Letter: No pomp, just circumstance

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DALTON — Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" is a stately tune. The somber beat kept the lines of shuffling high school feet moving slowly, in a more or less synchronized manner, across every graduation stage I have ever witnessed, from 1963 to 2019. That is one of the traditions we are missing now, where students' marching has been replaced by lines of cars with cap and gowned graduates waving and car horns bleating.

This new way of celebrating is another milestone in the COVID crisis progression. Perhaps, in years to come, the current graduates will remember the uniqueness of their experience as not all bad. Instead of sitting in an over-crowded, over-heated gymnasium listening to droning speakers, the graduates were driven through town like celebrities, popping up through the sun roof of Mom's sporty SUV, smiling broadly, as a sea of friends and family waved and shouted. A victory parade or sorts, the victory of ingenuity over isolation.

Obviously, there were many other ways in which an invisible microbe wrought havoc on schools and students. Distance-learning, which brought virtual classrooms into dens and kitchens, is not an entirely new concept. In the middle school where I taught, a student with severe allergies was at home watching the activities in his classroom, and his teacher and fellow students were seeing him participate as much as he could. Granted, the technology was less sophisticated; but it worked.

Most current teachers have taken many courses in the use of media, so it was not a totally foreign concept to connect with their students via computers. Indeed, most kids are more familiar with screen time than face-to-face time. Setting up the parameters of classroom learning and behavior required some organization. After several unstructured weeks, the kids I know were happy to attend virtual school, sitting at the breakfast table where snacks were within easy reach and cats and dogs could visit regularly. They were happy to see their teacher and classmates, participating in familiar learning activities and routines.

As a former writing teacher, I can imagine all the opportunities for writing exercises based on the new student experiences. Writing about novel and often anxiety-producing events can give students a way to deal with them in a positive way, exploring similarities and differences, analyzing emotions, and brainstorming ways to cope. Sharing with others is another way to process different ways of dealing with change.

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There are all types of learning, and students who began the year sitting in a traditional classroom chair and ended the year on the couch have accomplished many objectives not written in the core curriculum. Many parents who became teachers and teacher's assistants have gained a new perspective on education. Teachers have certainly found creative, if often confusing, ways to deal with the needs of their students, their scholastic objectives, and measuring student progress.

Most children want to learn, and given the right circumstances, are motivated and focused learners. Though the parameters of education changed almost overnight, the learning continued in new and different ways. There was definitely greater home and school communication, and parents and teachers of elementary students often shared a measure of frustration when hours of calm instruction were punctuated by tsunamis of tears, tantrums, and telling on one's siblings. Parents quickly learned the value of recess and regrouping.

In some ways, high school students became better prepared for life beyond a secondary classroom. When they commence their next chapter of life, in school or work, they will already understand how to adapt, adjust, and reorganize their time to meet new needs and challenges. Being celebrated for their high school achievements in such dramatic fashion, they know they are competent to face the unknown with a large measure of confidence and grace.

Congratulations to all who survived and thrived in the school year 2019-2020.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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