Education has truly changed in small towns across the country over the past few months. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers were already supplementing in-person, classroom instruction with YouTube instructional videos that students could watch at home to help answer questions about the materials being studied in the classrooms. Teachers often were able to interact with parents and students through special online platforms.
But when the pandemic came along, and in-person classroom instruction was canceled for the rest of the school year, it threw everyone, from school administrators and teachers to parents and students, for a loop.
My wife has taught in the classroom for small, rural parochial schools for more than 25 years, so I can understand the challenges that teachers and administrators were faced with because of this invisible enemy. As if education isn’t challenging enough these days, the pandemic has significantly raised the stress level for educators at all levels.
Yet, they have met the challenges head-on, as best they could, often paving new paths along the way. Small-town public and private schools often are already strapped for financial resources. So, the pandemic has forced them to do so much more with less.
In addition to worrying about the educational well-being and development of students, they must also worry about student health and preventing the spread of the virus. That means extra health monitoring and widespread cleaning for everyone involved. Top off the challenges with virus situations that change daily.
The struggles to reach out to students in the early days of the pandemic last spring were very real, as schools tried to do something they had never done, in a situation they had never been in.
There is no doubt that some students continued to thrive, even in online formats for their education. But ordinary students like my own children, who may struggle at times even during in-person classes when they have access to teachers to ask questions, struggle even more in a virtual setting. They need that in-person time with their teachers to ask questions and to absorb material.
School systems across the country have attacked all the challenges related to COVID-19 in different and unique ways. But through it all, they haven’t given up and have worked diligently with health officials, other local agencies and their own staff members to come up with varied plans, depending on the virus situation in their vicinity.
The overall goal through all of this has been to provide in-person classes for students if possible, and to still maintain the health of students, their families and school staff, while imparting the materials each student needs to learn.
To me, our small rural schools are true heroes through all of this, and the administrators, teachers, volunteers, custodians and staff who allow our schools to operate deserve our deepest gratitude.