Jessica Berry

Scott City Elementary School
Scott City, Kansas
Jessica Berry, Kindergarten

“I will do whatever it takes to stay in school.”

 Those are words I repeat to myself daily, I say those words to parents, I say those words to students, I say those words to colleagues, I say those words to administrators, and I say those words to community members. Because it is true.

I have been teaching for almost 20 years, and quite honestly entering the 2020-2021 school year I felt like a first year teacher. In fact, when I truly was a first year teacher I felt more prepared than I did this year, because I had been taught how to be an educator, I had experience in the classroom, I had mentors to guide me and answer my questions … but this year … every educator everywhere entered unknown territory together. No one had experience with a pandemic such as this. No one had the answers. No one knew what to expect. No one knew if the decisions that were made, the plans that were developed, would work. There is not a district anywhere that has dealt with such a scenario, so there was no framework to use.

The fear of the unknown – that is what paralyzed most educators, parents, and community members and kept us from being able to stand tall at times when all aspects of the world as we knew it seemed to be collapsing around us. The “what ifs” were endless. The plan kept changing, but here we are … we made it through the first 9 weeks, and together we are doing what it takes to stay in school. Everyone’s reopening story is different … here is mine:

I teach kindergarten. I have been teaching kindergarten for 9 years. If you teach kindergarten/early childhood, you know there is never a dull moment. The days are filled with lots of laughter, and sometimes tears. You can see SO MUCH GROWTH from week to week, month to month, and that last quarter of the year is so much fun. The kids are exploding with a love of learning, they are so much more independent, they can read and write, they have learned how to be a good friend, they are little sponges just soaking up the world around them! We got robbed of that time in the classroom last year when the pandemic hit. School buildings closed, the world around us changed like nothing anyone has ever experienced before. Not knowing how to be a virtual teacher of kindergarten kids, I made the most of it and through trial and error (and lots of grace from my families) we made it through that last 9 weeks. It was difficult, it was challenging, it was emotional. There were highs, there were lows, but through it all I know that class will forever hold a special place in my heart. We went through something together – and we made it. They will tell their grandchildren about what happened when they were in kindergarten, and I will be a part of that story. They taught me as much as I taught them during the 2019-2020 year, and we finished out that year together, even though it looked very different than “normal”.

“Normal” … what the heck does that even mean now? I am blessed to be a part of a district that made a plan to get us back in the buildings for 2020-2021. Our administrators, school board, and health department worked tirelessly to develop a tiered reopening plan … and as an educator, I truly feel that being in the classroom is what is best for kids! I mean, I thought ALL teachers would want that. I hear of teacher union groups pushing for their districts to go remote all year – at the risk of not knowing all of the details for their decision or action plan, I would question their reasons for becoming a teacher if they do not want to be in the classroom setting with their students. Being back in the classroom has not been without some challenges, there have been some new procedures and protocols put into place, and the plan that was put on to paper before the doors opened seems to be everchanging as situations arise. And with all the information out on the table, some families have chosen to attend remotely, or even homeschool, and to each their own … one thing I learned through all of this is that you have to do what works best for you – and that will look differently for each individual/family. For me, as a teacher and a mom, I spent many months hoping and praying that our schools would reopen this fall, knowing it would look differently than it has in the past, but also knowing that being in school (even with some extra precautions or procedural changes) is what works best for me as an educator and for my own family.

One perk to teaching kindergarten/early childhood is that they don’t know school to be any other way than it is right now – they have not yet experienced years of being in school without masks, no concern for social distancing, no limit to group sizes, and without worry of whether we have sanitized everything enough times each day. Wearing a mask when we can’t be six feet apart is just part of what they do, washing hands and cleaning tables frequently is just part of what they do, bringing water bottles from home and not sharing supplies is just part of what they do – and when presented to them as “this is what we have to do to be able to stay in school”, they do it without hesitation. If the time comes that remote learning, or even hybrid, is necessary for the safety of our students and staff, so be it … I know that decision will be made only if it is what is best for kids at the time. We know better now. And when we know better, we must do better. So going remote or hybrid will not look like it did last spring. We have a plan, and we each must do our part to follow the plan and do whatever it takes to stay in school.

Don’t mess with teachers – we were given a couple of days to change everything we do and everything we know about education … and we rolled up our sleeves and did it! I read a quote in an article the other day talking about how we cannot be blind to the social emotional and mental health concerns of kids not being in school – it said “we are driving with the headlights off, and we’ve got kids in the car” – I am so thankful to be a part of this district where our headlights are on and our kids are buckled up as we go on this ride together. And on the long days when I feel like what we are doing is not sustainable, I look at the faces of each kid that was placed in my class for a reason this year, and I know I have to keep doing what is best for kids … whatever it takes.