Reflections/Jonathan Gramling

Jonathan Gramling


What a Year!

What an academic year it has been. And I am so glad that the COVID-19 pandemic health guidelines have been lifted, which means that come this fall, our public schools and others schools will be in-person once again. It has been a loooooong time coming.

By the time the COVID-19 pandemic is over, I think we will all deserve a pat on the back for having survived it and succeeded as best as we could. And while we must give homage to our frontline workers: people working in the medical and food service fields, there are others whom we must also pay homage to.

Right now, I am in total awe of parents of school-age children. I can remember the days back when I had small children and was married back in the 1980s, we lived in relatively cramped quarters and would get out as often as we could, whether it was to a local or state park, down the street to the old Burr Oaks Bowl or to the video game shop in West Towne. Days when we were shut in due to snow and cold soon led to cabin fever.

And so I am in awe of these parents who at the beginning were with their young energetic children 24/7 and then had to be their children’s quasi-teacher’s aide as the whole household adjusted to the virtual classroom. I can’t imagine trying to keep track of children in separate areas of the house — if those separate spaces even existed — ensuring that they were engaged or doing technical trouble shooting if the live feed had been lost.

And then the parents had to also fulfill their own professional duties most of the time online. Not having to dress up was the good part and there was no commute. But that is little solace to the never ending demands within those tight quarters for days at a time.

And there was no place to send the kids or for that matter, for parents to go by themselves as most of the gyms were shut down. There was no hairstyling going on. And people were learning to cut their hair or top style it for the first time in many years.

While I know that we lost some educational time through all of this and that increased mental health issues are present in society, I have to give the parents of school-aged children a rousing standing ovation. Even just having the children safe and healthy is worth the ovation.

And then there are the school teachers. Going online with a moment’s notice was an incredible feat. And how to you keep a child’s attention when it is so hard to look them in the eye through a computer screen that is showing all of their zoomed faces at one time. Face-to-face learning is so important. There is something to that interpersonal interaction and exchange of knowledge. We are social creatures and are not computers where we can download the information into our brains via a virtual source. And then often times, teachers also fit into the category of parent sheltering in place with young children.

And so teachers also deserve a standing ovation. While I have heard stories of some teachers basically going through the motions and waiting for the pandemic to run its course, I have heard many other stories of teachers being innovative and creative in transmitting knowledge and understanding to their students. I have heard off some meeting on the streets outside their students’ homes with parents and students to make sure they kept the connection and the learning process going.

While I am sure that teachers, like everyone else, had to fight depression and all of the other emotions that the pandemic evoked, let alone if someone they were personally connected to had COVID-19, teachers were there for their students. They had to arise above the fray professionally to keep the learning process going, no matter at what level.

And so, while I don’t have school-aged children at home, it doesn’t lessen my appreciation and admiration for parents and teachers. If we have any sense of normalcy to come back to, it’s because parents and teachers kept us in the ballpark. Bravo! Bravo!

The COVID-19 pandemic also impacted our ability to publish this graduation issue. As the months dragged on without any day-to-day contact with schools, from pre-K to the university level, it just seemed that days and seasons just mashed into each other. While I knew that UW-Madison’s spring semester was coming to a close, I only realized it intellectually. All of the other signs were gone, disappearing into the pandemic cloud of perception.

And so by the end of April, guttural panic began to set in as I realized that there were some awfully early graduations this year. I am grateful to my contacts at UW-Madison, Edgewood College and Madison College for helping to line up some college graduates to interview.

I loved connecting with the graduates and learning about their journeys. Each of the journeys are different and have something different to tell us about life. Congratulations to them one and all.

In particularly, I have to give a shout-out to Kingsley-Reigne Pissang, who is featured on our cover. I have known Kingsley’s mom — and her — for the longest time. And I was delighted when Kingsley became one of my PEOPLE Program middle school students when I taught in the summer program. And I think it was towards the end of her high school career that I started saying I was going to feature her on the graduation issue cover someday. Well that day has arrived and it has been awesome to watch Kingsley grow into the leader and successful college graduate that she is. Congratulations Kingsley!