As parents proudly posted photos of their kids heading back to school on Tuesday, I recalled my own excitement heading back to school each year way back in the 1970s and ’80s. While we all enjoy the summer break, typically with a week or two remaining, I would begin yearning to return to school.
For me, school was a safe place, a happy place, a place where I enjoyed spending my time, and for me, the first day back at school was more exciting than Christmas morning.
Though safe and happy places schools might be, this year our kids are returning after months outside of the classroom, learning instead from home, and reintegration into the classroom will no doubt bring some challenges, fears, and frustrations for many.
My memories of the first day back at school include my mother handing over my little yellow vaccination record card to the school for verification that I had received all of the required vaccinations, a standard and accepted hurdle to school entry in the 1970s, while students returning to school today do so amid mixed messages about vaccines as the world continues to attempt to bring the COVID-19 virus under control.
The term ‘vaccine passport’ has become popular in recent months, and most often the term is used to indicate the ‘evils’ of carrying and providing documentation of vaccinations, yet for my generation it truly was no big deal. Then again, my generation was just one removed from the realities of polio.
One of my first part-time jobs while in high school was at a hotel in Barrie in the early 1980s. The hotel was family-owned, and one of the sons, a man in his 50s at the time, who was my boss walked with a distinct limp. I thought nothing of it, but one day it came up in conversation and he explained that he had been a polio survivor.
Thanks to vaccines, today’s students have little to no knowledge of what polio even was, and they certainly aren’t meeting people that had contracted and survived it.
In my generation, while there was a newish vaccine for the measles and mumps, there was not yet a vaccine for chickenpox. While I never experienced the mumps or the measles (thank you vaccines) I did contract chickenpox when I was around six years old (interestingly the year that a vaccine was being developed), and the chickenpox experience was an itchy painful nightmare that I would rather not have experienced. My own children never endured the chickenpox, thank you vaccines.
We have heard much recently from a minority of our population that vaccines and masks somehow infringe upon liberty and freedom, ironic given that America won the battle against Britain in 1776 thanks in large part to a smallpox vaccine that protected the American troops and kept them healthy while many of the British soldiers succumbed to the disease. That early and no doubt far less safe than today’s vaccines helped America gain its freedom, yet we hear over and over from south of the border about their freedoms and liberty being stolen by being asked to receive a vaccine as part of a strategy to bring a halt to the rampage of a global pandemic.
My own children no longer have back to school days; my youngest finished his final year of high school last year, learning virtually from home, and frustrated at not being able to play football or rugby in his final year of high school, frustrated about being separated from friends he had gone to school with since kindergarten.
I wish all students the best of luck as this new school year begins, and my hope is that the kids are listened to if they express fears or uncertainty, and that there will be many open discussions about the past year and a half, and of how we march forward into the future.
This pandemic has been frustrating on many levels for all of us, but let’s not forget that it has been so for our children too. As they return to the classroom after months of virtual classes, we all need to be patient and understanding, and we need to be open to blunt and honest discussions about the friction and controversy these students see playing out amongst the adults around them.