Back to School!
When I was growing up in Goshen, New York, school always started the Tuesday after Labor Day. Even though it meant the end of vacation time, I looked forward to seeing my friends again and sharing adventures we all had over the summer months. I also looked forward to learning new things, getting to know new teachers, and seeing who would be in my class or classes.
Going back to school in 2021 is a wholly different experience for young people. A friend of mine has two children: one age 11 and one age 13. They went back to school in early August. The 13-year-old was overjoyed to see her friends again and had a very positive experience returning to in-person classes. The 11-year-old had started in a new school last year, but the schooling was entirely remote. He was a bit more challenged in going back to school and reported to his mother People are telling me what to do and when to do it!
Young people today are facing challenges I never dreamed of when I was young and thinking about that has put young people everywhere on my heart and in my prayers as they return or adapt to new ways of learning. Will they be able to make friends and develop necessary social skills? Will they be safe and healthy as the adults argue over face masks and vaccines? Will they have teachers who really care about teaching and about them?
When I attended elementary school, my Mom always packed a lunch box for me. It usually had a bologna and cheese sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off, a piece of fruit, and some cookies. There was also a little note inside, and I looked forward to reading that note as much as I enjoyed eating lunch. The note might say “I love you!” or “How was recess?” or it might be a drawing or smiley face (primitive emoji). Whatever the note said, I loved the surprise of it and the daily reassurance of my mother’s love.
Many of our churches have a “Blessing of the Backpacks” or something equivalent at the start of a school year. These backpacks can be filled with pencils and pens, small dictionaries, notebooks, Kleenex, and hand sanitizer. Metaphorically speaking, what could we put in the backpacks of our young people to equip them for the coming year? I would put a huge amount of patience in each backpack (although I don’t know exactly how that works since I never had any patience as a child!). I would offer a dose of flexibility and another of creativity. I would infuse the backpack with a playful spirit and a prayer that the owner of the backpack had a positive sense of themselves. Most importantly I would put a love note in every backpack. Maybe it would say something like this: “You are my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.”