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It's a bizarre start to the school year, but we know better days lie ahead. Let's all stay safe and make the most of it.

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - The halls of St. Helens Middle School were mostly quiet in this 2019 scene, and they will be deserted even once the 2020-21 school year starts up as students learn remotely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.Typically, around this time of year, we write an editorial about the start of another school year.

It's a time ripe with possibility, as children and teens begin another nine-month odyssey that will help to shape who they are and who they might become.

It's a time full of (less dramatic) changes for the rest of us, too — parents whose houses are suddenly quiet from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., restaurant and store workers whose weekday midday crowds abruptly become older and less garrulous, commuters whose morning drives are now complicated at times by school drop-offs and big yellow buses.

This year, as we all know, is different.

The school year will begin, at least, with "distance learning." Educators are promising to improve upon the experience of the spring, when many school districts and colleges were plunged into all-online education with little time to prepare. That's an issue we will continue to follow, as many families reported problems and frustrations in the spring.

However improved the virtual schooling model may be in the 2020-21 school year, though, it won't make up for every disruption.

Students will still be at home, rather than meeting new people their age, making friends, developing crushes, pushing themselves to keep pace with rivals and building bonds with teachers. These social interactions can be every bit as important for a child's development as learning multiplication tables or the history of Rome or the periodic table of elements.

Socialization is also key to mental health and emotional well-being — small wonder that medical experts are worried about how this pandemic is affecting even those of us who haven't contracted the coronavirus.

Parents will still need to juggle having kids at home with their other responsibilities, such as work. Even though those who work from home might have it "easiest," as many have found out this year, it's often not so easy to get much done while also being attentive to the needs of children, especially those whose attention tends to wander from online lesson plans without an adult to keep them on track.

It will be a strange fall for the rest of us, too. There will be no "Friday night lights." There will be no school buses on the road. We will see kids playing in the park as we take a lunchtime stroll and wonder why they're not in school, before we remember why. We won't be writing up school plays or sports games or classroom projects in this paper, the way that we normally do when school is in session.

And no one knows how long this will last.

But what is most important is keeping families and school staff healthy.

We know that where people gather, especially indoors, especially in cramped spaces like so many of our schools are, the virus flourishes.

We know that even if they are less likely to develop complications from COVID-19 than adults, many children live in the same household as grandparents, whose risk factors are greater, or have parents who are older, or siblings who are immunocompromised.

And we know that many of our "essential workers," from doctors and nurses to firefighters and police officers to line cooks and grocery clerks, have been continuing to risk exposure to the virus by showing up to work every day and interacting with people — and that adding teachers, teaching assistants, custodians, secretaries, coaches, school librarians, school nurses and school administrators to that class of "essential workers" would significantly expand the number of people whose jobs require them to assume a much greater risk of infection than those of us who can work from home or in an isolated cubicle instead.

So, we have this — this school year without schools. Students, parents and teachers simply have to make the most of it, even though it will be very different, and in many ways, it will certainly be worse. We will adjust. This is a temporary disruption, even if we don't know how long "temporary" will last.

As always, we give our warmest regards and wish the best of luck for those beginning a new school year next week. It will be one for the history books.


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