Returning to school in a pandemic adds unusual challenges

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

The first day of school is an emotional time any year, but it’s especially so during a pandemic. Yet, we’re off and running. Well, maybe we’re not exactly running, but we are off.

“Back to school” looks different throughout the nation, depending on the confidence parents and school officials have regarding various precautions in place to keep everyone healthy. Some students are in modified classrooms, while others are being taught remotely. In many locations, it’s a mix.

School is challenging enough for educators without the problems presented by teaching in a pandemic. Then there are the concerns parents of school children have. Thinking back on my own experience, I can’t imagine what’s been going on in the minds of parents of kindergarten students, who are faced with a first year of school in such unsettled circumstances.

The thought of that momentous milestone in a child’s life brings back memories of the days, five years apart, when my two children took their first steps into the halls of formal school education.

As pleased as our daughter and son were to march into the now defunct South Elementary School in Brownwood, Mom and Dad were holding back tears — Dad especially. Mom decided to let me handle the drop-off duties on those particular first days, as I recall.

With the passage of time, it’s getting increasingly difficult for me to remember much about my own elementary school years, much less about those years before I started school. However, I do remember getting excited about the last day of school in the spring.

Some friends seemed more excited about passing their grade than having three months of summer vacation ahead of them. A friend reminded me that those kids weren’t being cool. When you’re going to school, you expect to pass your grade. It shouldn’t be that much of a shocker.

I learned later that for some youngsters, it really was a surprise to find out that somehow, some way, they had indeed passed their studies, qualifying them for the next grade.

Before I retired from full-time newspapering, now almost eight years ago, I was invited by Brownwood school officials to attend teacher in-service presentations offered by the local district and the Region XV Education Service Center, held at Brownwood High School’s auditorium. I started to look forward to these programs. The speakers were informative and often entertaining. Their messages about teaching, learning, and communication had applications for all of us outside the educational realm.

I’m not a motivational speaker, nor do I play one on TV, but I am something of a student of them.

Maybe there’s an industry somewhere that’s not experiencing incredible changes these days. I haven’t talked to a farrier lately, but maybe that’s one. But coming from a perspective of a newspaper career that went from Linotypes to websites, I can appreciate the upheaval teachers are experiencing. For teachers, not only is the subject content evolving, but the methods, tools, tests, and general requirements are also in a state of constant flux — even without a pandemic.

Technology drives a lot of that, and this year, technology allows school systems to salvage most of their lesson plans. Each year, teachers learn as much or more about what they are doing and the subjects they are teaching as their students, but now, they are forced to innovate in uncharted water.

That’s nothing new. We’ve got to recommit to it every year, if not every day.

Each child starting kindergarten this year is embarking on a journey and arrives as a sponge ready to soak up knowledge, skills, and ideas. Older students are opening new legs of that same journey. Brown County residents, through their commitments of resources and volunteered time, have made huge investments in our young people through the schools. This is vital for youngsters today more than ever.

My hope is that every child who walks into a school has at least one adult — parent, grandparent, someone — standing nearby, rooting for a successful year.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at