Back to school: Packing pupils properly during COVID-19 pandemic

As health reporter for The Jerusalem Post I know more about coronavirus than I want to. I am also aware of the challenges to staying healthy that my children could encounter in school.

Back to school amid a pandemic (photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)
Back to school amid a pandemic
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)
Ahead of the first day of school after my children and I returned to Israel in 2015, I packed their backpacks methodically and carefully, checking to make sure I understood each supply they needed to be successful at their new schools.
I wrote their names in Hebrew on each notebook, sharpened pencils, wrapped schoolbooks and placed these supplies carefully into their bags with love yet trepidation.
After all, we had just moved to Israel from Kansas months before and I was concerned about whether they would be able to acclimate, speak the language and make new friends, let alone succeed at their schoolwork.
Of course, on the one hand, I was confident that I had made the right decision to move them to Israel, where they could be raised in a Jewish country amid the values, principles and hopes that I had for them. On the other hand, we had left our comfort zone, including my family, to fulfill this dream.
When I placed their siddurim and chumashim into their bags, I could only hope that these books would be used in schools where they would learn to love Torah, the land of Israel and the Jewish people. I could only dream that they would receive the Zionist messages imparted to me by my zayde, who would have loved to know that his great-grandchildren were going to school in Jerusalem where he always wanted to live.
As I zipped their backpacks then, I prayed that they would understand that we had come back to Israel so they could each find their places and play a role in building the State of Israel.
JUST FIVE years later, the children know Hebrew for the most part, have friends they speak to only in Hebrew and have acclimated to Israeli society.
Nevertheless, I found myself on Monday once again filling their backpacks with trepidation - this time due to the pandemic that has struck the world, Israel included.
Along with their scissors and rulers, I made sure that each of my kids had a small container of alcogel, extra masks and a package of wipes that I strongly encouraged them to use.
As the health reporter for The Jerusalem Post, among my many titles, I know more about the novel coronavirus than I want to. I am also acutely aware of the challenges to staying healthy that my children could encounter in school.
Over the last several months, I have tried to educate them about the pandemic without telling them so much that they would be scared or too inhibited to do normal children’s activities.
The crisis has created a logistical nightmare for parents and children alike. I have five children and two stepchildren ranging in ages from three to 17, and we’re struggling like we did that first year to understand the guidelines and schedules.
One kid has no school on Wednesdays and will do distance learning. As I write this column on early Wednesday morning, we still don’t know how to access her Microsoft 365 classroom.
Every child is starting and ending school at a different time, and the kids’ schedules in some cases will change week to week, including flip-flopping between morning and afternoon classes in capsules that in some cases leave out their best friends.
On the one hand, there is a silver lining. The smaller class sizes are something that Israel has needed for a long time, and now maybe the kids will know their teachers better and get more personal attention.
On the other hand, children are children and whether there are 18 or 32 children in the classroom, it is hard to social distance or wear a mask for hours at a time.
The children are trying to take it well, but their stress is palpable – especially after we watched what happened in schools last spring, when they first made distance learning optional and then returned kids to school with a message to parents that they were incapable of following Health Ministry guidelines and keeping children safe.
Maybe then, the Education Ministry and the schools thought that they would just weather the storm because this virus would soon go away. Now, we all know that it is here for the long term and the infrastructure will have to be built.
ALTHOUGH THE country continues to make many mistakes, our leaders are getting some things right.
It gave me a vote of confidence in the system on Monday night, when at 11 p.m. the ministers finally gave in to coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu and agreed to keep schools closed in red cities. It was a clear win for professional decision-making over politics – better late than never.
One can only assume that one of the reasons Education Minister Yoav Gallant was opposed to the move is because Tiberias is both a red city and a Likud city, and its children would need to stay home.
Going back to school anywhere would be a challenge. What I can say is at least my children are doing it here, in Israel – a country that packs in the solidarity, Jewish spirit and love of the land that I wanted my kids to be raised in.
On Tuesday morning, as the house buzzed with breakfast, school shirts, missing supplies and health forms, I left the chaos for a half an hour to go running.
As I ran through the streets of Jerusalem, where apartment buildings were alight, probably with parents doing the same thing I was, with the same trepidation that this could go really well or crash and burn and the result could be isolation or even illness, I actually smiled.
Seeing the beauty of the holy city that we have made our own reminded me that what does not break us makes us stronger. Empowering my children to go to school with confidence even during the chaos of the coronavirus crisis is just another step in our journey.
The writer is news editor and head of online content and strategy for The Jerusalem Post.