By Lucy Becker Harmon
Academic Dean at Summit Academy North High School
As the world commemorated the graduating class of 2020, albeit, in untraditional ways, the Class of 2021 held their breaths in hopes of reduced COVID cases, lifted constraints, and a typical school year. However, they would soon find themselves echoing the sighs and disappointments shared by their predecessors, with the loss of significant milestones, online learning, once again, from the comforts of their beds, and faced with decisions that no longer appeared to make sense. As a nation, we have continued to watch attendance rates fall, the high school to college pipeline waning, minority students often left to navigate the channel themselves while trying to make sense of the world around them, and unwavering numbers of mental health concerns. In a sense, we are watching our children become a shell of who they once were as they try to adjust and decide what’s next.
In the midst of all of the chaos, there are extraordinary educators, admin, and counselors working day and night to fill in the missing pieces and best support students and families, often working late into the evening or taking weekend Zoom meetings. They say it takes a village, and our villages have never been more populated.
It seems everyone is scrambling to find the “what’s next “… how can we help these families? How can we help our students to find success? How can we navigate post-secondary opportunities when our students are disengaged or uninformed? What our students and families require– what our educators need– is a little grace.
What does the word grace imply? By the most straightforward definition, grace is unmerited kindness or unconditional respect. Of course, my work’s importance is not negotiable; counseling/advising is a need that our future depends on, but I think it’s time, at least for now, to not hold on to those numbers and statistics so tightly and search out the bigger picture. There is a lot of work to be done, and in a sense, we are starting back at ground zero, but in these moments of uncertainty and, in some cases, disappointment, we learn, grow, and thrive.
We need to find grace for the student who has picked up extra shifts at work to help feed his siblings, for the Senior that despite all of the guidance and pushing and cheering, still doesn’t know where he wants to go to school because his depression keeps him prisoner to his bed, for the students who are tuning in daily, but turning in late work because once the camera is off, they are off to tutor their siblings. We need to find grace for the educators who are hitting a wall and questioning their role in education, for the admin teams working tirelessly to fix everything at once, to the counselors who are trying and trying hard, but this year, the distance is creating a defense. Finally, we need to find grace for the parents who are suddenly working from home and struggling to be present with their children and for those children who don’t feel seen or heard.
This year, like last, is tough, and as a nation, we are suffering. Perhaps test scores may not look as they once did; FAFSA Completion rates may have dropped; decision day celebrations may feature some confused faces who are going through the motions, but that has to be okay. We need to teach and prepare our children like we always have, but this year we needed to bring in the social-emotional aspect and to tend to our children… to be their voice, their shoulders, teachers, parental figures, therapists, and most prominent advocate. This year, we needed to teach and counsel with grace, and we have to embrace the data.
Grace, loosely defined by these unprecedented times, may look like us, as educators/counselors up late studying what is working for other schools, bouncing ideas off of our peers at weird hours, opening late office hours to accommodate families, accepting late work, spending hours with one student navigating the high school to college pipeline, working endlessly to help our students not only find success but healing.
In these unprecedented times, grace has to look like health and goodwill, and that alone should be celebrated. Perhaps none of us know “what’s next,” and like the person next to us, we are doing the best that we can. Maybe this year’s data looks like the lives we’ve saved, the voices we encouraged, and the time we’ve given to heal and to decide and to dream and to plan.
All we need is… grace.