Category Archives: Education

Too Many Left-Wing Teachers?

A June 25th op-ed in the Winnipeg Sun by a writer for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy claims there is not enough diversity of thought amongst Canada’s teachers.  Too many are left-wing ideologues and because of that, students aren’t learning about the wide range of political and social views held by Canadians. 

The writer states the reason so many teachers are liberal rather than conservative thinkers is that education faculties at universities are filled with liberals.  Prospective teachers are taught by one left-leaning professor after another and so it is hard for them not to become left of centre thinkers themselves.  There is momentum for making the teaching profession more diverse by gender and race. According to the Frontier spokesperson the profession also needs to be more diverse when it comes to ideologies. 

The op-ed left me wondering how you would determine whether an educator is left-wing or right-wing?  It is fairly easy to identify someone’s gender or race in order to create a more diverse teaching staff, but if you wanted to hire teachers on the basis of diversity of thought how would you go about doing that?  

There are quizzes online that claim to determine whether you lean right or left on social, political, religious, and economic issues.  Would you give prospective educators a quiz like that to discover their ideological bent? But how would you know if prospective teachers answered such a quiz completely honestly?  Might their answers be influenced by the fact that leaning towards a certain ideology could get them a job? 

What if their ideologies changed over time?  Would you have to administer the quiz annually to be sure left-wing and right-wing teachers had remained in the same ideological camp and hadn’t had their perspectives changed by new information or personal experience? And if they had changed their ideas, would they be fired and replaced by teachers who had the views necessary to create an ideologically balanced teaching staff? 

Photo by Yan Krukov on Pexels.com

And how would you determine if teachers were indeed promoting their ideological bent with their students or keeping their opinions to themselves? Would you need cameras in the classroom to ensure teachers were voicing either the left-wing or right-wing ideology for which they had been hired in order to make their school or university more divergent in its thinking?

The op-ed writer suggests educators representing all of the country’s political parties should be in the classroom and indeed party affiliation might be a way to create a more ideologically diverse teaching staff.  Except that even within political parties the ideas of members can be very different.  Recent votes in the Canadian Parliament on the issues of conversion therapy and sex-selective abortion for example illustrate the wide range of opinions on those topics held by members within the Conservative Party. 

You also have the problem of determining political affiliation. Only a very small percentage of Canadians are actually political party members. In some federal elections, only 60% of Canadians even vote and many alter the party they vote for from election to election based on a whole variety of factors. How could you reliably determine the political affiliation of teachers or professors? Would you need to make joining a political party an employment requirement?

I don’t question whether educational institutions have teaching staffs who lean towards more progressive, liberal ideologies because the most recent Pew Research polls show that the more educated you are the more likely it is that you will be left of center on social, economic, religious and political issues.  Much as some people might like to change that, I wonder if it is possible in a democratic society where citizens are free to think and learn for themselves. 

This is the staff at the school where I had my first teaching position in 1974. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you which teachers were left-wing or right-wing in their ideology but maybe times have changed and society has become so much more polarized that educators’ political leanings are more obvious and influential.

Other posts…………..

The First Shall Be Last

Teacher Can You Spare A Dime?

Radiohead and Plato

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Graduation- A Family Story

My paternal grandfather’s opportunity to attend high school was stolen by the Russian Revolution. The plan was for him to follow his older brothers to the high school in Nikolaipol, the one nearest the Mennonite village of Gnadenthal where he grew up. In the photo above I am standing in front of the Nikolaipol high school on my visit to Ukraine. My grandfather never got to be a student there.

Instead of getting a high school diploma Grandpa was forced into military service where he spent time in prison for refusing to do weapons training since he was a conscientious objector. Eventually, he ended up in a bakery making bread for soldiers. Losing his chance for higher education made Grandpa very determined his children and grandchildren would have a different outcome.

This building now a private residence was the schoolhouse my grandmother attended in Gnadenthal

My grandmother had loved school too and was very sad when she graduated from the elementary school in Gnadenthal, Ukraine and couldn’t go further with her education because she was a girl. She wanted things to be different for her daughters.

Thanks to the financial priorities of my grandparents’ their six children all graduated from a private Mennonite high school and then went on to university or college earning degrees in education, fine arts, medicine and nursing. Their seventeen grandchildren all went to university too achieving degrees in many different fields.

