distance learning, no non-essential personnel out and about. Just for a couple of months, until we got a handle on this thing.
As difficult as it was for students, teachers and administrators to juggle this new way of schooling, the weeks rolled by. Prom time came and went with no rented limousines taking kids to dinner after countless photos in the front yard. Disneyland trip dates came and went with no busses heading to southern California full of graduating seniors. Graduation and commencement ceremony dates came and went with no speeches, no Pomp and Circumstance. Sober Grad Night came and went with no memories made, no big prizes awarded.
And now the 2020-21 school year is on the horizon – again, with distance learning at its core.
I would say it’s unbelievable, I would say it’s unprecedented, I would say it’s surreal … but I have already said all of that.
And yet the fact remains that, here we are, still in the midst of all this unbelievability.
As a small town weekly newspaper, the schools, with their club activities and sports teams, are the lifeblood of our pages. We usually devote much of the front page – and often a ‘photo page’ inside – to graduation and, sadly, that just didn’t happen in the traditional sense this year at any of the districts we cover: Oakdale, Riverbank and Escalon. Parents love to see their kids in the paper in connection with this school event or that club activity; we love to put them in. Sure, there are the council meetings, police and fire news, business stories … but it is the schools that provide much of the ‘refrigerator art’ around our community.
We are closing in on the end of July, ‘summer vacation’ in the Central Valley nearly at an end for students … but they won’t be going back to campuses in early August. Those that need them will soon be picking up, or already have picked up, the Chromebooks and other distance learning essentials. Cafeteria personnel are preparing for what will be another challenging – though smoothly run – operation of getting school lunches to all students in need via drive-thru distribution.
As sad as it is for the Class of 2020 not getting their final hurrah, that chance to fling those mortarboards skyward and hug their friends and family, I also can’t help but feel some pain for those just entering kindergarten, or TK. I remember my own daughter’s first day of school; the shopping trip beforehand for new clothes, the perfect ‘first day’ outfit, the new lunch box with matching thermos and, of course, the photos of her ready to go. Walking her in to the school, hand in hand, and then letting go of her hand as she started her new chapter in that kindergarten classroom all those years ago at Magnolia Elementary in Oakdale – that’s an experience that perhaps parents remember better than the kids. But it’s an experience every parent should get to have. This year’s kindergarten students won’t have that sense of wonder – and for some, admittedly, panic – upon having to line up and get into the classroom before the bell rings. Their first day will likely be a Zoom meeting with a teacher that they hopefully get to meet in person very soon.
Last spring, after COVID shut down life as we know it, I was texting with a teacher/coach and we were sharing how much we missed being around the students. For her, it was missing her athletes and – as she called them, “my littles” – her kindergarten students that had to quickly adapt to a new form of learning.
We hope the entire school year won’t be done online but we have a long way to go in order to get back on campus. Even then, there will have to be safety protocols in place but at least if we can get in to the classrooms, it will feel like we have a fighting chance of moving back toward a more ‘normal’ life.
And don’t even get me started on sports. What am I going to do on Friday nights this fall? It has been almost 25 years since I started covering Escalon and spending my Fridays at Engel Field or hitting the road with the Cougar football team. Last year, we started in August and kept going until December, all the way to the state championship. We hope their season can start in December this year; volleyball and cross country too – and the Escalon Lady Cougars have a volleyball Section title, the first in school history, to defend.
We need sports. We need school. We need to do whatever is necessary to get coronavirus cases under control so we can get back to the business of living our lives, face to face, not screen to screen.
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times, The Oakdale Leader and The Riverbank News. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.