Guest column Catherine Corson, Toni Cunningham, Sheilah Jones, Amy Martin and Laura Muller: Appreciation for educators, community

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

We, the undersigned, understand and empathize with the frustration that many feel with the continued closure of our school buildings.

The limitations of remote learning and the profound impact having kids at home has on working families has pushed many to their limits. The struggle is real and not felt equally.

This past year has shown more than ever how much our society relies on public schools for provision of social services. We are all experiencing loss, grief, trauma and a sense of powerlessness. We need to be kind to ourselves and to each other, and come together as a community.

We recognize that educators are working harder than ever to make remote learning as good as it can be. Having kids at home has offered an opportunity to see into the classroom, and we have been impressed with the thought that has gone into adapting pedagogical approaches for the virtual environment, the efforts by educators to build community and to keep students engaged in what is a challenging medium.

We have seen educators demonstrate exceptional creativity and willingness to learn new technologies while teaching. We have seen middle and high school syllabi that are comparable to — and in some cases, superior to — college syllabi on similar topics.

We have seen that remote learning, in some cases, can afford a better student-teacher ratio, allow educators to more easily meet their students one-on-one, and provide technological advantages, such as language translation and captions.

We support the right of the Amherst-Pelham Education Association (APEA) members and their elected leadership to negotiate for the safest working conditions they can, and their right to expect agreements to be honored. While we understand it is not the intention of anyone to pressure individuals to return to school if they are not comfortable, public discourse can have that effect.

Stating the obvious, at the root of the problems we face is the inadequate federal and state response to the pandemic. While the COVID metric agreed upon in September by APEA, the school committee, and the superintendent may seem low and rigid in hindsight, it is what the parties agreed to and we respect APEA members’ right to stick to it.

Any return to in-person school will take careful planning, in collaboration with educators and other school staff, to ensure that students who are the highest priority — as identified by the educators and beginning with the side letters already on the table — return to a safe, healthy, and supportive space.

We encourage all, no matter their position on when to reopen school buildings, to direct their energy and activism into advocating for state officials to allow school staff to be vaccinated now, to make widespread testing available in schools, for a restructuring of state funding to school districts, and for taking the community closure precautions that the CDC recommends.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. By September, we are hopeful that we can safely reopen for all students who want to return. In the meantime, we want to acknowledge and applaud our educators who have made Herculean efforts to provide an education under incredibly challenging circumstances.

We, as a community of parents, educators, and administrators need to work together, across our differences, to come up with the best possible solution for our children, families, educators, and the greater community we all share.

In addition to the authors, this column was co-signed by the following community members: Michael Ash, Sonya Atalay, Felicity Aulino, Rachel Broudy, Sarah Buteux, Ian Camera, Amber Cano-Martin, Madeline Charney, Omar Dahi, Jessica Dautruche, Kristen DeAngelis, Irene Dujovne, Sara Eddy, Cora Fernández Anderson, Desmond Fitz-Gibbon, Judith Frank, Elizabeth Garland, Andrey Guidera, Ellen Guidera, Krista Harper, Megan Healey, Laura Hunter, Andrew C Jones, Diana Kaiser, David Mednicoff, Joya Misra, Kevin Moore, Jennifer Page, Geneva Schmitt, Megan St. Marie, Sean St. Marie, Daniel Weinbaum and Heather Welch. The authors can be reached at EducatorAppreciationAmherst@gmail.com.