I LOVE school. I always have. I probably always will – otherwise, why would I have subjected myself to so many extra years of it? There is something so exciting about the first day. There is excitement to pick out the right outfit. There are nerves about who you will sit next to in class. There is joy over seeing the freshly organized school supplies: crisp notebook pages just waiting to be filled with scribbled notes as you wonder how the teacher thinks you can write that quickly and words falling off the page in those college classes when you stayed up too late the night before…for real, who thinks turning the lights down in a lecture hall is a good idea? There are kindergarten girls with bows bigger than their heads, middle school boys in their football jerseys, high schoolers with backpacks full of textbooks that weigh more than the weights they lift in gym class, college freshmen flooding Target and Bed Bath and Beyond for the cutest sheets and the miniature lamps and everything to make their dorm room a cozy space.
I love school.
My life has revolved around the school calendar year for as long as I can remember. My mother, a teacher, has been on the school schedule since she was in kindergarten. Summer and school years came and went, and I was always ready for the next one. I dream of bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils, dry erase boards, and flashcards. Even in adulthood, my career revolves around a calendar that begins in July instead of January. We’re settling in from our most recent transitions and digging in our heels to learn a little more every day.
I love school.
In what one friend recently dubbed, “chalkboard season,” the pages of social media are full of new outfits, new backpacks, and chalkboards marking the occasion of this new school year. In church this morning, we blessed backpacks of students standing in the service with us, and we blessed backpacks that are going to bring joy and a sense of belonging to students who need a little extra blessing this school year. We pray for learning, for safety, for growth, for friendships that encourage, for teachers who invest in the lives of these young persons. We imagine the overjoyed face of a student in pigtails when she finishes her timed test with seconds to spare. We look forward to the pride of a spelling bee winner when they nail that final word. We picture the late nights of college students cramming for their chemistry exam or writing the paper for their literature class with a cup of coffee and a determination to get through.
I love school.
I love teachers who encourage, who plan, who create a welcoming classroom, who grade papers, who find innovative ways to help their students understand new concepts, and who teach today’s youth what it means to be a good citizen. I love teachers who cry when they see a sad story on the news because they empathize with the families and communities and cannot imagine what it would be like if hate and sorrow and pain permeated the walls of their own school communities. I love administrators who work tirelessly day after day (year-round! what a concept!) to make sure they provide a safe environment, an encouraging environment, and a educationally rigorous curriculum so that students can not just pass a test but can reach achievements beyond what others may think is possible. I love school crossing guards who keep children safe as they cross the road, janitors who stop what they’re doing to help a little boy tie his shoe, receptionists who greet everyone with a smile, bus drivers who deliver kids safely to and from the building, and cafeteria staff who make sure every child has their nutritional needs met.
I love school.
The past few years, though, I’ve gotten to see the other side of the beginning of the school year. Working in a hospital, I am fortunate to meet lots of families. Some are anxious to get over an acute illness so they can get back to their normal routine. They continue to plan for the first day of school, even if it may be a couple of days later than when all the other students went back. Other families, however, are already in a new routine, and those students are getting a different kind of education. These families are trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in their child’s life, which becomes a little more difficult with the start of a new school year. Instead of buying colored pencils and erasers and ten boxes of kleenex for the first day of school, they’re learning how to sleep through 4 am vital signs and lab draws, how to position an arm just right so the port will draw, how to convince a child to eat and drink when their appetite is ruined by their medical treatments, how to entertain a 6 year old who should be in kindergarten but is instead spending their time lying in a hospital bed. Their backpacks are not full of homework and newsletters. Their backpacks are full of nausea medicine and tube feeds, full of an extra set of clothes in case this trip to the emergency department turns into an overnight stay, full of iPads and coloring books and anything else to help distract their child from the wait for lab test results and the fact their classmates are moving on without them.
I love school, but I pray for those who cannot attend a school this year because of illness.
In the midst of uniform buying, new tennis shoes, the perfect backpack and lunch box combo, and apples for the teachers, there are children across the world who dream of school. In fact, what is more upsetting, is that there are probably some children in the world who don’t even know that they should be in school. There are children who work to feed their families because their parents have passed away from illnesses or violence. There are children who live in refugee camps because their governments and their communities have been threatened and are not safe. There are children who, instead of learning addition and subtraction, are forced to learn how to shoot a gun and become a child soldier. There are children who have special needs and live somewhere where they are neglected and get little stimulation – not because they are not loved, but because there are not resources to care for them. There are children who are excluded from class because they don’t have a uniform to wear or a tablet on which to write.
I love school, but I pray for those who cannot attend school because of poverty, shame, or violence.
So, as this school year begins, I ask you to take a minute to think of all the students who are embarking upon the next step in their educational pursuits. I also ask you to take a moment to say an extra prayer for those children who are not wearing a backpack – whether that be because of illness, poverty, violence, or whatever reason. May the generations continue to strive to give every child a new day, a new possibility, a safe community, and the education they need to continue to provide for future generations.