Most of us take going to school for granted. Today we are on a new path that is untrodden. Years from now we will look back and see the fork in the road and try to recall what could have made the difference on the road not taken and the reason for the choosing.

We have to design or create the path no one has gone down before. We had gotten so relaxed with how we were, many of us did not realize that many countries do not have the same kind of school system that we have here in America. To answer this question brings on so much anxiety for many reasons. Schools being closed is such a heavy and complex issue for all of us. We find ourselves at the crossroad. We find ourselves having to make bricks with no straw.

Those families with children must consider many issues. How is this going to affect their children’s social skills? How is this going to affect their children’s educational ability? For some who have small children, they must try to figure out what to do with them during the day. Do I need to quit my job and keep my own children? My pay is not enough for me to hire a babysitter. How safe will they be at home looking after themselves? If I leave my job, how will my bills get paid? If I leave my job and get ill, how will I get medical care? How will my children get medical treatment?

When I heard that Gwinnett County schools were giving parents and students a choice of virtual learning or to return physically to school, I knew instantly what my granddaughter was going to choose. Her personality is such that she loves being around people. I called her anyway — not to talk her out of it, but to share some facts.

With a nervous giggle, she told me that she chose to report to the classroom, and because she is a junior this year her parents allowed her to make the decision. When I asked why, she said, “I did not enjoy the last three months of my sophomore year at all. Returning to the classroom has got to be better than what I experienced.”

She said, “I want to hear the noise of other students. I want to hear the voices of my teachers and see their faces. I want to walk down the halls and, hopefully, hear laughter of other students. I want to hear the sound of bells ringing indicating time for class change. I want to see the smiling face of my principal. I want to be able to call my teachers’ names when we pass each other in the hallways and in the cafeteria, and I want to hear them call my name. I long to feel the hard texture of a student desk once again.”

For a while, I felt sad for her and all students. They must realize that things will NEVER be the same again. I explained to her that on the first day, she will not be able to run to the arms of her BFFs and hold their hands and rub their hair in place and neither they to her. I explained to her that the smiles she once saw on the faces of classmates and teachers will not be seen because of their face masks. I said to her that no one will see the joyous smile that she will be sharing with them.

I explained to her that I have greater concern for the K-6 because these are the babies who love loving on each other and holding hands and sharing their pencils, crayons and paper. These are the little ones who love to run and play on the playground. I explained to her that the breaks, lunch time and playtime are days of old, and will never be the same again. Life will never be the same again, just as visiting with family will never be the same again.

For all of these things she said, “Yes, I know, but I want to return to the classroom and try to adjust to the new norm.” She said, “I just want to go and salvage what I can from the old way and attempt to create a beautiful new norm of school so that I can remember that I played a part in this new and wonderful experience. This new way of making changes for the betterment of things to come. I remember that you and Dad told me that you all did not always have 12 grades in school. Now we do. People during those days had to adjust to that and now we are behaving as if we have lost our best friend.”

She continued by saying, “You all also told me that for many years, Black children who lived in the rural section started school late every year because they had to help with chores on the farms. You said that many grew up and were able to attend Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Morehouse and many other Ivy league schools. They grew up to be productive men and women all across the world just as we will. Just you wait and see.”

All of America is longing for America to return to the way we were. That time will be no more. Getting an education has taken a new turn, and we must cheerfully adjust to the change and be willing to help create new techniques.

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome. She is the founder and director of the African American Connection of the Performing Arts Inc. and a 2020 Heart of the Community Award of Honor recipient.

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