Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Sara and Melissa Talk About...School

We've been running a column series to get more personal with our readers. This month, with it being back-to-school season, we're talking about our own experiences with going to school. 

We're always open to topic suggestions, so please don't hesitate to share those in the comments. We'd also love to know if you can relate to anything we've said or hear your own thoughts on the topic. So don't be shy. :) We look forward to getting to know you as much as we're letting you get to know us. You can find our previous columns here, in case you missed them.

Melissa Amster:                                                                                                       
I know this may come off as me being lazy, but I am sharing part of a post I wrote at my personal blog about my favorite high school teacher. Since I wrote it a long time ago and since people don't visit that blog as often, I wanted everyone here to know about him and the impact he had on my life.

On freshmen orientation day, Mr. Fritz stood out from all the other teachers I met. He had long blond hair that flopped onto his face, and seemed very young and energetic. I only got to see him for ten minutes that day. He told some fascinating stories about his travels and adventures, including time spent in Africa. When I walked into his classroom the next day, there was a man standing at his desk with short blond hair, looking all clean cut and professional. I asked him if he was the substitute. He explained that he was still Mr. Fritz but had just gotten a haircut. I guess the long hair look wasn’t working for his teacher persona...

In the beginning of the year, we had to write a creative paper about Tom Sawyer, the required summer reading. I am not a fan of required reading and was also not a fan of Tom Sawyer. (Not because it’s not chick lit, just because it wasn’t my cup of tea…and this was a mild summer requirement. The rest were worse.) However, I decided to have fun with the assignment. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but apparently Mr. Fritz had a ball with it. He decided to give it to the head coach of the Forensics team and I received a letter a few days later, personally inviting me to join the team. I took them up on their invitation and Mr. Fritz happened to be one of the coaches. I decided to do original comedy, which was bold of me. I didn’t have much to work with, at first, but he helped me make my piece into something I would have fun with throughout the competition season. He also laughed a lot, which gave me the confidence I needed to stick with it.

After winter break, I auditioned for a play. I hadn’t felt comfortable on stage in the past, as I would get all shy and giggly or would have a hard time projecting. However, thanks to Forensics and all the time Mr. Fritz spent coaching me, I felt good about my auditioning abilities and I then landed a part in the play! It was a small part, but there are really no small parts...only small actors. I felt like I could take on the world while being involved with that production. I still got to see Mr. Fritz, as I was in his class again the following semester and he was leading the crew for the play.

I hope Mr. Fritz knows the impact he has had on my life and that he is continuing to have that impact on the lives of other students. A real teacher doesn’t just write on the chalkboard. (Or are they just typing on a computer and magnifying it on a screen these days?) They get to know their students and find ways to bring out their strengths and make school memorable for them. Mr. Fritz exemplifies what a real teacher is to me.

I shortened this post from the original version, which can be found here.

Sara Steven:                                                                                                                                           
The school year started early for us Arizonians. My boys were back on July 26th, and my husband and I were more than hopeful for a happy, successful, and safe year. The year prior meant socially distanced, remote learning--something none of us were big fans of. My kids handled it the best way they could, but I think it was really hard on them, not having social interaction with their friends, not being part of the classroom atmosphere they’d come to know so well. 

My fifth grader loved his “meet the teacher” night. That happened roughly a week prior to the first day of school, and he got to meet and hug the teachers he never got to meet in person last year, and see the friends that he hadn’t been in contact with for several months. All of this occurred while wearing a mask boasting a large toothy grin, a find on Amazon, and while we were one of the rarities there that night in wearing our own masks, we were hopeful. So damn hopeful.

We had to pull both of our boys out of their respective schools last week. As of today, there are nearly 70 cases of Covid at my teen’s high school, while the fifth grader has 15 cases at his elementary school. The numbers are increasing every day. The school district sent out an email reiterating that they are doing everything they can--well, everything they’re allowed to do. Wipe down surfaces. Provide hand sanitizer. But I imagine it’s hard to control a virus that is also easily spread by coughs and sneezes and droplets, when there are only a handful of children wearing masks.

It’s frustrating and heartbreaking, really. I keep flashing back to the look on my little guy’s face, teary-eyed, when he got to see the educators and friends in person who have shaped his life over the past several years. The last thing we ever wanted was to have to remove either boy from those crucial experiences. But our youngest has the kind of asthma where a cold sends him to the doctor’s office with a round of bronchitis, so it’s hard to fathom what Covid might do. I don’t even want to go there.

Thankfully, our school district offers up a virtual academy option, and both boys are familiar with the format since it’s how they learned last year. But it’s riddled with new challenges, considering the academy is its own school, so there have been makeup assignments to catch up on for a couple of weeks of missed work, and navigating new teachers and goals and deadlines, not to mention a change in scenery and social interaction. It’s been a learning process for them and for me.

I start my final year at ASU this Thursday, so I’m trying to figure out how to handle five courses of my own and assist my boys, how to try to keep the younger one on task, how to make sure we still get screen-free breaks and lunches, how to make sure I’m there when they have questions or need help with something. The teachers are there for the kids, but they’ve got their hands full, too.

Our hope is to see how the rest of the semester pans out, that the numbers will go down significantly. That we can have the boys go back to their respective schools with the start of second semester. But I don’t know. With everything going on right now, I just don’t know. I think no matter where or how our children attend school, this is not an easy year for anyone. 

Tell us about your school memories, experiences, etc.

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