One year ago, we recorded the first school district closure: March 5, 2020. By March 25, every public school district in the country, best we could tell, had shut down in-person instruction and launched a mad scramble to reinvent teaching on the fly.
And not just teaching, either. The scramble then, and now, involved recreating school itself and all that it means—a place of learning and caring and community—through remote, virtual, digital connection. How well that has gone will be a subject of debate for decades to come.
We arrive at this anniversary in a prolonged state of turmoil. So much has been accomplished, so much remains unresolved and so much—so many—have been lost.
At Education Week, we’ve been thinking a lot about what it means that we have returned to the month of March with our education system still in upheaval. It’s not an anniversary to celebrate, for sure, but it’s hard not to see this as a moment for reflection.
It seems to me that we owe ourselves a little time for looking back, but we owe it to one another to keep looking ahead. We do have one story on a year in the life from the school district in Everett, Washington where the first school K-12 student case was found. Reporter Denisa Superville talked with school and district leaders to paint a portrait of this one, uncertain, unending year.
Also, we created a timeline of the past 12 months. If there’s a theme to our efforts through the pandemic, beyond sheer usefulness to our educator readers in a time of crisis, it has been to provide you with anchors of information, flagpoles to help you orient yourselves in the moment. With so much in flux, so many options to consider, decisions to make, sometimes the most valuable thing you can have is simple, basic, immovable information. What is the one thing we actually know?
That’s how our work on the pandemic started, with a simple effort to track school closures on a map. It became a newsroom-wide cause that fed strategic planning decisions across governments and private companies.
Today’s timeline is another effort in that tradition. Yes, it’s a list of dates and events, but scan it and see if it elevates your sense of where you are today.
This is also a good moment to scan something else. Late last spring, we created a page on our site devoted to honoring educators lost in the pandemic. It’s not comprehensive. It’s our best effort to track the toll on lives of this horrible time and so each week a couple of our people collect news accounts of deaths within the education community, they verify their information, secure a photograph if possible, and then add them to the display. I spend time with this page every so often and it never fails to move me.
Like you, we have learned a lot about how to adapt. In 2019, we launched an exciting video project about a program at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., that uses a unique cohort system to help underprivileged students perform better in Advanced Placement courses and on the AP tests. That was the plan. The video we produced in December was instead about burgeoning college-ready students trying not to let the coronavirus knock them off their hard-fought path.
Over the course of the coming weeks, some of the stories we bring you will be touched by our own sense of reflection on the time that has passed and what the future holds. We won’t call them out as anniversary pieces, but you’ll notice them by the arc of the stories they tell.
One final thought. Last spring, one of our reporters, Stephen Sawchuk, wrote a story that explored the fundamental question of how essential schools are in our society. It’s a story rather than a collection of data, but reading it again now, it feels very much like an anchor or a flagpole, orienting us in this moment.
As I said, this is not an anniversary to celebrate, but how should we think about it? I won’t presume to suggest an answer for you. But I hope that in the days ahead you find time to think, grieve and reflect before looking ahead. This country needs its resilient schools and its resilient educators.