The week before our vacation, we suddenly heard about the potential for students to return to school. Our students have not been present in school in person since March of 2020. That’s 2020, y’all, not this most recent March. They have now spent 16 months out of school, mostly learning through videos at home. I haven’t even met the vast majority of my students. (I have met two students at church. Two. And I’m pretty sure that one of my students sat across the aisle from me in the bus one time when I was going into town to buy groceries because I got stared at more than the usual level of “You’re a white person in Guatemala, what are you doing on the bus?” It seems strange to me that students may feel like they know me since they see me in videos every week, but I literally don’t know what they look like.) So it was with great excitement that we learned that the government was maybe, possibly going to allow students to return to school. There were just a whole bunch of hoops we had to jump through.
The first thing was a questionnaire sent home to parents so that they could indicate whether they would want their children to attend in person or whether they would want to continue their learning at home. Parents needed to send that questionnaire back the first week after vacation. (Parents come and pick up/drop off a packet of homework weekly, so that was to be included in the packet that week.)
Parents were pretty divided on the issue, with some parents wanting kids to be back in school but others wanting them to be in the safety of their homes. However, the point has become moot with recent Covid 19 case counts rising rapidly in the country. Our department (region) is very solidly in the red, and restrictions have increased again. Rumours of full hospitals abound, and we will not likely be seeing students in person any time soon.
While this is a wise safety measure in a country with a struggling health system at the best of times, it’s also frustrating and devastating to not have had students in school for the last sixteen months. Many of you, my dear readers, are parents or teachers. You have seen the effects of at-home learning in your own lives. Many of you have felt the effects of working from home. I’m sure that you can imagine the devastation of those effects compounded over such a long time.
Those effects are even more devastating with even more compounding factors – students living in homes where parents are dealing with unemployment or underemployment and a very minimal social safety net, parents struggling with alcoholism, parents who both have to go to work meaning older siblings are responsible for younger siblings while trying to make sure everyone gets their school work done, too.
It’s frustrating to be able to see from the outside how broken the system is and yet to feel so powerless to do anything to change the system.
We do have some students in person – 23, to be exact. The children of staff members come with their parents to school on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. They have in-person classes, and in between teaching those students, we complete all our other duties – filming videos, editing videos, grading papers that came in on the latest Friday, and preparing lessons and homework packets for the upcoming week.
I love, love, love having students in person. I teach a total of three students in person (bringing the total number of students I actually know to five!), and it brings me a lot of joy to actually build relationships with them, to see them growing in their English skills, to get to know them in a way I just cannot get to know students who are learning from Facebook videos. But what I love most is the way I see the blessing they receive from being here at school, the impact that being in person has on them. I see the impact of them being in class, being able to ask questions and participate, being able to get to know their teachers. More importantly, I see the impact of them being in devotions together at the start of every school day, spending time in worship and prayer, being ministered to and prayed for by staff members. And yet, seeing them impacted in this way, my heart breaks for all of the students who CANNOT be with us, who are missing out on these experiences.
But every time that I am tempted to despair, God reminds me that God is not limited by students’ presence (or absence). God can work in students’ and families’ lives in the interactions that we do have with students, in whatever medium that happens.
If you’re not following Global Shore on social media, you should be! But if you aren’t, then you missed a story that reminded me of exactly this fact (posted on July 26 if you’d like to find it to read for yourself). Let me paraphrase for you here. Leo, the school librarian and substitute teacher, told about a new student who was having a hard time. The student wasn’t a Christian and didn’t want to be in a Christian school. But his parents insisted on him attending. As he heard teachers begin class with prayer and explain Bible passages, his heart began to change. When he was invited to attend the every-other-week pre-teen services, he accepted the invitation. His parents are seeing a change in his attitude and life just from these experiences.
This story was a reminder to me that we often don’t know how God is moving, but we can trust that God is. We will move forward in faith and in faithfulness, doing what God is calling us to do in this season. And if you’d like, you can join me in praying for students’ hearts to be receptive to what God is doing, and pray for students to be able to return to school in person.