Although I heard many stories, I really couldn’t imagine what it was like to be a teacher or have a kid in school this past year. But I got a bit of a feeling for it when I stepped into Sue Silverstein’s art room at Bishop Maginn High School yesterday.
Empty is the first word that comes to mind. Quiet would be the next.
There were four students in the classroom that every time I’ve visited had been bustling with teenage energy. It was always full of kids, even at lunchtime or during the summer. They’d be drawing and painting or just hanging out. They’d be asking Mrs. Silverstein a load of questions which she always answered patiently and lovingly even if the answer was “no”.
Yesterday the four students sat at opposite ends of a table or by themselves. Sue’s laptop was open on another table where the rest of the class was watching a video in their own homes.
The hallways too were empty and quiet.
Sue talked about teaching virtually and how strange and difficult it was. She told me about some of her students who are from Myanmar that are not only dealing with the pandemic but now with the coup in their homeland too. Some have families who are hiding in the woods and have no way of contacting them. Others have relatives who have been arrested.
But Sue handles it all, not shying away from the tragedies but bringing them into the light, talking openly with her students about it all.
I still have little idea what it’s like to teach and learn under such circumstances, but I did take away the feeling of emptiness, the lack of energy and how difficult it must be to keep spirits from plummeting.
But I also saw evidence that the teachers and students are making the best of it and carrying on.
Sue showed me the Class Chair, a Bishop Maginn tradition, for the graduating class of 2020.
I knew as soon as I looked at it, that it was the perfect symbol for my Corona Kimono.
The chair is painted with facemasks, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, laptops, Zoom symbols, images of the virus itself, and acknowledgment that the pandemic is worldwide.
Also on the chair is the name of each student graduating this spring.
I’d thought about somehow incorporating the issues around schools during the pandemic in my Corona Kimono, but didn’t know how. I just wasn’t close enough to the issue to be able to speak to it.
But I found out yesterday in Sue Silverstein’s Art room. A place that has opened me up to many experiences I wouldn’t have had and people I would never have known.