02 Apr School Rituals Out The Window
Christenings. That first day of school. That end-of-term party. Even Friday-night fish and chips. They provide a routine and a sense of purpose, particularly for our young. A sense of belonging.
For our senior students, navigating that tricky last year of schooling, many of those have now been stolen from them.
That trip to the snow. The first 11 soccer team. The school production. The school camp. The sports carnival. The formal. Even the Thursday late night study session in the library.
You’re not hearing them whinging out loud, because they’re not. This generation of 17-year-olds is intelligent and empathetic and understands how far down the COVID-19 queue of concern they currently sit.
But we should be worried – as parents and educators – and in the largesse that’s being thrown around like confetti, they need to be a policy focus.
Because in their late-night and early-morning social media missives to friends, their heartbreak is real.
“I’m struggling,’’ one says. They weren’t worried about getting sick, another says, it was the isolation and the fact there was no end date to this. And not seeing grandparents she adored.
Another just wishes she could hug the friend who always makes her feel better. “We’re grateful for what memories and experiences we did have this year, but really heartbroken about the ones that we will never get,” another says. “I’m just lost,” another says.
Both boys and girls miss sport, and the close-knit teamwork that goes with it. The lead-up. In the dressing rooms later. The chance to make the winning try, or goal.
Many parents of senior boys worry that their sons have swapped their bedroom for the football change room. One says she fears not the hours on the console, but what might be going on inside her son’s head.
Talk to some of our senior girls, and they provide the compelling evidence of how articulate this generation is and how vulnerable they now feel.
They seem to miss the social connection more than their male peers. The hugs. The high-fives between class. Even their teachers.
Communal Netflix movies, house parties (online) and zoom catch-ups have helped. But in one of 100 ironies, they now want “real” contact.
But what happens to those who don’t have computer and social media access? Or those reserved souls who don’t have the confidence, at least now, to reach out? Those who seem happy to self-isolate from others, who normally envelop them?
Some schools know the challenges over the next hill, and are reaching out, working overtime to develop online classes as well as online catch-ups. They know the latter is as important as the former.
But the transition to online school will be difficult for some students, and impossible for others. Do you really think my 16-year-old son is going to sit at a computer for seven hours a day doing lessons, one mother quips?
Even the studious will find it hard: “A lot of the novelty of doing online school and trying something new has worn off for me, and now I’m just worried that in the subjects which I already had to work super hard in, I’ll fall behind,” she says.
It’s the small things too, that these students feel angry they’ve taken for granted; mostly the happy memories they planned to make this year.
To some, without a child in year 12, this might seem trivial. But not to those who are sitting and watching s their children – the first to enter prep and middle school and the first to study the new ATAR curriculum and then become the first to navigate a pandemic during their graduation year.
Even their academic path, while compromises have been made, remains rocky and vague. “If you can find out what is happening, anything, would you mind letting us know,’’ one mother says. Several are already planning to have their child repeat Year 12, next year.
Another says this: “They have worked so very hard and they had goals and benchmarks on personal levels that they were hoping to satisfy in this last year of schooling, and as parents we cannot compensate for all that is now gone – and that is heartbreaking.’’
“There’s an overwhelming sadness and a sense of loss,’’ another says. “We’re told to teach them about perspective, but tell that to a 17-year-old.’’
That mother has discreetly taken her daughter’s formal dress out of her bedroom cupboard, and hidden it downstairs. She doesn’t need to be reminded daily that is another ritual that looks like being stolen.
Trivial? I thought back to when I was 17, and graduating from Dalby State High School. I remember the dress I wore to my debut. Debating practice. The stage production. Our graduation, wrapped in as much fanfare as our school could muster.
All rituals. And still important, three decades or so on.
Madonna King is a leading journalist and commentator. An award-winning presenter of 612 ABC Brisbane, she has authored 12 books and now works across radio, television and online.