Oh, I how long for a new box of crayons. It’s something I feel every year as summer winds down.

That box of crayons, a 24-count in good years, with perfectly shaped points meant a lot to me as a child. I loved school and I was so happy when the new academic year approached. We’d head to the local store to buy crayons, notebooks, pencils and a new pair of tennis shoes.

My childhood summers were idyllic, quiet days at home on the farm, long walks along the lake, bountiful dinners of sweet corn, tomatoes, and a myriad of other fresh fruits and veggies. However, we were somewhat isolated from others and by August I was a bit lonely.

The county fair helped brighten the late summer days. We’d attend several times and we usually bumped into friends and relatives. On the luckiest nights, I’d find a classmate that I hadn’t seen since May and we’d escape from the adults to find a carnival ride or share a sweet treat.

In really good years, we’d go to the Minnesota State Fair. I did not realize what a herculean effort it took for my father to drive us to St. Paul. He’d get up a few hours earlier than usual to milk the cows, and be back in the house for breakfast at 6 a.m. We’d be on the road by 7 a.m., making the several hours drive to the metro. Dad hated driving in The Cities. He had a back route that took him along East River Parkway, then somehow to Larpenteur and the north fair entrance. We’d hang out until about 3:30 or 4 p.m. and then start the long drive home. (This was before Interstate 35 was finished, so most of the route was on two-lane state or county highways.) He’d start milking the cows again as soon as we got home, and probably didn’t get into the house until 9 or so. I’m sure he was totally exhausted.

State Fair time meant the first day of school was near. It was a thrilling day when we piled onto the school bus for the first time in three months, clutching our brand-new school supplies. Oh, how grand it was to be back among friends and teachers!

I have great compassion for all students, teachers and parents who are also looking ahead to classes resuming. I am only an observer now, with no immediate family in school, but I see and hear the concerns from relatives and neighbors as this very unusual first day of school approaches.

I’ve followed the state guidelines and heard much discussion in the news and on social media, with a great disparity in opinions as to whether children should or should not be in class in person. Unfortunately, it seems to me that everyone is right.

Kids should be in school in person. Children, especially those in elementary grades, are not adept at the discipline that learning requires without their teacher’s careful eye and a gentle nudge. Distance learning takes its toll on all ages, too. Some students struggle with learning disabilities, and still today, many families are without adequate internet speed and computers. Parents try to juggle a full-time job and help their children through coursework.

The uncertainty has to be stressful. If we start classes with hybrid learning, will we be able to stay in that pattern for at least a semester? Or will we suddenly be back to all-distance learning? How will a family survive if mom and dad have to work outside the home? Will there be adequate daycare options?

Yet the health issues cannot be ignored. If my child is in a classroom full time, what if one person gets COVID-19? Will he be safe? Will we be in quarantine?

And teachers are right, as well, to be concerned with their health and the health of their students.

Our educators and administrators are struggling to find the right option and balance for their districts, and I wish them well. It is not an easy choice to weigh the health of a child against the concern that many students, especially the younger children and those from at-risk situations, will never catch up.

Whatever is decided, my wish is that everyone will be able to make the best of it as they go back to school, whether that’s into the classroom or down the hall to the dining room table.

And here’s hoping for a shiny new box of perfectly shaped crayons for every child.

Peggy Bakken is a former executive editor and a columnist for APG-East Central Minnesota. Reactions welcome: peggy.bakken@apgecm.com.

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