This year has been like no other. For Arizona educators, the obstacles began in March 2020, when all schools in the state were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With no federal guidelines provided to the states from the U.S. Department of Education, at a moment’s notice the Arizona Department of Education, district administrators, and school teachers had to figure out how to transition from in-person to distance learning.
Districts quickly mobilized to ensure that digital devices and Wi-Fi services were available for students who had neither. Instead of transporting students to schools, bus drivers drove their buses installed with Wi-Fi hotspots to parking lots to offer internet connections to students. In order to ensure that the nearly 600,000 students in Arizona on free or reduced-priced meals didn’t miss a meal, the food service departments of many schools began using the buses as a means to deliver meals as well. Schools became daily or weekly drive-up distribution points for both homework packets and meals.
When students stopped showing up to virtual classrooms, principals, teachers, aides, and school volunteers took it upon themselves to find the students. We have heard what school personnel discovered as the reasons for those extended absences—family members who became sick or died of COVID-19, parents who lost jobs, families who became homeless. Like healthcare workers, educators have witnessed the heartbreaking realities of this pandemic, up close and personally.
Last spring there was hope that the virus’ spread could be suppressed and contained, and that schools could open normally in the fall. But as Arizona’s COVID-19 rates soared during the summer, it became clear that this school year would be operating under a new normal. The Arizona Department of Education developed guidelines around whether and how districts should approach reopening schools, as well as health protocols to follow in making those determinations. School district leaders were then charged with figuring out if and when to open in person, whether or not to continue distance learning, or how to create some combination of the two.
We respect the decisions that each school and district has made to serve our state’s students in the best and safest ways possible. For those schools that have returned to the classroom, nurses are educating staff, parents, and students about the best public health practices—wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing—to prevent outbreaks. The custodial staffs have devised mitigation plans to sanitize facilities multiple times a day. Classroom layouts have been altered so that desks are spaced at least six feet apart.
As COVID-19 rates rise again nationwide, we know that more challenges lie ahead and Read Better Be Better feels that it is important now more than ever to say: we appreciate all that educators have done and are doing to ensure that this generation of Arizona’s students continues learning through this pandemic, in circumstances that are less than ideal, and with plans that have been implemented and then, because of the nature of this relentless virus, have had to change. And then change again.
Educators are an important part of children’s daily lives during this exceptionally critical period of their lives. School is not only a physical place to learn but a crucial part of a child’s community—socially, emotionally, and mentally. The work educators are doing to replicate this community virtually and safely in-person is no small feat.
Throughout this pandemic we have seen the highest levels of leadership, resilience, fortitude, and sacrifice exhibited by educators day after day, and under constant pressure and stress. And so, during this season of thanks, we express our gratitude to all who work in schools and in the field of education.
To teachers for both your MacGyver-like abilities to reinvent your lesson plans in this new world of teaching as well as for your ongoing presence online or in-person five days a week, week after week, creating stability for your students in an unstable time.
To superintendents and principals for your diligence to make certain that the needs—educational and otherwise—of your students are being met, particularly those students who are at the greatest risk of falling further behind, which detrimentally affects the potential of each child as well as our communities as a whole.
To the nursing, food, custodial, and support services staff for your commitment and dedication to the health and welfare of your students, oftentimes doing an entirely new job or feeling the weight of student health and safety resting on your shoulders.
To caregivers across the nation for stepping up to take part in their child’s education in a way never seen before, all balanced on top of their own work, chores, and personal struggles.
Educators: we appreciate you all and your unwavering devotion to Arizona’s students, pandemic or not. We see you. We support you. And we thank you.