An Inadequate Thank-You Letter

Whoever you are and however you helped children this year, thank you

By Melissa Stefanec

To all of the people who work for and in schools: after this year, this nation owes you a debt of gratitude.

The school year you weren’t sure you would make it through is almost over. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but you kept going for the sake of the kids. Your hardships were many and often unseen.

So, I want to use this column to recognize some of the people who made learning happen this year.

• The cafeteria staff. Meals at school were certainly different. You didn’t see smiling faces lining up for pizza. You didn’t live in the energetic atmosphere of the school cafeteria. You packed rolling carts with brown bags. You prepared lunches for parents to pick up from their vehicles. You literally kept the kids fueled.

• The greeters and wranglers. A lot of parents shuttled their kids to and from school this year. I want to thank the staff who stood in the wind, snow, cold and rain. Keeping hundreds of families safely moving through a queue is no easy task. You were efficient, careful and kind. It could have been a mess every day, but it wasn’t.

• The librarians. The school library wasn’t open, but you ensured my kids had books. You packed a rolling cart with diverse titles. You listened to my children and saw to their requests. Library was one of their favorite specials. Thank you for finding a way to make books exciting with nothing but a cart.

• The school administrators, clerical support and county health departments. I saw how many emails came on weekends. I saw Monday emails in which you said you just completed a three-day investigation. I saw the evening hours. I appreciated the efficient and direct communications. No matter the personal sacrifice, the safety of my kids was your top priority.

• The school counselors and augmentation staff. Whether you were seeing to kids’ occupational or mental health, it had to have been a tough year. Speech pathology had to have been a hoot when everyone was in a mask. Thank you for overcoming your obstacles so children could overcome theirs. You were more essential than ever.

• The bus drivers. Bus drivers have it tough without a pandemic. Thank you for putting your health on the line to see children to school. Thank for navigating the extra stressors this year must have brought.

• The teachers and aides. It’s unlikely that anything in your education or experience would have prepared you to become a master app navigator. A year and a half ago, Google Classroom probably wasn’t in your vocabulary. You had to acquire new technological skills while a stressed-out world tracked your every move.

And technology was just one of your challenges. You had to navigate a difficult world. You had to make it fun, when you didn’t even know how to make it happen. I know the work day likely took on a new meaning. No words I could type would capture the depth of your efforts or my gratitude.

• The art teachers. My kids brought home some beautiful art this year, yet they never entered an art room. I have to imagine that finding socially distant and executable art activities was no easy task. Thank you for giving my children a creative outlet when they needed one the most.

• The music teachers. Without singing and instruments, it was a tough year for music. However, you didn’t let the learning stop. My kids still looked forward to music class. I’m sorry that the very best aspects of your craft were taken from you.

• The school nurses. Every cough, sniffle and warm forehead had new complications this year. I can only imagine the administrative and personnel headaches you faced. Thank you for staying engaged and supporting children. You were the first line of defense.

• The PE teachers. Physical education often relies on proximity to others. It must have been a tough year for you. However, you found a way to make it fun. Thank you for keeping my kids’ bodies in motion, with six feet of social distancing. I don’t know how you did it.

• The sanitation staff. You spent your afternoons and evenings scrubbing, wiping and disinfecting. Some of you never even engaged with the children you worked so hard to protect, but you kept doing your best by them. You were more than essential.

• The communicators. In a politically and socially hostile environment, you found a way to send out subjective and direct communications about what the community had to do to keep each other safe. I appreciated your tact, consistency and level headedness.

So, whoever you are and however you helped children this year, thank you.

To anyone I may have missed, the sincerest gratitude and apologies. To the staff at my children’s school, you’re the reason my kids jumped in my car with a smile every day. I (and many other parents) am forever thankful for your contributions.