On Thursday, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee shut down schools for 6 weeks in my county to slow the spread of the COIVD-19, otherwise known at the Corona Virus. This decision was made by our leaders because our world is suffering a pandemic and Seattle is one of the first cities in the country to experience the direct impact this virus can have on the people we love.
The past three weeks have been the most trying weeks of my eight-year counseling career. As a school counselor, I am immune to a lot of trauma. Put another way, I know how to diffuse thoughts and accept them. I know how to stop ruminating thoughts from spiraling out of control. I know how to put mental images aside and made a joke to carry on and more forward with my thinking. I have the skills to evaluate my responses and in alignment with social thinking to think “how big is my problem really?” and “does my response match my problem?”.
However, in my school community, the fears, worries, and anxieties have imploded beyond reasonable scaling systems. I often ask, “On a scale of 1-5, where are you at with your anxious feelings?”. But both my students and fellow co-workers have been off the charts with the spread of COVID-19 in our community. And I have not had any immunity to the trauma either.
We started the past couple of weeks each day with an e-mail learning about potential COVID-19 contact breaches in our district. A parent of a student was exposed and passed away. A travel partner of a teacher had it and the teacher was quarantined. A teacher got it and the staff members around her were quarantined. The specific school was shut down for a day and deep cleaning occurred. Operations resumed as normal the following day.
But it wasn’t normal. Our school community had an anxiety pandemic before the COVID-19 was even labelled as a pandemic. The parent of the student who passed away was family to my school community. His daughter went to my middle school and she was a super star leader as an 11-year old. It was painful. There was grief. And then one of our math and science teachers was quarantined for 14 days because her mother was one of the many senior citizens who were largely impacted by the Corona Virus at the Life Care Center of Kirkland where over 19 souls have died to date. This was followed by a plethora of staff absences where there were not enough substitutes to cover. And the analysis of vulnerable staff members who should be staying home but do not have enough sick leave to make it happen- like my closest friend at work due with her baby in June. Not to mention anywhere from 150-200 students were held home each day by their parents. And as the days went on more and more students stayed home. By Thursday, out of 10 kids in my Lego lunch, I had 5. COVID-19 has impacted everyone, even if they have yet to come in contact with it.
As a school, we taught kids the myths vs. facts of the COVID-19, we reviewed PowerPoints of how to effectively wash hands, and we tried our best to remain calm. They say not to panic, but calm is not how a middle school in the middle of COVID-19 proceeds. I walked into the lunch room one day and felt like I was in a zoo. My 7th graders all earned assigned seats at lunch. It was pure chaos! Hyperactivity is a product of trauma! And hyperactivity we saw.
And I couldn’t focus as a school counselor. My brain was flooded with questions and what ifs. As it became more evident that we would be experiencing a long term school closure, my thoughts split into many directions. My work on the computer is evidence of this. At one point I had over 25 browsers open. Think about that. Twenty-five browsers!
Was a long term closure actually going to happen? If so, how long? How could kids learn? Can we actually create an equitable learning practice while shut down? What would this mean for kids who don’t have a stable home situation? What does this mean for kids who don’t have access to food? What does this mean for my students who need mental health services and counseling? What does this mean for our world at large?
And the cancellations began to role in. After school activities were cancelled for a couple of weeks. There goes Girls on the Run, Beauty and the Beast Jr., Academic homework room, Social Thinking, and Pride Alliance to name a few clubs our students rely on the feel connected and loved. Volunteer programs were asked to come to a halt until further notice. Goodbye Seattle Children’s Theatre Above, Between, Below production and classroom learning where students learned how to handle bullying. That won’t be learned this year. And Adios Career Day where kids hear from local volunteers and community members speaks about their journeys and passions to their career. Then goes sports. Sports games canceled followed a few days later where practices were suspended. And while I know these orders need to occur, I am still devastated by the last impact they will have on our youth.
Meanwhile our economy has taken a big hit. And I know many of my student’s families will suffer financially because of it. Today we don’t even have reassurance that my fellow para-educators also known as non-certificated staff members will be paid during the 6-week closure. Without childcare and k-12 school more people will have to stay home without pay to watch their children. It’s a financially debilitating cyclical shit show.
I have felt all the feels these past three trying weeks. So, when Governor Inslee gave his 2:00pm speech yesterday on Thursday March 12, 2020 with directions on how we as a state will work to slow down the spread of COVID-19 I found myself both nauseated and relieved. I felt both panicked to not see my students for six weeks and relieved that the educators and students will all be much safer.
So today I am thinking largely about what my role as an educator and school counselor will be during this time. I have today off and Monday off before I receive more direction from my district as to what I need to do to carry out my school counseling duties. Meanwhile, I’ll be dream lining my own ideas of us working together, helping each other out, figuring out ways to stimulate the economy, shopping and eating local, and by God loving one another during this time.