This past weekend, my daughter did not finish eating the egg I prepared for her. When I asked if there was something wrong, she told me the egg was too runny for her liking. Apparently, she discovered this one morning as a child when her mother served a similar runny breakfast. I wondered aloud how her mother – a Newfoundlander – had handled the request of a delicate eater who needed those eggs ‘for her own good’. Talking and laughing about force feeding and guilt trips led my daughter to tell the story of Fred Flintstone – not the cartoon one but a miniature one, a purple one, which comes in a bottle.
Back then, we believed our children should take vitamin supplements for their own good, and like many parents, we chose the fun and colourful Flintstones Vitamins. With ingredients like sorbitol and fructose, today their benefit is questionable.
My daughter went on to recount the story of one morning years ago when she dutifully took the pill from her mother and placed it in her mouth before she and her sister left for school. Not far from the house, my daughter decided that Fred was done: she pursed her lips and spat him out onto the curb. She ignored the reprimand from her younger sister, the girls carried on, and Fred was forgotten at the edge of the sidewalk.
At the end of the day, they arrived home and went into the kitchen where their mom — and Fred — were waiting.
As I mentioned, my wife is a Newfoundlander. They are a passionate hearty breed of Canadian, strong-willed and independent. An elder relative of my wife would greet us when we visited with the salutation, “How are things up there in Canada?”, refusing to concede membership in the confederation. Fred’s recovery and return to the kitchen speaks to the measures we will take for the good of our kids. While my daughter wasn’t obliged to chew Fred, it was a lesson in accountability and honesty … and a reminder not to cross a Newfoundlander.
We do many things in the best interests of our children. And one thing we did last September, here in BC, is send them to school.
For many reasons, from social-emotional well-being to food security, we concluded that the best place for our kids during this pandemic was in school. Nearly a year ago, BC’s education sector undertook the challenge of re-shaping how we would meet the needs of our children through the Spring. Then, in the Summer and through the Fall, the system shouldered the Herculean task of deconstructing and building anew models for a return to school in the safest way possible. And we have spent every day of this school year maintaining these models which keep most of our children safely in school. This past week, I had the opportunity to join some of our students at their school, taking along with me Dr. Reka Gustafson, our Deputy Provincial Health Officer.
I hesitate to say that this was the first school visit by a member of the PHO because it may not be, but I am confident in saying this was Dr. Gustafson’s first opportunity to visit a school. We initially talked about visiting schools in person several months ago; in fact, it was Dr. Gustafson’s idea! One Wednesday afternoon in the Fall, she joined our Chapter Presidents for a virtual Town Hall. Soon after, she proposed that we visit a school together in the interest of supporting and improving communications between the PHO and school leaders. Dr. Gustafson acknowledged that Principals and Vice-Principals are key in the relationship between schools and their communities, and she was keen to engage directly with our members.
Dr. Gustafson, like anyone who hasn’t actually walked the halls of a school, held a vision in her mind of what school looked like in these times. It’s one thing to understand something, and quite another to know it. I understand that it takes a very long time to drive through Ontario, but I didn’t really know that until I spent three days driving between its borders.
With thanks to the district staff who authorized our visit and spent time arranging the details, and after diligently following safety protocols, Dr. Gustafson and I spent nearly two hours walking through the hallways and classrooms of a very busy school. Like many BC schools, the one we visited reports more than 90% student attendance each day. The Principal and Vice-Principal who were our hosts toured us through all areas of the school. As was the intent, the team of school leaders shared the ongoing challenges of developing, implementing, and maintaining the health and safety protocols on the ground. The team spoke with candor about the degree of fatigue felt by all in the system. With respect, and without complaint, the team spoke honestly about the daily spot-fires our members must address. On the day of our visit, the district we were in had to contend with one thousand unfilled absences among staff. It is humbling to envision the practical implications of such a number when you’re standing in the hallways of a bustling school.
It will come as no surprise that our school leaders also shared the joys and successes of each day, giving these stories top-billing.
The communications on this day were meant to be reciprocal, and Dr. Gustafson continually shared information with our team and answered their questions. She even offered some optimistic forecasts for the months ahead. But one important thing that she shared is meant for all of our school leaders.
Dr. Gustafson is a mom, and she expressed gratitude for what we are doing to keep schools open and to keep our children where they must be, for their own good. I know we may grow weary of hearing ‘thank you’ – to quote the wise words of a colleague: “Thank you doesn’t put gas in the tank”. And still, Dr. Gustafson’s words were expressed with genuine gratitude and delivered directly to a Principal and a Vice-Principal while standing in the hallway of their school. It was expressed with knowledge of – and appreciation for – the monumental effort expended by school leaders to keep the doors open and to support those children coming to school.
As we parted, Dr. Gustafson asked if we might visit another school together soon. I think you can guess my answer.
We do many things in the best interests of our children. And last September, here in BC, we sent them to school … where Principals and Vice-Principals will tell you the children are very happy to be.