Woog's World: Westport should thank students, teachers for all they've done

I would not want to be a kid today.

Since mid-March, youngsters have gone through so much. At Staples High School the abrupt end of in-person schooling quashed spring sports, the “Seussical” play, the Pops concert, proms, senior internships, awards ceremonies — along with any sense of normalcy, finality and fun.

Middle and elementary school students found themselves upended too.

School is as much about socialization as education. All the daily interactions that give meaning to youngsters’ lives — and help them grow as human beings — suddenly stopped.

Westport students are now nearing the end of their first hybrid month. Less than half the school is in session any day. On Wednesday, Bedford and Staples are fully remote. Some families opted to be all remote, all the time.

It’s not easy. Staring at a screen for up to 80 minutes at a time is hard on anyone, let alone itchy, short-attention-span teenagers. The technology has glitches. Teachers are still figuring out how best to address the needs of students who are sitting right there and those staying at home.

In each building, the halls are quiet. Plexiglas separates friends at usually raucous cafeteria tables. Clubs don’t meet after school.

But here is the astonishing thing: Since March, I have not heard one complaint about what’s been lost. Not one teenager has said, “Why did this happen to me?” No one has moaned about the unfairness of life.

Adolescents are a notoriously whiny, self-centered bunch. I am around them plenty. I know how much their lives revolve around spending time with each other, discovering their place in the world, testing limits and being kids. They moan about restrictions: curfews, time spent on devices, whatever. Bitching about life is part of growing up.

Yet this one time when teens have a legit gripe — they had nothing to do with the coronavirus, yet it has upended their world for half a year, there is no end in sight, and collateral damage may last for the rest of their lives — they have risen to the challenge.

They don’t like wearing masks, but they’ve gotten used to them. They hear about new ways of doing activities they love — radio plays instead of mainstage productions, shortened sports seasons without tournaments, virtual after-school activities — and they jump right in.

I can’t count the number of times a Staples student has said, “I’m just happy to be…” out on the field, in the choral room, or wherever. My hat is off to our Westport teenagers. I don’t think I could face a sudden new world with the maturity, grace and flexibility these young people have shown.

Of course, they have superb role models.

School administrators worked tirelessly all summer to develop the hybrid model. They created completely new schedules. They examined every inch of every building, making changes large and small to address safety concerns. They looked at cafeteria operations, maintenance and buses. And whenever guidelines or recommendations shifted, they did it all over again.

Students know that administrators have their best interests in mind. They see that their teachers are rising to the greatest challenge of their careers too. Some are comfortable with the new technology they’re being asked to learn quickly; others are not. Some can adapt their lessons to a remote audience; others have a tougher time. All are faced with learning new faces, new personalities, new styles of learning - while half of those faces are obscured by masks.

That’s only part of it. Teachers have full lives outside the classroom too. Most educators cannot afford to live in Westport. So they juggle their own children’s crazy school schedules - and activities - in towns far from here. They worry about daily contact with colleagues and students, and the possibility of bringing COVID home to their own spouses or elderly parents. Everything everyone does these days - making lesson plans, taking attendance, even shopping for groceries - takes more time. And if there’s one thing teachers never have enough of, it’s time.

They may get stressed. They may snap at partners, or wonder why they didn’t choose an easier career, like neurosurgery. But they are there for their students every morning, every afternoon, every day. “There” may be a classroom, with socially distanced desks. It may be a camera, zooming in on a gallery of faces miles away. It may take a steep learning curve. But teachers do it, so their students can learn and grow. And so their students can have some semblance of a “normal” life.

My hat is off to our teachers. I don’t know that I could do what they do. Nor would I want to try.

I have no idea what tomorrow may bring. But to our administrators, staff and students: For all you’ve done from mid-March to early October, all of Westport should thank you.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.