As I sit in front of the computer in my makeshift classroom in my laundry room, in this new normal, I am reminded of a story that Fred Rogers — Mr. Rogers as he was known to those of us of a certain age — recounted after 9/11. He said: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
As we enter our final week of emergency teaching, I can’t help but think of everyone in School District 25 as those aforementioned helpers — those caring individuals in these uncertain times we are living in.
I see the district leaders working though spring break and drafting plans to deal with this never before occurrence. The collaboration and cooperation to ensure the safety and well-being of the employees, learners and families, as well as the education of the children has been unparalleled.
I see the teachers frantically translating classroom curriculum onto online platforms or paper packets. I hear the stories of teachers reaching out and checking on students, families and their colleagues. I see the messages of thanks on Facebook to teachers for bringing needed items to students and their families. I see the video lessons created to try to reach out across distance to our sorely missed students and I see the smiling faces looking back on the computer screen as I fumble my way through new to me technology. And I take the calls of those teachers who are emotionally and mentally drained but back at it the very next day.
I see the bus drivers, maintenance crews, custodians and classified staff rising to meet the challenges of new job descriptions and new technology. I see them working in empty classrooms and hallways completing much-needed repairs and emptying out long abandoned lockers. And I see them meeting students and their families each week handing out and collecting assignments, distributing food backpacks and yearbooks while checking on them and maintaining those relationships.
I see the building administrators and counselors managing staff and students in a time when neither could be in the building. I see them fielding calls from staff and families and locating resources all the while trying to navigate a never before experienced district wide closure. I see them checking on staff members and completing visits to the homes of learners.
I see the technology department, already woefully understaffed, collecting and distributing over 7,000 computers. I see them launching a new help desk with extended hours answering thousands of calls from bewildered teachers, paras, students, and parents.
And who can miss the dedicated cafeteria workers making breakfasts and lunches and joyfully handing them out five days a week in rain, wind, heat and even snow? Dressing up, dancing to the tunes playing in the truck as they deliver hundred of thousands of meals to grateful families throughout Pocatello-Chubbuck.
Finally, I see the parents and students trying to make this work in a situation no one could have expected when we began school way back in August. I see the tears of frustration from adult and child alike while trying to master technology and curriculum as well as prolonged forced togetherness.
As the school year winds to an end, we must take a moment to collect ourselves and breathe. We must acknowledge that this was tough — no other way to describe it. But we persevered and made it though. As we celebrate, albeit remotely, graduations, retirements and farewells, I want to thank each and every one of you for your dedication and commitment to our students, their families, colleagues and our community. I, along with parents and community members, are in awe of you who daily go above and beyond. I am humbled and honored to stand in the ranks with my fellow educators of Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25.
Since I began this with Mr. Roger’s on my mind, it seems only fitting to end this just as he ended every single one of his shows: “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.”
Mary Anne McGrory is the president of the Pocatello Education Association.