First day of school

Today is back to school day in our community. Well, sort of. At any rate it is different from any other first day of school in memory.

For starters, it is snowing. Significant amounts of snow have already fallen in the hills and travel will be difficult in the early morning hours. However, even though this is an early snowstorm for the hills, we have sen snow before. We know how to check with local media to find out of school start times will be delayed. The real confusion for students is, of course, the school’s plan for a return to classes after the sudden closing of schools due to the threat of Covid-19 last spring.

It is already understood that students will be learning through a variety of different means. Schools are offering both in-person and online options for students. Rapid City Area Schools will have three levels of operation, depending on community spread. Level one will see schools open with precautions in place, level 2 will see schools open with increased precautions, and level 3 will see schools closed with off campus learning for students.

Any school that experiences live 3 spread will close for a 14-day quarantine, then return to Level 2. That means that students will report to their schools, but there may be interruptions in their schedules.

Even at level 1 precautions include altered schedules.

We were visiting with a high school student and her parents over the weekend. Her schedule will be to attend school on Wednesdays and Thursdays and learn from home other days. Except this week, with no school on Monday she attends classes at the school on Thursday and Friday. Class registration was all done online. Even after they carefully explained the schedule, we remained a bit confused.

There will be plenty of confused students and parents all week long.

The “normal” school week will be Monday through Thursday for all students with Friday being an E-learning day. There are plans for distance learning for students who will not be attending on campus classes. The distance learning model is different depending on the age of the child. Elementary, Middle and High Schools all have different options for learning and for participation in activities such as Band and Orchestra.

Masks are required in all classrooms and on all school buses. However there will be occasional breaks from the use of masks when 6 feet distancing can be maintained. Families are expected to make health screenings and temperature checks at home. However, if a student displays signs of illness while at school, school nurses will be asked to check temperatures and students with fevers will be isolated until a parent, guardian or emergency contact can pick up the student.

The school district is attempting to provide computers for home use for students who do not already have access to a computer for E-learning. Not every student in the district has access to reliable Internet connections and there are many resources that are available in printed form. However, the distance learning plan requires a computer to register. Online registration is required for distance learning.

It is a confusing time for all who are involved.

Every year we have special prayers on the first day of school for all of the students, teachers, parents and school personnel. This year it seems like the prayers are especially important. Of course our prayers are not only for those who are in our community. Around the globe, students in the northern hemisphere are returning to classes in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. There is substantial fear about the safety of students. Education is a communal enterprise. Children gather together and even with strictly enforced rules, there is substantial risk of the spread of illness within schools. Social contact is essential to learning for students, however. Peers are important to the development of children. We all need others in order to learn. This school year may require more than just 40 days of prayer for children. The 5th chapter of 1 Thessalonians comes to mind: “Pray without ceasing.”

Gracious God, we pray for students and teachers who are going back to school. Guide and guard them. We worry about their health and safety. We wonder how physical distance can be maintained. We worry about modified classrooms. We fear that the circumstances of school during the pandemic will not allow for optimal opportunities for teaching and learning.

We pray for the safety of students and teachers, but also for janitors and cafeteria workers. We pray for the safety of families as children go to and from school each day. We pray for energy and rest for all so that the process of teaching and learning can continue. We pray for spiritual growth and faith formation for people of all ages and stages of life.

You, God, are sovereign over all things. You are present in all circumstances. May we be aware of your presence in the process of virtual, distance and e-learning. May all students have access to the resources they need to learn regardless of the places of their learning. May parents discover new ways of balancing work and childcare. May teachers discover the formats and resources they need to teach using technology. May we all discover new paths of patience for the work that lies ahead in our community.

In these uncertain times, we acknowledge that we are in your hands. May you hold students and teachers especially close.

We pray in your holy name. Amen.

As is often the case, the words of my prayers seem inadequate for the immensity of our circumstances. Fortunately our faith teaches us that we do not need to have the “right” words in order to pray. God knows our every need. God is already present in the processes of teaching and learning.

Thank you, God, for hearing our prayers. May they be joined to the prayers of parents and students and teachers and school workers. May we all open our eyes to see your blessings even in times of struggle and strife and unsettled lives. May all discover those blessings. Amen.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!