Sunshower, Just The Sign Of The Power (On Parenting and School) – The Jose Vilson

Sunshower, Just The Sign Of The Power (On Parenting and School) – The Jose Vilson

The morning sun glistens just above the project buildings east of my son’s schoolyard just before school starts. The scene might have enamored me to the school he now attends, a school that’s grown with him since. For four years, I had to ask for permission to attend his first day of school with different results, a byproduct of teaching full time and providing a first-day experience for the middle-school children I served. The stars aligned in his third-grade year when the pandemic hit just as I prepared to announce my transition from the classroom to the academy as a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University.

When asked whether he wanted to attend school face-to-face for third grade if given the chance, he gave it a few minutes and said “No.”

His parents acquiesced, somewhat gladly. With so much chaos and seemingly few mitigation strategies and plans, we wouldn’t have chosen face-to-face, either. My activism with other well-regarded parents and community members again came up against pundits and politicians willing to throw Black and brown children for capital and getting back to business as usual. We specifically asked for scaffolded school reopening, upgrading school building conditions, and thoughtful wraparound services that would transform the social contract New York City had its citizens. Instead, we saw a small set of well-funded parents whip up antagonism in stark contrast to the majority of parents who opted their children out of the consternation. This COVID era is unfair for everyone involved, and every option felt like the best of the worst, certainly. Yet, our school systems had months to make a choice that inspired more confidence and, at times, seemed to have a handle on the process of getting kids back safely to school.

But our society couldn’t secure our last and most enduring social safety net for NYC public school kids and all of us paid for it.

And I watched my son labor through class assignments. He tried. His teachers said he was doing great. My wife and I, both educators, pushed him where we could and kept running up against limits to his personal and academic well-being. The routine was breakfast, Zoom on with intermittent breaks, lunch, Zoom on, Zoom off, wait for his parents to finish their work, dinner, and repeat a few more times. He didn’t have many young people in his immediate space to process the George Floyd proceedings and the ensuing protests. He still doesn’t know what to make of the horrific scenes of the insurrection happening on his ninth birthday. I hug him 10 times a day, but even the best of us have to run up against a society that’s structurally antagonistic toward his health and well-being … and that was before COVID made it into our zeitgeist.

Oh, and a rash of COVID cases hit his school over the summer, a swarm of texts hit my phone to just let me know. Gently.

Now, he’s back at school, and I take him there every day with no need for permission. The sun follows us above the bus to school, and its light careens off those windows and into my eyes even on rainy days. Now, the routine also includes a bus ride to school, a daily form to fill out, and several welcomes to school from the principal, the parent coordinator, and a few other educators who’ve seen me around. A surgical mask and a cloth-based mask wrap around his face. I pinch the wire near his nose so his glasses fog up less. A couple of his classmates recognize me from an interview I did last school year. The kids do as they do while the adults pirouette between contagion concerns and professional responsibilities. A vaccine mandate for adults looms while only 10% of consenting students are allowed to be tested as pediatric cases rise across the city and the country.

Millions of miles away, a star shines its rays onto the planets in its orbits. This has been true for billions of years in all its intense regularity. Yet, as I sit watching my son head into the school building, none of this moment feels normal. The in-person mandate ensures that I place my faith in that sun and all the other stars to keep our son safe from all that should harm him. We shouldn’t have to choose between the power of science and the power of faith (or lack thereof), but here we are.

Leave a Reply