Don’t settle for the new normal

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I often glance at Highlanders from a year ago when I start to think about what we might write for each weekly edition. Looking at the archive from July 8, 2021, I saw we covered a slew of virtual graduations in the County.
Because we were in the throes of COVID19, Sam and I watched Zoom presentations prepared by some of the schools. And in that paper, we could only run file photos and submitted head shots.
It was a bit anti-climatic for the grads, their families and friends, and for us. This year was quite a different and much more pleasant experience. Our high school, three elementary schools, and adult ed grads got to receive their diplomas in person for the first time since 2019. They had their names read, were able to walk on stage, be handed that coveted piece of paper, and pose for photos amid the cheers of onlookers.
It felt completely and utterly normal and so long-awaited. History will reflect on what this crop of learners had to endure during a global pandemic. We can glean some information from the past, when schools were interrupted
by world wars, for example. The Science Table COVID-19 Advisory for Ontario talks about the significant education disruptions in Ontario, such as school closures, multiple models of educational provision and gaps in support for some students.
There have been physical, mental health and safety harms for students and children. Some modelling has even suggested long-term impacts on students’ lifetime earnings and the national economy. One local example is the impact on reading rates at Archie Stouffer ES.
Outgoing principal Dawn Sudsbury told the TLDSB school board last year that only 15 per cent of Gr. 2-8 learners were reading at grade level. However, as the Science Table points out, existing information and analysis can inform strategies to minimize farther pandemic disruptions to children’s education and development.
Incoming principal Mike Gervais said they have been tackling the issue and now more than 50 per cent of learners have already closed the gap in a three-year program.
On the plus-side, I would argue that these students may be more adaptable to change and resilient than graduating classes of the past.
They have had to adapt in ways that may position them well for the future. In his address to students, JDH principal Dave Waito encouraged grads not to settle for a new normal. He said the new normal has a lulling sound to it.
Rather, he encouraged them to do better than settle for the way things were. He urged the class to boldly pursue knowledge, social justice and change in their futures. It’s a message for all of us, really, as we emerge from this two-year-long ordeal. It isn’t enough to return to our new normal.
We, too, should want more. And that means things such as valuing our human connections, doing our bit to help an ailing planet, and above all not taking anything for granted anymore