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Covid & Education

by Bob Emmons

Covid-19, the superflu, has made us take pause.  Our lifestyles have been altered considerably in the year since the country’s voluntary lockdown began.  We’ve become accustomed to wearing facemasks in places that once would have gotten us arrested; we’re scared of getting within six “socially distant” feet of strangers who we encounter if we even venture out of our homes at all; and we’ve washed our hands to the bone.  Not to mention living through the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of last spring…

 

The good news of the last twelve months is that we’ve come to have a much better scientific and social understanding of the disease.  We know how it’s transmitted, we know the symptoms, we know the short-term effects and we know who’s the least and most vulnerable to catching it.  The best news, of course, is that we now have the vaccines to combat and conquer it.  We thus are growing ever more optimistic, hoping that our lives can return to the way they were only a scant thirteen months ago.  Personally, I can’t wait to go to concerts and football games again.  With large crowds.  Unmasked!

 

I retired from teaching in Delaware five years ago.  I was a music teacher – the chorus and band director kind.  My best “gig” was spending fourteen of my career years as the middle school band director at the Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington. 

 

I now stay hunkered down at home, go out occasionally (I’m a do-it-yourselfer who can’t resist The Home Depot) and try to be as hygienic as possible so that the disease is kept away.  I watch my grandson do “hybrid” school — he’s a student at HB DuPont Middle School in Hockessin – and I’m in awe of the dedication and ingenuity of his Zoom teachers.  He even gets in some band practice!

 

Watching the “Covid Education” model makes me wonder about how I would handle things if I were still teaching.  Consider that in a band rehearsal there are a hundred kids sitting shoulder-to-shoulder.  They can’t wear masks because they put musical instruments in their mouths.  They spend an hour blowing into their horns, sending all of their germs through their instruments where they travel through tubes and are then flung out into the open, landing all over the room and on each other…  It’s a wonder we weren’t ALWAYS sick!

 

If I were still teaching today, would I now risk standing in front of that noisy crowd, crazily waving a baton while shouting the usual “ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR,” expecting that the air-borne virus that the young musicians might be blowing around the room would somehow evade all of us?  By extension, would I put my family at risk?  Or rather would I opt to stay home and ride out the Covid wave, counting the days until I could get that vaccine in my arm?  It’s a tough call, and we’ve seen the extreme reactions to it on a macro level from various teachers’ unions around the country.

 

Along the Covid journey, we’ve “followed the science” to answer the call, allowing more functionality within Delaware’s public schools. We’ve been told that the percentage of transmissions of the disease is extremely low in schools and that children are among the lowest numbers of carriers.  All the while, we’re aware of students’ needs for socialization and personal contact with their teachers. The hybrid model used in many school districts is seeing to it that almost all of our children are getting back into school buildings for at least two days per week while they have online virtual classes for the other three.

 

The vaccine will help, of course, freeing us from Covid’s social shackles.  But we’re an impatient lot — we want the vaccine NOW, and we won’t feel completely safe until every breathing soul has received it.  We don’t want its distribution politicized, yet we’re agreeable to a stratified approach, assigning priorities to groups of people deemed worthy of receiving the vaccine ahead of others.

 

Should teachers be among the highest priority vaccine recipients?  Common sense would tell us that it’s a pretty good idea.  Everyone wants our public schools to reopen again at full-service strength.  Science has been telling us that the people most vulnerable to the disease are the adults in the schools, not the students.  Having vaccinated adults in front of the classrooms will mitigate the spread of the disease in the event that it’s somehow brought into the schools.

 

Will the schools have a “new look?”  Probably.  Temperature checks for every student and teacher may become a daily ritual.  Desk spacing, plexiglass barriers, sanitizing stations, no-contact physical activities, self-contained food packages and one-way halls and stairways may well become the norm.  To avoid overcrowding, two half-day sessions may have to be implemented.  And those masks unfortunately aren’t going to go away anytime soon.

 

How long the Covid lifestyle will linger on is anybody’s guess.  We’re putting great stock in the vaccination program, and we all hope that everyone of every age can receive it quickly.  We want to get our schools, our economy and our lives roaring again.  It’ll take coordination and cooperation, but it looks like we’re up to the task.  Here’s to a great future!

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