By Cory Armstrong-Hoss / Herald Forum
“You’ve been given a great gift, George: A chance to see what the world would be like without you,” says the angel Clarence to Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Most of us remember what happens next: a desperate George, convinced he’s losing his mind, runs into town to find that Bedford Falls has been transformed into Pottersville, with quaint storefronts replaced by flashing neon lights advertising Girls, Gambling and Pawn Shops. At the end of the 1946 classic, George only truly appreciates the love and support he has in his life after he’s seen a world without them.
We’ve also been given a great gift. Starting in March of 2020 and running for nearly a year and a half, we had a chance to see what the world would be like without in-person public schools.
Nearly 10 out of every 11 K-12 students in America attend public schools, which means most of those 6- to 18-years-old in our communities, including my three kids.
When we think about public schools, we think about teachers, books, tests and homework: essays on apples, spiders and the Civil War; math worksheets with grids of equations on one side and story problems on the other; and tri-fold boards with pictures, paragraphs and charts on a South American country or a sea creature.
There are many things we don’t think about. We don’t think about the thousands of kids in Snohomish County who eat breakfast at school Monday through Friday, or the even larger number who depend on free lunch each day. We don’t think that P.E. or recess might be the only physical activity some kids get all week, or visits to the school nurse could be the only medical care some kids will get all year. We don’t think about the school counselor calling number after number, trying to find a therapist who can see a kid paralyzed by panic attacks.
And there are things we don’t want to think about. Teachers, aides, nurses, counselors and other school staff are all mandated reporters, and together comprise one of the largest groups in our state who notice and report child abuse and neglect. They see our kids five days a week — really see them — and notice if Dylan hasn’t changed his clothes in days, or Zoey has bruises on her wrists that look like fingers, or that Jaime isn’t getting enough to eat. They are a crucial line of defenders, advocating for our most vulnerable kids.
What happens when all of that goes away for nearly 18 months?
Kids lose caring, committed, consistent adults in their lives. They lose supportive, healthy environments. They lose opportunities to create positive, reciprocal relationships with peers. And they lose the chance to become someone apart from their parents and siblings, someone resilient, resourceful and ready to tackle new things.
Like George Bailey we’ve been to the brink. We’ve seen the desperation, anxiety and chaos that can occur when something we’ve always taken for granted is gone. Like George, we’ve been given a great gift: to see what life is like without the institutions upon which we rely. Thankfully, we now have in-person learning back. But, schools need our help.
On Feb. 8 there will be an election, and throughout Snohomish County many of us will have a chance to support public schools. Voters in Darrington, Edmonds, Granite Falls, Index, Lake Stevens, Marysville, Monroe, Mukilteo, Northshore, Snohomish, Stanwood-Camano and Sultan have a chance to vote “Approve” on levies that provide essential support for staff, facilities, safety, technology, activities and more.
When you open that ballot, vote for education. Vote for the teacher who gives a jacket to a student who only wears a T-shirt. Vote for the nutrition services staff who give out eggs, toast and a smile for kids on dark mornings. Vote for the nurse who gives a teenage girl a safe place to talk about her boyfriend. Vote for the counselor who convinces a kid that depression is a passing storm, not a life sentence, and that he has brighter days ahead.
Schools are about education. But if we learned anything in the last couple of years, they are so much more.
Cory Armstrong-Hoss belongs to the Citizens Team for Mukilteo Schools. He’s a nonprofit guy and a father of three who lives in Everett with his wife, a dedicated school Nnurse.