This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.
Among the decisive moves taken by Governor Ralph Northam, also a physician, to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth was the closing of all public schools for the remainder of the school year. There is little or no opportunity for establishing social distancing in crowded school buildings with young people who are naturally inclined to do anything but keep their distance from each other. There have been many humorous references on social media to parents who find themselves unexpectedly having to home school their children. The situation created is another one during this pandemic for which there really are no good options. Classes will not be held, SOL tests will not be administered, traditional social and athletic events will not take place.
Do not make the mistake, however, of believing that learning will not be taking place while with our children and grandchildren we wait out the passing or defeat of the virus. The fact of the matter is that the children of our community as well as we adults are experiencing a lifetime event that we will never forget. Our country will have gone from a time of prosperity to the largest government bail-out ever in the history of our country. Many businesses will fail, and the breadth of our economic inequality will become even more painfully apparent. I am not sure what our social, governmental and business institutions will look like when we can proclaim that the pandemic is over, but I believe there is the potential that they will be improved.
For the children who are not in formal instruction there will be much learning beyond the fact that a virus not visible to the human eye can bring the world to a halt. Children will learn from what is happening in their own surroundings. Just how many children in our community depend on food available through the schools? Did we notice the adults who sprang into action contributing to school pantries to make sure that others are fed? Are we aware as we miss a favorite sports game or school party of the number of classmates who never had an expectation of being able to participate?
That learning on the part of our children will come from their observations of how adults around them in their homes or in the media react to what is happening. Do adults in the community play by the rules or stretch the rules to their personal advantage? Do adults hide behind words that have limited meaning in other situations to limit our response to what is needed? Do the adults in their lives show a selflessness in looking out for others?
Schools are closed for a very real emergency, but learning will continue to take place. No longer is the responsibility for teaching left to the classroom. Now more than ever it is up to us as adults to be role models in a crisis that will teach our children more than they ever would have learned otherwise!