In the pandemic, kids are the unsung heroes.

Rebecca Recco
4 min readMar 14, 2021
My classroom since March 2020

Yesterday, I got a little emotional saying goodbye to my middle school art students. Next week, we move on to the 4th quarter, and I will have a new group of students on Monday. This transition always comes with some emotion, but this time I really didn’t feel prepared to say goodbye. Though students are only with me for such a short time, this year has been so full of challenges and it feels like we’ve bonded in ways we hadn’t before.

People have a lot to say about schools this year. Every time I turn on the news or check a notification on my phone, chances are I’ll see an article about schools. And chances are that it will be negative. “Kids aren’t learning anything.” “It’s a lost year.” “Kids are failing.” I truly hope my students aren’t hearing these statements, and I certainly hope they aren’t taking them to heart, because these declarations of failure and lost learning are not true.

This year has not been ideal for anyone, especially kids. They took the challenges of learning from home (sometimes without adults present all the time to help them) and made it work. They’re often trying to go to online school in less-than-ideal settings, like noisy houses, with younger siblings that they need to take care of during the day. They’re working with less-than-awesome technology — generally on old computers borrowed from school or whatever tech they have at home, and sometimes sketchy WiFi that’s strained to the max by entire families needing to be online at once. They’ve weathered the loneliness and depression of being away from their friends and off their normal routines. They are stuck in the middle of this political battle of “return to school” and “protect our community” and nobody’s really asking them how they feel about it. At the same time, people are speaking for them, saying that they’re not learning; they’re failing; they’re falling apart — as if none of this ever happened when in-person learning was going on.

Students ARE learning. Online learning has caused students to have to take on more of the heavy lifting in school. More students are taking agency in their learning by self-advocating for what they need, taking educational risks, and persisting when challenges arise (because they do arise, daily). Students have become teachers, helping siblings, classmates, and yes — even teachers — learn new skills and troubleshoot tech issues. Students have learned digital skills — REAL skills, not the ones you get from Tik Tok and Fortnite — that will help them navigate an increasingly digital world. Students are learning leadership skills by creating study groups and online afterschool clubs. Some students in my district have become politically active, organizing huge, peaceful marches over the summer to promote racial justice. And, perhaps most importantly, students are developing empathy as they help one another navigate all the challenges of being a kid in a pandemic. If this is what “failure” looks like, what are we measuring?

This isn’t to say that there aren’t kids who have struggled during this time. There are kids who are not being well-served during distance learning, just as there are kids who slip through the cracks during in-person learning. Let’s not pretend that returning to school will magically solve all the problems kids face. If nothing else, distance learning has highlighted all the things we need to fix when we do return to in-person school, and if we do return to “business as usual,” we will miss the valuable lessons learned during this time.

The unsung heroes of the pandemic are the kids. They never asked to be tasked with reinventing school, but here we are. They didn’t want to be models of resilience, persistence, and creative problem-solving. They didn’t ask to be pawns in a political tug-of-war over school reopening. They’re Zooming into my living room every day to learn about art, but they’re really teaching me about how to handle a crisis. I’m so proud to teach every one of them — even the ones who never turn on their cameras — and I look forward to making big, messy art projects with them in person when it’s safe for all their families. I know I will not go back to “business as usual,” and I hope that all the decision-makers for our schools don’t, either.

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Rebecca Recco

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