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Column: This school year, we’re all learning importance of flexibility, safety and love
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

I washed a Bento box on Monday night, filled the bottom compartment with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, put some yogurt in another small box and cut some red pepper slices to go in another. 

Lunch for the second day of school, ready to go. 

It wasn‘t until after we put the kids to bed that I remembered we didn’t need that lunch until Wednesday. 

When Wednesday rolled around, I felt prepared. Then the bus came about two minutes early, and we dashed from inside the house up the driveway – with no mask. Thankfully Hall County Schools was prepared for that kind of thing and handed my kid a disposable one.  

The start and end to the first week of hybrid school went smoother than the one in the middle.  

Even on our oldest’s first day of kindergarten, he caught the bus at the top of our driveway, ready to face the world. It was the same this year, only less nerves and the bus driver knew his name. 

I didn’t get teary, but I did feel a lot better when his teacher sent me photos at the end of the day showing what he’d been up to and his smiling face as he ate the first lunch I had packed him. 

For a lot of parents — and teachers and other school staff — starting this school year amid all the new COVID-19 regulations is all about being flexible. But it also comes with some extra emotions. 

Robin Thome, whose four kids go to school in Hall County, sent her youngest off to kindergarten on Tuesday. My kids love to hang out with hers, especially her youngest. 

“I really thought I was going to be OK. But it was just so weird,” she told me. “Owen is our baby. He’s the last one going through kindergarten.”  

Schools are not allowing visitors in the building, and that means parents couldn’t walk their little ones to class on their first day of school — not even parents of the kindergarteners.  

She walked all of her others in on the first day, and this time, in the commotion of drop-off, she said she didn’t even get to hug her youngest. He did have two siblings to walk him to class. 

She took pictures out the window and said she held it together until pulling away from the school. 

Their family’s word for the year is “flexible,” she said. 

My family learned just days before school was set to start that the schooling option we chose was no longer going to work for our family. Years of unpredictability in the world of foster care has limbered us up for last-minute changes and circumstances out of our control. 

Our oldest took the change pretty well, but I made sure to get him to drive-thru orientation so he could at least wave to his new teacher. 

There’s a lot out of our control, but we can try to adjust our attitude and do a few little things that may make life a bit smoother.  

We’ve got a set of 10 masks, so we can wear and wash them frequently. We’ve talked about what the schedule will be and why. We’ve considered what’s best for our kids’ academically, emotionally and socially. 

We’re all in this together trying to figure it out.  

Thome said her little one came home excited to talk about his first day and said his favorite part was his teacher.  

In the craziness that is the start of every school year — and especially this one — sometimes we forget the relationships are key. Every kid needs to feel safe and loved.  

With their face masks, thermometers and socially distanced classrooms, schools are working to be safe. 

And the teachers and other staff are working to make sure the kids feel safe and loved. 

So teachers, I’ll leave you with these words from Thome: “(Our kids) feel your love. They know you care about them. You encourage them during their highs and lows. You’re the most constant thing in their life next to their parents. So, if you’re stressed or worried at all ... don’t be too hard on yourself, because these kids feel safe and loved with you, and that’s the best learning environment, no matter what’s going on in the world.” 

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a licensed foster parent.

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