I know at times we all get frustrated with the way things are around school this COVID-affected year. We get tired of wearing masks in the hallways or at ballgames. We get tired of either having our temperatures taken, or standing out in the cold and taking other people’s temperatures. Maybe we don’t like sitting so far apart (particularly when it’s cold!) and we want to sit closer together. We may be irritated about the minor annoyances of life in a pandemic, like when I learned yesterday the state fine arts competition is virtual this year, rather than live and in person like our fall and Christmas concerts.
I totally get it. These things have been frustrating for me, too. Our teachers just want to teach, I just want to run a school, our students want to learn and have fun with each other. No one signed up to do school during a pandemic. It’s frustrating, and it’s inconvenient.
But, isn’t it funny how God always reaches into our often-entitled lives with something, a little perspective, to completely turn our mindsets around? He is so gracious in that way, as He was for me last week. As you know, we’re part of a national consortium of Christian schools called the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA). The heads of these schools and I correspond regularly. What is happening around the country is truly amazing. In California, private schools are under the same online-only government order as are public schools. They have been in online learning, like we were last spring, all year long. I spoke with one second-year high school principal of a CESA school who has not yet met his students in person. Another California school head told me their students have not competed once in athletics for fine arts this year, and that “it’s taking a devastating toll on the children of California.” Now, here in January, they hope to see sports beginning in a couple of weeks. Illinois private schools just opened the door to winter sports last week, the first competitions all year. Meanwhile, teachers unions in Chicago continue to fight school openings there.
Christian schools in some states are going to try to open for the first time this year in February, despite local orders that they not do so, claiming their civil liberties are at stake. They are worried about the liabilities they will face, yet they know they have to do something to get kids back in school. In other states, schools are operating in direct violation of public orders, hoping day-to-day that the government just won’t pay attention to them. Overseas, in Rwanda, living in a more totalitarian state sees our friends in Christian school currently open, but completely at the daily whim of the president, the cabinet, and the ministry of health. School closures in the past year there have forced children back into the fields to work and have led to large numbers of girls being impregnated by someone at home or in their community.
Even in Christian schools in states that are more open, most schools envision some form of blended learning, a combination of online and in-person, extending as far as next school year because of the uncertainty and fear in their communities. In some communities, suicide rates among teens have increased dramatically from long -term school closures, and most are speculating as to what will be the long-term costs to children and on society as a whole.
Meanwhile, by God’s grace, we have been in school and open every day since mid-August (except for that one snow day!). Our families and teachers and students have worked together to create a safe, relatively low-fear environment. We have been able to play sports from the beginning of the school year, and none of our varsity teams have had to cancel games because they have mass infections or quarantines.
As a school family, we have been able to attend our children’s games. We have been able to have intramurals in 5th and 6th grade. We have been able to hold fine arts concerts, and we have been able to attend and watch our kids perform. At the elementary, we have been able to have a Veterans’ Day celebration, and the Christmas play, and Little Bo Peep, and almost every traditional event that has become such a beautiful part of who we are as a school. And, our parents have been able to attend and celebrate our children and the Lord’s work in their lives.
Our kids have had the opportunity to thrive and flourish as God created them to do and be, together and incarnationally, in person, in relationship with each other and with their teachers. I have colleagues who have spent well over a million dollars in COVID remediation and preventative measures, costs passed down to their parents. By God’s grace, we been able to provide a safe learning environment without incurring those costs.
This year has seemed so normal that it’s easy to just fall into “normal school-year mode,” finding ourselves frustrated with the little things. But, in this culture and in this age, being able to do what has, in many ways and with relatively minor inconveniences, been a “normal” school year has been nothing short of miraculous. I think about the biblical concept of shalom, which is more than peace, or freedom from conflict: it is the wholeness, fullness, and completeness of God’s presence and His protection. While it has certainly been a challenging and tiring year, God’s shalom has been upon us, and it has been extraordinary.
We have been the beneficiaries of strong and wise local leaders with the foresight to allow schools to determine their own way, encouraging them to educate kids. We have enjoyed lots of other advantages and opportunities not available to our counterparts in other states and countries, but all of these things are gifts, coming down from the Father of Lights, grace upon grace and unmerited favor on our school and our community. As I look around at many places where the situation is truly grim, a little perspective is a profoundly good thing.
Jay Ferguson, Ph.D., Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org.