Pelham Together: With stress of Covid’s impacts, school year presents new challenges, calls for empathy and kindness


It’s hard to believe we will be gathering for Thanksgiving in a few days. Gathering—in person, with our families—looks very different this year than the Zoom gatherings and outdoor meals of last Thanksgiving. We are in a much better place this year than last; however, the strains and uncertainties of the pandemic remain. At this point in the third school year touched by Covid, we are hopeful that we can temper our excitement with patience, understanding that each of us is in a different place now than pre-pandemic, and as always, being mindful that none of us truly knows how our friends and neighbors are faring.

While Pelham students have returned full-time to the classroom, and everyone is back to at least parts of old routines, some of us still hesitate to engage in behaviors that used to happen without consideration: riding Metro North, visiting grandparents, hosting a sleepover or eating inside a restaurant. Not only have our routines been upended, but we have lost family members, friends, workspaces or livelihoods. The level of background stress is higher, as almost every day it seems a new national, global or local crisis emerges, and lingers dimly but constantly in our minds. At the same time, our everyday comforts are fewer. For some of us, the longing for in-person connections—feeling the hugs, watching the silly teen wrestling, enjoying the familiarity of visits with extended relatives—has been so significant that we worry our neighbors will shy away from us, lest they get trapped in a half-hour conversation.

Over the past three school years, our kids have missed opportunities to learn from older students, to develop relationships with teachers and to share the daily ups and downs of childhood just hanging out with friends. During the pandemic, many of the rituals of their lives instead played out on screens, some with real friends and some with illusory social-media personalities. Students have gotten rusty without the daily rhythms of in-person school and the repeated practice of school routines. For younger students, simple tasks like taking turns or opening a folder need to be learned again. For older students, the transition back to sitting through 41 minutes of teaching, changing classes in three minutes and balancing a full workload is not as simple or smooth as they may remember or expect. And surely teachers feel the students’ stress, while managing their own personal and family concerns.

Because of these compounded stressors and our rustiness at resolving interpersonal conflicts, an irritating comment or habit that we might have shrugged off before seems bigger now—we hear stories about adults throwing tantrums on airplanes, in restaurants and on grocery lines; tempers flaring because some haven’t found ways to cope with feelings of frustration, anger, exhaustion or grief; requests to transfer roommates in the first weeks of college without ever having a conversation about why; breakdowns in playground behaviors. Without a doubt, a combination of immaturity, anxiety, inconsistency and disconnection are factors that have led to an increase in regressive and impulsive behaviors at home, at school and in public.

With so much uncertainty and lingering stress, we may all benefit from taking a few steps backwards before we can move forward. Maybe we do our best to let go of expectations and pause to acknowledge that this school year presents different challenges for each of us and that mistakes will be made along the way. Let’s offer ourselves and others some patience and understanding as everyone dips their toes back into routines. A conscious decision to extend this grace and forgiveness may be the best way we can do our part to take care of one another. Empathy and kindness toward ourselves and others—the next step forward, together.

Editor’s note: This statement was provided by Pelham Together.