My Mom at her college graduation.

I grew up in a family where education was valued and was seen as a privilege and a responsibility. So graduations were important.

My parents at the high school graduation of their granddaughter

When my Mom was really ill in the last years of her life she said one of her goals was to be alive for all the high school graduations of her grandchildren. And she was!

I was lucky indeed to have parents who valued education and paid for my university tuition which afforded me the opportunity of becoming a teacher.

During the early years of our marriage, I worked as a teacher to support my husband Dave as he completed his university degree.

Celebrating our older son’s university graduation.
Our younger son at his university graduation.

We were pleased that our sons chose to spend time furthering their education after high school. We observed the way their years at university expanded their worldview, helped foster a concern for important issues, garnered them a wide circle of friends and served to train them for their future careers.

Celebrating the graduation of twin sisters who were my students

Since I ended my career as a teacher in a high school I had the privilege of participating in the graduation festivities of many of my students.

As I have been going on my bike rides around the city I have been seeing these graduation signs on lawns, a way to recognize graduates in a year when other kinds of celebrations aren’t possible. Earlier this week I was in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden at Assiniboine Park and saw so many graduates in their gowns doing photo shoots with their families. On social media, I have been observing the unique and interesting ways high schools and families have found to celebrate graduations even though indoor ceremonies aren’t possible.

Even in a pandemic graduations are important because they are one way we show that our society values education and we recognize the benefits it affords not only to students but to the social, cultural and economic fabric of our country and the world. My grandparents knew the value of education already a century ago and their family has been blessed by that.

Dave and I ready to attend the high school graduation ceremony at the school where we taught in Hong Kong.

Other posts……….

Graduation Photo- Dad’s Treasures

Look What He’s Doing Now

A Prayer For the New Year

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The Best Thing About School

When I taught elementary school one of my class projects in the last part of June was making a book with the children called The Best Thing About School. We would brainstorm for all the things we had done together as a class during the previous year and then each child would pick one item to write a short story about and illustrate.

I would photocopy all their stories and collate them into a book for each child to have as a keepsake of our year together. Going through some old files I came across several of these Best Thing About School books that I made with various classes I taught. Here are some stories that a grade two/three class during the 1991-92 school year wrote.

The best thing about school this year was learning about Manitoba. We did Manitoba projects. My project was on La Broquerie. Everyone in our class wrote letters to different towns in Manitoba. We asked questions. They sent letters back to us and then we did our projects. We learned songs and poems about Manitoba. We read books about Manitoba. The best thing about school this year was learning about Manitoba. – Matthew Funk

The best thing about school this year was having visitors. We had firefighters come to our class. Another visitor was Eric’s Mom. She is a nurse and she came and talked to us about the heart. We had lots of teachers from different schools come to our class to watch how we do things. At Christmas, six Moms came to our class to do crafts with us. Mr Dueck our principal came and took us on a tree walk. He showed us lots of different trees and leaves on the school yard. It was fun! The best thing about school this year was having visitors. -Amber Gadsby

The best thing about school this year was learning about Space. In space, there are nine planets. Some of their names are Mars, Neptune, Pluto and Jupiter. I like space because it is scientific. We did murals of the solar system. We designed space ships. We did projects. My project was about Pluto. We made a space gallery and showed it to other classes. The best thing about school this year was learning about Space. – Michael Loewen

The best thing about school this year was cooking and baking. For Christmas, we made candy houses. We made cornbread. For our St. Patrick’s Day party we made cookies with green icing, green popcorn and green Kool-Aid. We baked chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter cookies. The best thing about our school year was cooking and baking. – Erin Martin

The best thing about school was learning about the digestive system. We made books about the digestive system. We drew pictures of the digestive system. We learned songs and poems about the digestive system and watched movies and film strips about it. We did experiments like the Sugar Cube Experiment and the Cracker Experiment. The best thing about school this year was learning about the digestive system. – Christy Loewen

The best thing about the school year was learning about bowling. We learned how to keep score. We practised bowling in our class. We read all about how the sport of bowling got started. Then we went on the bus to Deluxe Bowl in Steinbach. My Mom came along too. I had 76 points. The best thing about the school year was bowling. – Tim Muehling

The children who wrote these stories are all nearing the age of 40 by now. I follow a few of them on social media and they have careers and families. These little stories of theirs brought back lots of memories for me. I wonder if my students still remember anything about their year in grade four?

