by Tim Walker in neaToday

We’re on the verge of a new school year, but “back to school” as we know it has been off the table for some time now.  We still have more questions than answers. When will schools reopen? Should they reopen?  If and when they do, how will students and educators be safe? What will instuction even look like? How will students, educators, and parents adjust to the “new normal”?

These questions are eerily familiar to Louise Smith, band director at Gautier Middle School in Jackson County, Mississippi. She remembers August 29, 2005, like it was yesterday. That was the day Hurricane Katrina slammed into Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, devastating her community. Smith, who was living with her mother at the time and was about to enter her third year of teaching, temporarily lost her home, and schools in her district were heavily damaged.

“It was devastating,” Smith recalls. “We were out of school for more than a month. My students had lost so much—their homes, [and] families couldn’t pay bills. Parents were trying to keep their kids safe.”

So when the coronavirus shut down schools this spring, many of her students felt the same fear and grief Smith remembers so vividly from after the storm. “The crisis is different, but the trauma is in many ways the same: The sense of loss and the emotional and economic hardships, the threat of illness, uncertainty about what the future is going to bring.”

No one wants students to safely return to classrooms more than parents and educators. The health and safety of students and staff, however, should be the primary driver behind the decision to reopen. Even if every safeguard and protocol is properly planned and executed, teaching and learning can’t just pick up where educators and students left off when the school doors closed some five months ago.

This isn’t just about academics and “catching up.” School leaders must first rebuild safe spaces for students that will help them and educators navigate the trauma they’ve experienced. Read on to learn more about…

Learning Without Support Systems

Educators In a ‘Dark Place’

Prioritizing Social-Emotional Learning

Building that Familiar Community