– Stacy McNeiland
Children are headed back to the classrooms in our community this month, and I’m thinking a lot about the unknowns they are sure to encounter as they do.
There’s the oddity of wearing masks in most schools – something that’s new but necessary to protect kids and staff alike as we all slog through the pandemic together. We don’t know how long that’s likely to be true.
Many kids will have their first virtual learning experience, as at least part of their education will be provided online. It’s difficult to know what that will look like once it’s happening on a large scale, and that uncertainty comes with a certain level of anxiety.
Will all kids have Internet access when they need it? Will childcare be available and within reach for working parents? How will all the kids in our community get breakfast and lunch when they may never see the inside of a school cafeteria this semester?
When I think of children making their way into their classrooms on day 1 of the new school year, I think of hands raised, and a thousand questions about everything from bathroom breaks to semester tests.
And then I think of the quiet kids – the ones in the back of the room observing and listening …waiting and hoping.
These are the kids I think of most often as I consider all the unknowns of the new school year.
That’s because for some kids, a return to the classroom may mean they again have access to safe adults. For children in homes where abuse is the norm, school can be a lifeline. Think about it: there are kids in our community who have been home since mid-March. Those children may not have had contact with a safe adult for the last five months.
They may have endured five months of abuse – unchecked … out of sight, and out of mind. It breaks my heart.
The National Children’s Alliance estimates that reports of child abuse will triple over the next few months as kids head back to school. More than half of all reports of child abuse are generated from teachers and school counselors, who recognize signs of abuse and help children get the help they need. These are things we do know – even as so much remains to be seen.
For all teachers, I pray for clear eyes and the fiercest of fighting spirits. May they recognize the children who have waited so long to find an ally, and may they speak up to protect kids from the epidemic that is child abuse – even as the pandemic rages on.