Neema Avashia: What’s Missing From Back To School This Year? The Time To Heal
Avashia is a Civics teacher in Boston Public Schools. She recently wrote this commentary for WBUR.
Last week, after 18 months of interruption, nearly all K-12 students in Massachusetts finally returned to school in person. They did so as changed people — changed, as we all have been, by an ongoing pandemic, by intense levels of political unrest, by a climate crisis that worsens every day. Yet, I fear our school systems will not have changed to meet them where they are, in this moment, because of state leaders’ desperate need to “return to some level of normalcy.”
The problem is that between trauma and normalcy, there is a middle step that seems to have not been included in the state’s equation: healing.
Our state has seen over 750,000 COVID-19 cases since March 2020. We’ve lost more than 18,000 residents to this virus. Every single one of those cases touched at least one student. And when we look further, to the national level, or even the international level, it’s clear that the young people of our state have been immersed in 18 months of collective trauma that they will bring with them on the first day of school.
I have been a middle school teacher in the Boston Public Schools since 2003. In my 18 years as an educator, I have often wished for a school system that was more responsive to the needs of young people. That wish has only intensified during this pandemic, where I have witnessed so many of my students experience loss, housing and food instability, unemployment, mental health crises and severe illness.
My students have carried a lot of pain with them through the last 18 months, and when I’ve asked them what they need from us, their response has been consistent: they need support, they need relationships, they need healing. Where policymakers fret about learning loss, my students are preoccupied by more palpable losses. Ones that, unless thoroughly mitigated, make it hard to even think about learning.