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  • Susan May

What about the kids?

In the scheme of things, with so many losing so much, it’s a small thing to consider the losses of this graduating year of students, the class of 2020. I’ve got one of those at home today seeming, just for a moment, a little lost. He’s bravely trudged to school this week and steadfastly refused my pleas to discontinue attending. I work from home, so he doesn’t need to go.

You'd think that many students might be thinking Yahoo, yippee! No school! Or at least, Yay, no teachers. And until the last two years, that would have been my son who has had a real love-hate relationship with school. He doesn’t quite fit in to the education system. However, he’s really knuckled down in the last eighteen months and come to terms with what needs to be done for his future. We've always told him to do his best and try and enjoy school as much as possible. You know, look for the positives.

We must remember, us the parents and they the educators, the idea that this is quite possibly the toughest, as well as the most rewarding year of their lives, has been drilled into these kids for eleven years, plus two (if we’re counting kindergarten and pre-primary). This was to be the culmination of everything they’d strived to achieve. When they began this year they knew, without a doubt, that at the end of it nearly all would graduate. Then they would head off to "leavers" week to celebrate, before facing the adult world with the polishing touches they’d absorbed through the experiences of their final magnificent year.

They would take with them the friendships which might just last a lifetime, forged solid from that final year experience, via the memories of camps, retreats, special events to celebrate them and their parents. They'd enjoy the very last school sporting and swim carnivals together, the final intra-school events, where they'd represent their schools in not just sporting but other disciplines, or just be there to cheer on their fellows. They'd anticipated a chance to earn awards for achievements, whether they be in physical endeavors, art or academic excellence. Hear the applause from the audience at the musical, orchestral or choir performance. Some hoped to gain further experience in work placement internships, maybe giving them a better chance at earning a job in the years to come.

These are all important and meaningful losses, not just for the children but for parents, too.

In fact, these kids anticipated and hoped for just about every darn little thing that seems so very, very important when you’re seventeen. We've told them so many times, that in hindsight this was the year for us, that it's one of the greatest experiences, even when decades separate you from school life. I don’t think any of us have forgotten the highlights and disappointments of our last year. We still gather decades later, at reunions of our graduating class to reminisce and reconnect, because there’s a fine thread following us through life from that year. That magic year, now gone for these young men and women.

Snuffed in a single fortnight without warning. Stolen away because this is their sacrifice to make in order for us to win a war.

Through all this hell, the leaders in the schools and Education Department scramble to work out how to deliver education to their entire campus. I don’t envy their task. They’ve been working long hours against moving goal posts, alongside new rules daily, condemnation and congratulations for their service in a difficult time. I salute them for their strength and determination.

Yet, I haven’t heard anything about how they intend to manage the results of tests or exams that they are planning to deliver. I haven’t heard anything about in-school meetings with the kids to talk over how they feel, how to manage their emotions and disappointment once their new way of life is revealed. No consultation with student leadership on how to somehow soften the blow and assist them.

Nothing on how to handle the emotional climate inside their home with stressed and worried parents. They might be witnessing for the first time in their young lives a parent or parents who’ve lost their jobs and are suddenly on welfare. What about the ones who were at risk before or may no longer be living in a safe environment? And for goodness sake, how do these young people even attempt to grasp and assimilate the constant flood of information everywhere, as it totes up numbers of the infected and a horrific climbing death rate? It’s a sobering and constant stream of bad news.

Remember, too, they’re also being accused in the media of not having enough sense or responsibility to stay home if they aren't in school. They'll be wandering automatons spreading infection wherever they go according to our politicians. To top it off, they're being told that if they don't follow the rules they risk losing their grandparents to a deadly disease. God, that's a terrible load to place on anyone's shoulders. A huge wallop of guilt, worry and horror for a still forming young mind and psyche to be saddled with when they're probably already struggling with so much.

I feel like screaming this next sentence because there's such a volume of noise out there... THESE KIDS MENTAL HEALTH IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN HOW WELL THEY DO IN A TEST or the grade they achieve in an assignment, amid a world spinning the wrong way at light speed.

Can you even trust exam results at the moment, delivered in a non-level playing field, in judging these student’s abilities? The International Olympic Committee has decided you can’t. Yes, some of their decision relates to physical training limitations but there would also be the emotional and intellectual disruption. Every athlete tells you that performance is as much about the mind as ability. Wouldn’t stress and disappointment factor highly, too, in our children’s ability to concentrate and perform?

Some companies have dedicated support lines for their staff if they're stressed, in need, or have a questions. Where are the support lines for the kids? Or their parents? All the communications, I’ve received have been about how to continue the education system in some form with a cursory one line that the school counselors are available.

I ask, how do we keep things as normal as possible and still deliver top tier education?

We can’t, and I don’t think we should, not for this graduating year. Yes, do try and deliver something for them to at least give focus to each day and not have their time in isolation be a complete waste. Assure them, though, sooner than later, how the importance of their results amid this crisis may not be as vital as it was only two short weeks ago.

Acknowledge that they are seen as people and not just statistics. I urge educators to consider the whole child in making decisions about this year ahead and plotting a course across the bridge. No matter what unfolds, please focus more on the human being inside that student. That human being needs educators to see them as a living, breathing, feeling person who has just lost, for the most part, what was going to be the best year of their life so far. They’ve lost hanging out with their buddies and every other experience they'd anticipated as a reward for their hard work for more than a decade.

Today, I have a son who doesn’t have to go to school, with a mother who doesn’t want him to attend, either. Yet, he’s asked if he can spend next week there, until the bitter end (and it is so bitter, isn’t it?), even though many of his friends will be absent. He told me in a somber, fatalistic, yet mature tone that these could be his last few days at school and, if he can, he would like to experience them.

Education leaders probably won’t or can’t listen because it’s always about the results and the stats, isn’t it? That's how they're paid to measure people and potential. I take umbrage with that, but that's another blog post. Just remember though this is a time to show these kids that life is about a lot more than stats and systems. That it's about people dealing with adversity and the emotions stemming from that and finding ways to replace what you have lost. It's about how we duck and weave and float above troubled waters, so that from disappointment something wonderful and new blooms. Don't talk about results and sticking to learning systems. Please stop talking about that just for a moment.

Take a deep breath...

Please consider ways you can make this better for them as human beings, not just students. Create Plan B through Z of what can be done based on the timeline of our battle. If it’s only two months we are locked away, then maybe we push the school year back into the summer break. If it’s longer, then we can do this or that. If it’s shorter, then we have this ready for you. Maybe we can try this. Perhaps we can create a different experience that is satisfying using this technology. Gather some of the student leaders together and ask them their opinions, seek their ideas.

Even as I write this, it sounds complicated with University entrance timings and so many other issues to consider, of which, as a parent, I know I'm not even aware. I honestly don't presume to have answers. No solution will be perfect and every plan will be balanced precariously on a rickety bridge of daily and hourly changes. There’s no crystal ball in anyone’s hands, and we all understand that.

But think it through. Think about the kids, not the damn results, the wonderful, beautiful, people of our future, the kids.



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