Other posts……….

A Bathtub In My Classroom

I Taught Chisanbop

Overheard in a Winnipeg Classroom

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I Taught Chisanbop

Do you know what Chisanbop is?  It’s a Korean method of learning to do math computation on your fingers that was used in North American schools in the 1970s and 80s. I took a course in the method and used it with my students for quite a number of years. Chisanbop attracted some media attention. My Elmdale School students and I were featured in an article about Chisanbop in our local Steinbach newspaper The Carillon. This photo accompanied the article. 

My students and I doing Chisanbop at Elmdale School

There was a story about Chisanbop in Macleans magazine where they interviewed my aunt Margaret Froese who along with her husband Dave taught the method to many teachers including me here in Manitoba. There was even a segment featuring Chisanbop on the Johnny Carson show and actor Fred McMurray of My Three Sons fame did advertisements for the Chisanbop system on television.

The system assigns a one, five or tens value to different fingers and children learn to do all the mathematical operations by manipulating their fingers quickly. The Chisanbop method was somewhat controversial because critics said it would prevent children from memorizing mathematical facts but as I searched for current articles about why counting on their fingers is bad for children learning math I couldn’t find a single one. Most educational researchers like Stanford professor Jo Baylor think learning to count on their fingers is actually critical to helping kids understand math.

I know after a time I stopped using Chisanbop in my classroom. I am not sure why. I would be interested in hearing from other teachers who may have used the method or students who remember being taught Chisanbop.

Other posts……….

Amazing Kids

A Different School Year

My Dad Was Once A Teacher

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Teacher Can You Spare A Dime?

Brian Pallister the Manitoba premier was taken to task last week for offering teachers a 15% tax credit for the first $1000 they spend on their classrooms. Many teachers were insulted saying if education was properly funded by Mr. Pallister’s government it wouldn’t be necessary for teachers to spend their own money on supplies to enrich the education program they offer to students.

Cartoon by Chris Chuckry used by permission.

I was a teacher for 35 years and can attest to the fact that I spent a great deal of my own money to stock my classroom. When I taught elementary school I bought rugs, pillows, puzzles, bookshelves, magazine racks, charts, toys, maps, math manipulatives, puppets and hundreds of books for my classroom. I even had a sand table custom-built.

With a class of my students at Elmdale School in the 1980s

I bought food stuffs for baking projects, gifts for children at Christmas, stickers, craft supplies and in the age before digital photography paid for film and developing hundreds of photos each year.  In one school I kept granola bars and other breakfast items in my cupboards for kids who weren’t getting breakfast at home. I also paid for professional conferences, books and courses.  

Some of my students at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School in 2006

As a high school teacher I bought a huge coffee maker and started brewing coffee and baking muffins to lure late sleepers to my first classes of the day. I invested in magazine subscriptions and bought hundreds of used books for my classroom to entice my teenagers to read for pleasure. I never kept track of how much money I spent on my students. It would have been too scary.

The phenomena of teachers spending their own money on their classrooms is not unique to Manitoba. A recent survey in Nova Scotia showed the average teacher there invested some $500 a year in their classroom and American teachers were more likely to invest double that.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

A Huffington Post article points out that the pandemic has upped the ante for many teachers who have invested their own money in all kinds of upgrades to their technology to make teaching from home or online more effective for their students.

One thing that concerned me as a university education department mentor was how much money my students were investing in their practicum teaching assignments in schools. My students paid for printing costs for learning games, mittens for kids, books to read to students, costumes for plays, writing journals, prizes for contests, art supplies and one junior high physical education teacher bought deodorant for the students who needed it. Most of my university students were already struggling to make ends meet and were working at part time jobs to cover their tuition costs. They couldn’t really afford to be investing money in the classrooms where they were interning.

