CONFER: A year without role models

Bob Confer

My friend is a teacher in a suburban school district. His school, like all others in our state, has had to teach remotely. Without the rigors and routines of traditional schooling, that situation has put added responsibility on students — and, ultimately, their parents — to keep up with lessons and projects.

That responsibility was abandoned by some of his families. A quarter of his students didn’t turn in any work at all.

Think about that.

In an upper-middle class suburban district with legitimate internet infrastructure — criteria that educational leaders and policymakers believe should lead to good outcomes — he had 26 students who submitted no school work from the third week of March through the second week of June.

Where were the parents?

No one in education, no one in the community, expects parents to teach. Outside the realm of homeschool families the typical parent has not mastered science or math, for example, and may not be qualified or comfortable enough to expound upon those subjects. It’s asking a lot, especially on top of the duties of being breadwinner or homemaker and dealing with the stresses of COVID-19.

But, it’s a reasonable expectation to have parents parent. While no one was wanting or asking mom or dad to look over a kid’s shoulder and walk him through every homework assignment, it shouldn’t be a big deal to ask that those guardians make sure their kids are staying on task, turning in their assignments, meeting deadlines and asking for help when needed.

But here, in the case of my friend’s classes, 26 students lacked that guidance for the entire length of the classroom shutdown.

That never would have happened had physical school been in session. My friend the teacher, other teachers, counselors, peers and more would have kept the students moving forward.

This should serve as a powerful reminder that many young people need something a little more. They need all of us. As the African proverb goes: “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Not everyone comes from a good home. They need contributions of love and encouragement from the village to rise above that.

Even those children who do come from healthy homes still want and need the village to be exposed to different ideas, different world views and different experiences.

Unfortunately, that village has been shut down since March. It’s coming back to life, but only a little bit, and it looks like further shutdowns are in the works.

Who are the kids missing out on?

There are the teachers. But there are also the scout leaders, coaches, music instructors, faith leaders, summer camp counselors, day camp leaders, librarians and 4-H leaders. Even family members have been considered off limits: Many children haven’t been able to spend quality time with their grandparents over fears of them being part of the susceptible population.

They’ve lost 3 months already, and many more will follow, with the adults they look up to; the adults who make learning and doing new things so fun and interesting; the adults who show them how to love and serve others; the adults who emphasize kindness and character; the adults who lead in their homes, communities and hearts … their role models.

For kids who come from broken homes and those who are hungry for more of the world, this loss of time, activity and togetherness seems like an eternity. It might actually work out to be an eternity. Foundations are created in the formative years. With critical contributors to those building blocks gone, what have those children lost, what has society lost, as part of who they could have become as adults?

Wondering who they might become without that support is especially heartbreaking when you consider the numerous reports over the past few months of stay-at-home orders leading to unconscionable increases in domestic violence and overdoses. For many kids, home was never really the safe place — the classrooms, troop meetings, or ball diamonds were.

If and when these venues come back to life, we all have our work cut out for us. How do we as their guiding lights make up for lost time and help them be the best they can be, especially given what 2020 has become? The kids have always needed us, but they need us now more than ever.

   

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.

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