Another school year has ended—but in a way unlike any other in recent history.

The Class of 2020 graduated virtually, and will now begin to move forward. All seniors each year believe their graduation to be memorable, but certainly this one will be a standout among them all.

While Culpeper County’s graduating seniors missed many traditional milestones in the final months of their senior year, they certainly have unique memories that will last a lifetime. Culpeper Media Network and the technology staff at Culpeper County Public Schools are to be commended for making this happen.

We have all been thrown a curve ball. Students lately have spent more time with siblings and parents working from home than in the classroom. The pandemic has required everyone to slow down and adjust.

The governor’s stay-at-home order, with schools, businesses and offices closing, has required a lot patience—something that’s greatly lacking in our society. We struggle with interruptions or circumstances we can’t control. We want quick fixes and immediate solutions so we can return to our regular routine.

Some students are better prepared than others to deal with this situation. It depends on their maturity level, their home situation and where they are in their educational career.

Younger students may be able to learn through play and exploration if their home life allows for that, but they will have lost the structure of the classroom and the experience of learning to work with their peers. Older, more mature, students may navigate this situation more easily if they are determined to manage their time and remain focused.

Moving forward, will our students and teachers become more creative and resourceful when facing new challenges or will they be more cautious and fearful? Will our students and teachers face increased pressure to meet unrealistic mandates?

Having a strong foundation helps students regain ground academically. Now more than ever, we see the importance of having a solid basis from which to work: strong roots from which to grow. The inequities in our educational system are more glaringly apparent. We have always known that students who come from a stable home environment are more successful in school, but the pandemic has emphasized the struggle of those who don’t have the basic necessities of life.

Teachers are now being allowed back into the classrooms. They are gathering up whatever they need to finish out the year and prepare for a possible opening from home in the fall. The looming question is how to return to a school environment that is safe for students, teachers and staff.

The governor has created a task force to make recommendations for safely reopening the public schools and colleges within the commonwealth. Is there a classroom teacher in the group? Their task-force members’ guidance is to follow Center for Disease Control guidelines and explore all options. We are still learning about the effects of the virus, so we won’t have answers as soon as we would like to plan for the next school year. It should not be rushed. Lives are at stake.

At this point, we have a golden opportunity to re-evaluate how we deliver instruction. Certainly, it will take time to bring students up to speed when school buildings reopen. For some, the gap will be greater than for others, but that has always been the case.

We have the chance to look critically at our current “one size fits all” model and not return to a standardized format. We have the opportunity to adjust instruction to be more successful in reaching all students. Obviously, we cannot totally revamp the entire structure of our educational system, but let’s take the time to make improvements that will benefit all students.

Elizabeth Hutchins is a former educator and Culpeper County School Board member.

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