I spent a great deal less of my own money on my classroom when I left the public school system to teach at a well funded private school in Hong Kong

During the years I was teaching in Manitoba I never got a dime in tax credit for the money I spent on my classroom and most people were shocked to learn how much of my personal coin I was doling out. Mr. Pallister’s recent statement at least recognizes that teachers are investing their own dollars in their students and he is giving teachers some compensation for that investment. But it is not something he should be encouraging teachers to do because in an adequately funded education system teachers wouldn’t find it necessary to spend nearly as much of their own money.

About twenty years ago Time Magazine ran a feature called Teacher Can You Spare a Dime which talked about all the money teachers spend on their classrooms and what could be done to change that. It appears that in the last two decades nothing has.

Other posts…….

My Dad Was Once A Teacher

A Bathtub in My Classroom

5 Things I Believe About Learning

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Modeling Career-Different Perceptions

Can you, short of an earthquake hold a pose?  Are you willing to be centre stage for long periods of time? Are you comfortable having your body parts talked about? Can you be the object of intense scrutiny by a roomful of people for at least an hour?

I’ll never forget my first sitting as an art model. Before I took the job I did a little online research. One website suggested you consider the above questions seriously before becoming a model.

Many years ago the art teacher at the international school in Hong Kong where I worked, sent out an e-mail asking for volunteers to serve as a model for a drawing class. I was a little hesitant. Wasn’t I too old?

Then I read the story of Lala Lezli, a former dancer with the celebrated Martha Graham company, who modelled for California artists for fifty years. She was still working as a model when she died at age 92. I wasn’t too old to be a model.

I also found out art students need to learn to draw real people, not just the idealized human form. Models should be of all ages, races, shapes and sizes. Indeed when I hesitantly replied to the art teacher’s e-mail I was surprised by his warm response. He’d be happy to have me, model.

I asked if I should wear a special outfit, but the art teacher suggested I dress in a normal way. I’d read models should come prepared with interesting poses, but the art teacher had a pose in mind. He wanted me to sit on a chair on the elevated platform at the front of the room. He even arranged my feet and hands and told me which direction to turn my face.

 I walked into the class as the teacher was giving final instructions and was quickly seated so the students would have a maximum amount of time to work. It was surprisingly easy to sit still for an hour. I had a good view of the drawing tables and was fascinated by the progress being made on the dozen different images of me emerging on paper across the room.

It was interesting how each of the students perceived me in a slightly different way. No two sketches were the same. Just like in life, I thought. No two people perceive us in the same way and we have to accept and indeed appreciate that.

Other posts …….

Using the Other Side of My Brain

Paint By Number

My Husband is Famous

 

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Filed under Art, Education, Hong Kong, New Experiences

Mrs Brown’s DayCare-This Woman Should Be A Jamaican Saint

Children, children everywhere!  One hundred and forty of them! Our host here in Jamaica, Tony Beach took us to visit Mrs Brown’s Daycare in the Edgecombe Ghetto of Runaway Bay last week. Tony has great respect for the work done at this daycare and he wanted us to see it for ourselves. Here’s Tony with Mrs Claudette Brown who runs a daycare for 140 children on a tiny piece of land in a ramshackle old building with four small rooms. Six other women work with her. When we drove up the children outside playing in the small cement and dirt front yard rushed up to the gate to greet us. The children said “Hello, Hola and Bonjour” welcoming us in three languages. “Do you want to know how to say hello in German?” Dave asked.  When he said, “Guten Tag,” the kids quickly copied him. A little boy immediately grabbed Dave’s hand and a little girl mine when we entered the yard offering to be our guides. It was amazing how many children were crammed into each of the tiny rooms. In the two-year-old’s room, they were giving the children lunch. Tony told us when the daycare runs short of money for salaries the women who work there simply divide whatever funds they have left after expenses for their salaries. Apparently Mrs Brown often ends up staying at the daycare till well after it closes at 5 pm, sometimes till 8 o’clock, because parents don’t show up to pick up their children. Sometimes she just ends up taking children who are left behind home with her. 

