Opinion: Focus on re-engagement as children return to school

Political brawling over masks threatens stable school environment students need

In a guest column, writer Beth Collums says the political battles over masks have marred the reopening of school and gotten in the way of a vitally needed focus on re-engaging children with education.

Collums, who holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology and has been a child and family therapist, has four children and lives in DeKalb. You can read other guest columns by her here and here.

By Beth Collums

Two weeks ago, I watched Simone Biles, possibly the greatest Olympic gymnast of all time, pull herself out of the biggest competition in the land. Under the glare of the global spotlight, hopes were dashed as Biles got a case of the “twisties”, a term in gymnastics endowed with meaning of confusion, lostness in space and general lack of knowledge of where one is in relation to their surroundings.

Could it be that leaders in Georgia education might have a case of the twisties?

Haphazard and politically motivated responses from those in power have created quite a dizzying effect on teachers, parents and the communities that surround the schools. Children, meanwhile, have suffered from a year and a half of uncertain and inconsistent educational structure and content. Many kids are beginning the year having not entered a school door since March 2020, a significant setback in the life of a developing child. Mental health for children, especially females, has been greatly impacted, many suffering from an increase in anxiety and depression.

So, what is it that children actually need in this current educational moment?

Clear expectations and consistency are key in what makes kids thrive in a healthy environment.

The nation’s pediatricians and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alike have stated that masks should be worn in schools by students and faculty to prevent any further spread of COVID-19 and -- heaven forbid -- cause any untimely school closures and return to remote learning.

Continuing the debate on what is best for students when trained professionals have given their expert opinion is jeopardizing the very thing that students need the most right now. That is, our students actually being in the classroom for a full school day learning and participating. Every week. For the entirety of the school year.

Credit: Alyson Duke

Credit: Alyson Duke

Children are amazingly resilient, and most will bounce back from the academic and social side effects of the pandemic. With that being said, they have grown accustomed to less social interaction and in-class participation, with much lower rates of peer engagement and extracurricular involvement. Encouraging kids to jump into school activities and programs is crucial in changing the status quo of the educational environment and sometimes it takes some nudges from parents and teachers in this pursuit.

Our children are watching us as we navigate taking risks to begin something old anew, going into the office again, starting awkward conversations with people in the grocery store line, walking into the school room again. If they see us avoid interaction with neighbors on the sidewalk as we walk the dog, it is likely that when we call on them to join in group work at school, they’ll probably do the same. The attitude and decisions we make will greatly affect their confidence in coming back to the classroom with energy to connect and grow with their peers and teachers.

Commentators on Simone Biles’ case of the twisties said the only remedy is going back to the basics. Working on the fundamentals of the sport slowly grows confidence and helps achieve the steadiness to pursue the more complex tasks like landing a combination.

Will we as parents and educators continue to bicker over wearing masks or will we take the risks to lean into making the year a fresh start ready to go back to the fundamentals of what makes schools successful? The moment is ripe for a new energy to commit to school re-engagement and participation if we can set aside our political agendas and get back to the basics.

The author of this guest column, Beth Collums, is a DeKalb parent of four.