Culpeper County High School closed coronavirus (copy)

All Virginia schools are closed for the school year as concerns about the potential spread of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a state of emergency being declared in Virginia.

What a challenging school year this has turned out to be. We’re facing issues that no one could have imagined 6 months ago.

With the closing of all Virginia schools for the rest of this academic school year, there are many milestones that won’t be celebrated in the usual manner. We live our lives by routine and schedules. All that’s gone out the window.

We must remain calm and give our state and local officials time to determine what the plans will be. This is uncharted territory for all of us.

For Virginia, this type of disruption is rare. However, people in areas that are often hit by hurricanes and tornadoes have experienced similar effects before. Areas plagued by wildfires, earthquakes and floods have faced school closures and total loss of property. Many students have had their school year interrupted and faced adjustments in order to finish their education. We can learn from them.

Retiring teachers won’t end the year the way they hoped. Teachers are mourning the fact that they won’t get to finish the year with their students who are transitioning or their seniors preparing to graduate. The sudden separation from their students, without being able to mentally prepare for it, is difficult.

Certainly, there’s more to be done before the school year ends. Providing online instruction will be challenging. Teachers have always had to be flexible to meet the needs of their students. They’ll rise to the occasion and do whatever is necessary to help students succeed. Teachers will, at some point, see their students again. Staying home to limit the spread of the virus will make it happen sooner rather than later.

Some students are disappointed that they cannot see their teachers or their friends at this time. Seniors are heartbroken that their last few weeks of high school won’t happen in the company of their classmates.

There are those who aren’t in a good situation at home without sufficient food and in unstable home environments who would be safer and happier in school. Thankfully, our local leaders are doing all they can to provide food for these students. There are students who don’t have support at home even when school is in session and they will fall behind. Support will be provided for them when school reopens.

Some parents feel unprepared to support their children with their studies. For many, childcare is an issue. With other closures, more parents are home with their children. This time provides an incredible opportunity to teach children not necessarily academics, but life skills.

Spending time in nature, teaching children a hobby, introducing skills that will help them become independent adults are all ways to make the best use of this time. Parents have the opportunity to make memories children will remember all their lives.

Our children are watching how we, as adults, deal with this crisis. It’s good to help children understand that it’s OK to be upset, but that plans may be interrupted by situations beyond our control. We must learn to adjust and move forward as best we can.

Drawing from our past, we can help children realize that we are far better prepared to deal with this type of crisis than our ancestors were. Medical research is moving quickly. Technology allows us to communicate in real time while under quarantine. We have entertainment at our fingertips.

There’s some comfort in knowing that this is affecting not only our community, but communities around the world. Educational leaders are exploring the options, searching for ways to provide the best education possible, while doing everything possible to protect lives. We will adjust. Stay calm. Stay home. Wash your hands.

Elizabeth Hutchins is a former educator and Culpeper County

School Board member.

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