The kids ran to get books and asked me to read to them. I was amazed at how they knew their colors, the names of shapes, concepts like big and small and over and under. Tony told us the local primary schools say children from Mrs Brown’s daycare are usually well ahead of the other students when they enter school. A teacher in a tiny dark classroom with tarp walls was working on counting concepts with a small group of older children. Tony and Mrs Brown were having a heart to heart talk while we toured the daycare. Tony runs an after school program in Runaway Bay and he tries to share supplies donated to his program with Mrs Brown and help her out financially when he can. Often parents of Mrs Brown’s students can’t afford to pay the minimal fee she charges and she hates to make the children leave because she tells Tony, “it’s not their fault their parents don’t pay and I can’t punish them because of their parents.” As kids do everywhere these Jamaican sweethearts loved Dave and they all wanted to play with him. Claudette Brown gets no government support for her daycare. It is her own service to the community.  She’s quite an amazing woman. 

We were so glad Tony had taken us to Mrs Brown’s daycare. She is doing so much to help so many children with so very little. 

Other posts about Jamaica……..

Beaching It on the Caribbean

The Remarkable Place We Work in Runaway Bay

Pedicure Patois

Building A House in Jamaica

Wish I Had Them In Jamaica

Pirates, Plantations, Political Activists and Pot

Jamaican Introductions

Acquiring a Taste for Jamaican Food

Dead Yard Party

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Filed under Childhood, Education, Jamaica, New Experiences, People, Travel

The Remarkables

I talked to a young mother recently who said her two-year-old son wasn’t learning to talk as early as his sibling had. She wondered if that was because his daycare workers wore masks so he couldn’t see the way their mouths formed words. She was confident that post-pandemic, the speech of her COVID kid would flourish.

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

On a walk with a friend, we talked about high school athletes who haven’t been able to participate in the sports they love for the last two years. This has made it tougher for them to earn athletic scholarships for university and has cut them off from the teammates and coaches that played such an important role in their lives. Despite this many have remained devoted to their sports, training on their own. Some people call teens living through the pandemic, the COVID generation.

I was talking with someone, who like me, has had a grandchild born during the pandemic. Our grandchildren have seen very few people besides their parents yet they continue to achieve all the appropriate developmental milestones. Some people are referring to children born during the pandemic as COVID babies.

Photo by Max Fischer on Pexels.com

The media is reporting that kids will be behind academically because their schooling has been interrupted by the pandemic. Luckily my nearly nine-year-old grandson was only out of school for about four months due to the pandemic, but he had such a variety of learning interests before COVID-19. He played basketball and took dance classes. He had a violin teacher and a swimming instructor. In summers he went to art and drama camps. For over a year now he has not been able to do some of those things that enriched his education but when I talk with him and he tells me about what he is reading and shows me his drawings I know he is still learning and growing intellectually. Some people are calling school age kids who are going through the pandemic the children of COVID.

Children born during the pandemic are being given all kinds of labels like COVID babies or COVID kids, or the COVID generation or the children of COVID. In a recent article Neil Renton the head teacher at a school in England talks about the dangers of referring to the current crop of kids with a disease- related label. He says that instead the fact children are actually surviving the pandemic with such remarkable adaptability should be celebrated. We should be calling them The Remarkables.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

Renton believes there is power in words and he thinks using the name of a disease to refer to children implies something negative. It conjures up images of closed doors and feelings of hopelessness. Studies show that the expectations teachers and parents have of children impact their performance. If we always talk about our current kids as some kind of disease generation negatively impacted by COVID-19 we perpetuate negativity and set up a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Renton also points out that science shows us negative thoughts and speech hamper brain performance and trigger stress hormones. We do our kids a disservice if we label them with the name of something negative like a disease and expect less of them because of that.

I am not minimizing the challenge of COVID for kids and their families. There are no doubt all kinds of effects that living through the pandemic will have on our current generation of children. But…………… it is indeed REMARKABLE the way so many children are surviving and even flourishing during this challenging time and in their best interest, we need to emphasize the positive by not labelling them with the name of a negative disease.

Other posts………

God Rest the Children

What is the Best Way to Raise Children?

Meeting the Street Children of Delhi

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Filed under Childhood, COVID-19 Diary, Education

Talking to Kids About Wednesday’s Madness

As I scrolled through Twitter on Wednesday afternoon and evening, trying to keep track of what was happening in Washington D.C  I noticed something interesting start happening on my feed  just after the supper hour. I follow lots of teachers, librarians and school administrators on Twitter. I also follow plenty of education publishers and professional groups for teachers.
In the late afternoon and evening on Wednesday one question kept popping up in my feed, “What do we say to the children?”  Teachers and others involved in education were wondering how they would discuss the Washington DC riots with their students the next morning.

