Words & Banter

RED & BLACK ... Going Back To School

Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


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I can't believe it's already September. Labor Day's when I usually lament summer being over, yet rejoice that school has started!


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Labor Day is when I stop wearing white shoes. However, due to Texas heat, I will not give up my white jeans for at least another month or so. But, thanks to COVID-19, I barely go out.


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Oh yes, the coronavirus has definitely changed everything, whether going out or going back-to-school. I know the last few months of school were online but I'd hoped the new school year would be back to normal.


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That was wishful thinking. I know this is not how Sawyer planned to start her senior year. The good news is she already completed most of her critical classes, although the spring semester was a mad dash to convert to online learning, and may have been less rigorous than usual.


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At least, like many teenagers, she's comfortable being online. But I can't even begin to imagine how schools that have always centered on in-person learning can make the shift to online teaching. How do you spin on that dime? And what about elementary school, where so much of it isn't book learning, but actually doing things in the classroom?


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Educators – with students of all ages, including adult education – will have to be creative and innovative.


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Now there's an understatement! Especially as sitting in front of a computer all day can get tedious. Well, for anyone except you.


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Sawyer is very lucky. She has a laptop computer with all the software she needs and, minor interruptions aside, reliable Wi-Fi at home. What about all the students who are not as fortunate? What about the school districts without the manpower and expertise to develop and offer online teaching and online resources?


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Gee, I hate to admit it, but there are so many things we, no make that I, take for granted, until something happens. So, how are those students coping?! It seems so unfair.


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There definitely is an education inequality, and there is no quick fix. Meanwhile, schools are scrambling to get computers they can lend out, Wi-Fi is being made available by non-educational entities, and learning to teach using "less- than-smart" phones is being done by very creative and dedicated educators. They are our new front-line heroes.


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Absolutely! Can you imagine what going back to school would have been like if the coronavirus had struck decades ago when we were in K-12? Or, even 20 or 10 years ago?


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I hope that is a theoretical question, as you know that I prefer to look forward, not backward. Anyway, before the internet and social media, things would have been very different. On many fronts.


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All I know now is that the coronavirus is not only impacting learning, but also grades and testing, which is a HUGE part of what school's all about.


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Actually, in that regard, COVID-19 might be a good thing.


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Excuse me? I know you can spin anything, but really?! How can the coronavirus be good on any front?


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I will not get on my soapbox, but the focus on grades, standardized testing, and teaching to the test has not made education better. The lack of preparing students for life, but instead preparing them for grades and test scores, has led to a ripple effect that impacts not only students in terms of becoming productive individuals, but businesses seeking employees that possess more than just book knowledge.


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Yes, I know. Well, after years of listening to you talk about this, I know. I certainly didn't when I went off to college. You, of all people know my story – great grades, great college, but totally clueless about life. But whether you like it or not, students need grades and testing scores to move to the "next level".


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Really? Not this year. Standardizing testing, including the SAT and ACT tests, are not happening. Even class grades are being impacted. Since Sawyer is a senior, how she "presents" herself to colleges will have to be more than her GPA (Grade Point Average) and test scores.


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No kidding! The original plan was to take the SAT this past spring and again in the summer/fall. Now, I can't help but roll my eyes. For years, all we heard about is how critical the SAT (or ACT) is and now, in what seems like the blink of an eye, it's gone by the wayside.


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Which should help students who do not do well on standardized tests. Not to mention, the ones who are so much more than their grades and test scores.


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That's what we're hoping. Sawyer, although a very good student, knew some of her course selections might be considered "less-academic" than traditional college prep classes. So, last year she put together what I call a "marketing document" for college volleyball coaches to share with admission offices that explained how and why she selected her high school classes, as well as identified her skills and strengths. Things like leadership, communication, teamwork, etc.


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Guess she has been eavesdropping on much of what we have been saying for years.


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Technically, you started it. But once you explained it to me from a business perspective, it made perfect sense. Personally, I think that if students had the flexibility to focus on being well-rounded individuals with strong skills sets and not just grades and test scores, it would be a huge improvement,


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Which further supports my comment that COVID-19 could be a blessing in disguise. It is forcing the education world to come up with alternative ways of doing things. Some may be an improvement over how things had previously been done. While others will show how desperately things needed to be changed.


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I couldn't agree more. But do you think change in the education world is possible? After all, it's human nature to just revert back to the way things have always been done.


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There is no going back to the pre-pandemic world. COVID-19, and the associated economic upheaval and use of technology, has changed everything. Not just education.


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I guess, in one way or another, we're all going back to school in that we have to learn how to do things differently. Although I'm not sure I want to as I really don't like change.


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Well, like it or not, change happens.


Want to read other columns? Here's a list.

Photo by OnTheRunPhoto for iStock


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I keep getting emails about where to go for mocktails. I know alcohol-free cocktails, like Virgin Margaritas, have been around for a while, but I’d never heard that term before. Do you think it has to do with New Year’s resolutions?


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It can if any of your resolutions are to lose weight, save money, sleep better. Or, drink less. Psychologically, January is the month when we “reset”, so a UK-based organization, Alcohol Change UK, started Dry January, where you abstain from drinking alcohol.


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Perfect timing since many people shop, eat, and drink more than usual over the holidays.


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I know you used to drink a glass of Cold Duck on New Year’s Eve, a tradition going back to our childhood, but that hardly counts as drinking. But, I have always wondered why you rarely drink, but never asked.
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Photo by bhofack2 for iStock

Popcorn! Quite simply, it’s one of my absolute favorite things. Starting when I was a child, whenever I went to the movies, I’d get (and finish!) the largest bucket of popcorn available. And I always thought movie popcorn was far superior to what you could make at home … until a recent trip to visit a close friend in Tennessee, and she introduced me to Great Northern Popcorn (I promise this isn’t a paid ad). Now I’m addicted to it as I can make it on my cooktop. I know Black would be more interested in the science of what makes popcorn pop, but I prefer to just be obsessive about my popcorn …

Popcorn. Just the thought of popcorn makes me smile, makes me want to indulge, makes me happy. And I’m guessing my popcorn obsession makes Black roll her eyes (although she might admit it can be a healthy snack). However, plenty of people must love popcorn as much as I do. Why else would there be a National Popcorn Day?!

Over the past few years, the pandemic posed challenges that none of us could’ve foreseen (and I’ll never forget the dedication of the front-line workers or make light of the sacrifices so many had to make). But part of me has to laugh at the irony because it ended my seemingly easy “escape” from the stresses of life – going to the movies and enjoying the largest bucket of popcorn – when I needed it the most.

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Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


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You’re going to roll your eyes, but lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about myself.


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That is totally out of character, unless you are thinking of New Year’s resolutions.


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Actually, no. For decades, my priorities, and therefore my life, have always been focused on the girls and Mom. But that’s all changing. And I’m not sure how to “change” with it.
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