Spring holds promise of positive change

The arrival of the first warm, sunny days at the end of winter feel full of pleasant promises. Friends, and even strangers in the grocery parking lots, are compelled to comment, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

The renewal of existing gardens and plans for new plants and even new beds are, of course, investments in the regeneration of life after it lay dormant for several months. And how fast it happens! Just two columns ago, I was reveling in all the snow shoveling I was doing; now I’m delighted by crocuses popping up daily.

This year, springtime has me giddier than ever. COVID vaccines are making their way into people’s arms and even before we reach herd immunity, warmer weather will allow outdoor, socially distanced get-togethers to occur.

Like so many, I miss being with friends. FaceTime and text messages cannot replace sharing an evening with others. When has anyone belly laughed in a video conference? I sure haven’t.

Almost a year to the day that they closed, Akron Public Schools reopened for full-time, in-person instruction. My 8-year-old, Lyra, acts like every school day is Christmas, so glad is she to be back with her teachers and friends.

While seeing the light at the end of this long pandemic tunnel, I don’t expect life will pick up exactly where it was when things stopped a year ago. And that can be a good thing.

Hands down, the best change for Lyra is that she gained her very own friend for the first time. Her brother Leif’s friends always have accepted Lyra fully. That said, they are still primarily Leif’s friends.

Jocelyn Burkholder, 10, and Lyra Christensen, 8, stand with their educational pod teacher, Declan McCaslin.

Lyra met 10-year-old Jocelyn Burkholder when they were in the same Dancing Unlimited class at Akron Children’s Hospital a couple of years ago, but they didn’t really interact. The classes, run by Kellie Lightfoot, are a joy-filled hour of structured chaos where Lyra enjoys watching herself dance in the mirror behind the barre while ignoring all other children.

Last August, when we learned the schools wouldn’t reopen for in-person learning, Jocelyn joined the educational pod we created at our home. Now, after seven months of working together with the teacher we hired, Jocie and Lyra have their own true friendship. I know this because they squabble and make up just like all childhood friends do.

Furthermore, I don’t doubt that Lyra will visit Jocie at her house when it’s possible. Only one family has ever offered to have Lyra over without another adult from our family. I understand why:Most parents are unsure of how to treat a child with Down syndrome.

But parents of children with disabilities know exactly what to do with another child with a disability. (Answer: pretty much the same thing you do with typical kids.)

It is clear this past year has permanently altered what education will look like in America. For one thing, remote learning is here to stay in some form or fashion. While it’s important for kids to be physically in a classroom, there are other times when remote learning can augment or replace in-person learning. If a child cannot be at school for whatever reason, that no longer means education must stop.

Secondly, because most students need help regaining what was lost this past year, strides are being made to help struggling students with the support of federal funding. Many schools will undoubtedly create new infrastructures to solve educational problems that have held back students of all backgrounds for far too long.

There’s also talk of better mental health resources, buildings and funding for public K-12 schools. This is fabulous for there is no better way to address a variety of systemic problems in any country than by providing equal access to quality education.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a recent column on Bangladesh, a country that Henry Kissinger called a “basket case” 50 years ago. Today, Bangladesh has a robust economy and its citizens are vastly healthier. How did they do this? By providing accessible education to all children, including girls.

It’s often hard to get politicians to support substantive, proven plans to address systemic problems if the results are not immediate. But the COVID-19 global pandemic has been a cataclysmic event that refuses to allow anyone to just carry on. And therein lies the opportunity to re-create many things anew and better.

Am I glad there was a pandemic? Of course not. But since there was, how can we address the systemic problems it exposed while fixing the new ones it caused, thereby creating a better future for everyone?

Personally, I no longer take for granted many things I once did. Today, as COVID risks recede and positive changes are hopefully embraced, things are shaping up for a most promising spring and beyond.

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on March 18, 2021.


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