It wasn’t long before they began to share ideas.  Some gave tips on how to frame the event for kids in  ways that would reassure them. Others provided questions that might engage children in critical thinking. Some provided links to news articles that described the events clearly and succinctly in language kids would understand.  

Teachers shared the names of helpful books that could be read and helpful prompts for classroom conversations.  One educator quickly set up a zoom meeting so teachers could share ideas.  Teachers reminded each other their primary purpose on  Thursday morning would be to make kids feel safe, to listen to their fears and concerns and to reassure them that things would be okay.

I didn’t envy these teachers the task of having to help their students process what they had seen on their television and computer screens. But these responsible and dedicated educators  were facing reality and trying to prepare themselves for the coming day well aware of how difficult it would be.  

It struck me as I read the teachers’ concerns and ideas that if the rioters and politicians involved in the debacle at the Capital in Washington DC on Wednesday had been forced to stop for a minute to think about how they would explain what they were doing to kids the next morning, it just might have influenced their actions.  

Other posts………..

The Children Are Watching and Listening

Getting Him Out of My Head

 

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Filed under Education, Politics

A Different School Year

This is the first September in sixty years I can’t say I’m genuinely excited about school starting.  

I was thrilled about my first day of kindergarten in 1958 at Laura Secord School in Winnipeg. Who would be my teacher? What books would we read? Who would I play with?

 I was the editor of my school newspaper.

I was eager to start high school in 1967.  I could hardly wait to get involved in all the activities the Steinbach Collegiate offered. I sang in the choir, was the editor of the school paper, served as student body vice-president, and went to New Orleans on a senior class trip.

University Graduation

I was enthusiastic about entering Canadian Mennonite University in 1971 and later the University of Manitoba.  My high expectations were met by the challenging classes I took, the interesting friends I made, and the certainty of knowing I’d chosen the right profession while getting my teaching certificate.  

With my Advanced Composition class in Hong Kong

I was happy each September of my thirty-five- year career in education. As the first day of school approached, I could hardly sleep my head was so full of plans, and projects, and possibilities.  

With a group of my student teachers and the staff members who supported them.

I was invigorated every fall for the last eight years as I began my job mentoring university students studying to be teachers. I learned so much while visiting the diverse public schools where my students served as interns. I loved helping them work through their challenges and encouraging them as they honed their craft. 

But…… this fall I have to admit I am not as excited about the start of school.  Instead, I am nostalgic, concerned, and hopeful. 

I am nostalgic because for the first time in sixty years I won’t be going into the classroom. I’ve resigned from my job as a university mentor partly because of the COVID-19 risk for someone my age and partly because I wouldn’t want to carry COVID-19 to my father who I visit at a seniors’ facility several times a week.  

I am concerned because I have a son and a daughter-in-law who are educators.  I know due to the pandemic they will need to reinvent the way they teach, implement strategies to keep children safe and help their students make sense of the world’s new realities. I am concerned about their health and well-being although I know they are both wonderful teachers well equipped to take on the challenges they will face.

I am hopeful because I have two grandchildren who are starting kindergarten and grade three next week.  They have bought their new backpacks, pencil crayons, sketchbooks, running shoes, and masks. They are curious about who their teachers will be, which of their friends will be in their classes and what new things they will learn in the coming year. For their sake, I hope the school year will be successful and a wave of COVID-19 won’t shut schools down again. 

I know children need to be in school for many good reasons. They need to be there for their mental, physical, and emotional health and for their academic futures. They need to be there so their parents can go back to work.  

School has been such a positive experience for me throughout my life and there is nothing I want more than for all our country’s children to have a similar experience. So, despite the fact that the start of school this year is nostalgic and concerning for me, I hope it will be successful. 

Other posts………….

Watch Schools and Daycares for A Sign Things Are Returning to Normal

Visiting a Quaker School in Costa Rica

Popping In and Out of Schools

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Education