Back-to-school 2020 was nothing like years past.
This COVID-filled fall there was a lot less focus on new clothes, backpacks and binders. Parents and kids paid much more attention to masks, hand sanitizers and the amount of space between desks.
It’s a new world. And students, teachers and administrators are smack in the middle of it.
Back to School Night is virtual. Staples Players does choreography outside, on the tennis courts. There is no lunch in the elementary schools.
Behind those changes are human beings. Getting to where we are today was a gargantuan task. It’s not perfect — as superintendent of schools Tom Scarice notes often, it’s a fluid work in progress — but it is a tribute to the Westport Public Schools staff that our public schools are open, with adaptations made for both in-person and distance learning.
Think about it. Teachers have to learn new technology, balance the demands of students sitting a few (at least 6!) feet from them with those a few miles away, create new lessons, take on new tasks — all while figuring out (and worrying about) their own kids in their own schools, not to mention worrying about being back in an environment with many other people, after 6 months away.
Administrators spent the entire summer devising new schedules, monitoring class sizes, measuring classrooms and hallways, creating protocols for lunchrooms and playgrounds and gyms, answering a squintillion questions (many of which had no answer), all while assuaging the fears of some staff, parents and children who did not want to return to school, and others who did not want to stay home.
Then they did it all over again — and again and again — because, like clockwork, the rules and regulations changed.
Think too about all the school personnel we seldom think about (but always should): Custodians. Cafeteria workers. Secretaries. Nurses. Bus drivers. Substitute teachers. Crossing guards. Security guards.
All are crucial to the functioning of a school. All are doing things differently this year too. All have their own personal concerns, but all care deeply for the buildings they serve, and (more importantly) the boys and girls in them.
No education decision pleases everyone. And every decision about COVID-19 is more controversial than even start times and budgets.
There have been glitches. There will be more. The internet will go down. The number of positive cases will go up. The future is uncertain. But everyone connected with the Westport Public Schools has planned — as best as possible — for today, tomorrow, next week, next month and next year.
That’s why all of them are this week’s Unsung Heroes.
If you see anyone involved with any of our schools, thank them for all they do.
From a safe, masked distance, of course.