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Monday, March 29, 2021

Pandemic Daze: Growing Hair Like Rapunzel

 Technically, growing hair like Rapunzel isn't necessarily a feature of pandemic life, but I suspect that many of us had at least a brief period when it felt like it was.  In many areas, including mine, salons and barbershops were forced to stay closed for a while during the beginning of the pandemic.  I remember reading that there was a run on products like hair clippers and hair dye, as people struggled to maintain their hair at home.  Pre-pandemic, I typically got a haircut every couple months, and I don't dye my hair.  I had just had a haircut in February 2020, and I figured I'd maybe miss a haircut and then get back into my usual hair care routine.

In my area, salons and barbershops reopened in the summer of 2020, albeit with restrictions.  A lot of people jumped at the chance for some professional hair maintenance.  I decided to hold off.  I had become more concerned about the coronavirus than I was in March 2020, when things initially shut down.  And there were other risks I was taking that felt more important to me, like going back to my gym, looking to buy a home, and occasionally eating out.  I decided to wait and make sure there weren't any major outbreaks linked to salons.  Besides--I was low maintenance and could keep wearing a ponytail for a few more weeks.

As we moved into late summer and early fall, the number of cases rose again.  I also moved, which brought its own set of risks (ahem, maskless movers).  I decided I'd better keep holding off.  As time went on, my haircare moved from ponytails to messy braids (I never became a proficient braider in all that time).

Of course, winter brought a lot of cases and deaths.  Plus, by early winter, vaccines were on the horizon.  After having waited all that time, I decided in only made sense to hold off on getting a haircut until I was fully vaccinated.

Finally, two weeks after receiving my second shot, I got my first haircut in over a year!  Scott went with me, having also foregone haircuts for all of that time.  His hair was the longest it had ever been in his life, so his transformation was arguably more dramatic than mine.

Nonetheless, it had probably been a good 20 years since my hair had been that long.  When it was dry, it hung well past my shoulders; when it was wet, it reached the middle of my back easily.  I hated the feeling of wet hair against my back after a shower.  I hated having to braid it every day or risk it getting tangled.  I hated the amount of time it took to comb it out.  I also felt like I didn't look like myself.  The long hair was like a younger version of myself, transplanted on an older face and body.

It may be a small and somewhat shallow victory, but getting a haircut was a considerable boost to my spirits.  I don't know what the "new normal" will look like for us all as we hopefully move out of constant risk, but even having six inches chopped off my hair made me feel like I was moving in that direction.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Pandemic Daze: Returning To School

 One of the great debates during the pandemic has been what to do about the schools.  I think many people agreed that closing them at the beginning of the pandemic was a smart decision.  After all, we had very little information at that point about how Covid was transmitted.  But I also think most of us thought we would ride out the school year with virtual education, but then have the students return in the fall.  In my area, most (if not all) of the public school districts initially had plans for the students to return for hybrid education in the fall, generally with a plan for one day of asynchronous virtual learning for everyone, and then everybody going to the actual school for two days so they could have half the student body attending at a time.  As Covid cases rose during the summer, they had to revisit those plans.  The public schools in my area opened virtually in the fall.

Since then, the reopening process has been controversial.  I work as a contractor for one district in my area.  They had initially started a phased reopening in the fall, with groups of students coming back in relative order of need for in-person instruction.  They had to pull back as cases rose again.  After winter break, everyone was initially virtual again.  They have since phased in reopening again, to great controversy.  On the one hand, there were concerns that virtual learning was just not working for some students, and that students with existing struggles (special needs, challenging family circumstances, etc.) were at a particular disadvantage.  On the other hand, people have legitimate concerns about getting sick.  Data showing that transmission levels in schools are low when mitigation measures are in place is small comfort if mitigation measures are difficult to enforce (try enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing around preschoolers, for instance).

I can really see both sides of the issue, and I haven't been able to fault anyone for having strong feelings about it one way or another.  But the reopening that I have seen in my district has been eye-opening, to say the least.  In my district, parents were given a choice of whether to return their children to in-person instruction.  Of my current caseload, less than half are returning to in-person instruction this year.  Of those who are, most of them will only be in-person two days per week.

In order to accommodate as many family's wishes as possible, many kids are switching teachers mid-year.  At least a few of the students on my caseload have been pretty unhappy about that, and especially for kids who are already struggling for any reason, it seems that switching teachers in the middle of the year is counterproductive.  It also puts an additional burden on teachers, needing to get to know a whole new set of kids in the middle of the year.

There is also the question of what actually happens in the school.  I went into a kindergarten classroom recently and saw a bunch of kids sitting in desks spaced apart, with a taped-off square for each one.  Every kid was on their laptop, watching a teacher do something.  It looked like their at-home virtual learning had just been transplanted into the classroom.  I've also seen the very real challenges of trying to simultaneously engage students who are in the room and students who are learning from home.

I think the bottom line is that there is a lot we just can't predict.  We can't predict whether reopening schools under these less than ideal circumstances will benefit students enough to justify the risks.  We can't predict what sorts of gaps in learning will become evident once our lives return to some version of normal.  I'm hoping that while we're still stuck in this limbo we can move beyond whether schools are open or closed, or whether the learning is in-person, virtual, synchronous, or asynchronous, and think more about how to help kids learn as well as possible under any circumstances.