by Ralen Robinson

The new school year is fast approaching. This time pre-COVID, we would be inundated with back to school commercials, sales for school supplies, pictures of children wearing their new clothes on the first day back.

Yet, this school year looks different. New regulations and guidelines are being imposed. Options for online learning and partial in-person teaching are planned to replace in-person classroom settings. The usual excitement to hug friends, talk about summer memories, and file into classrooms is on hold. Teachers, parents, and students are trying to figure out how to go back to school as safely as possible.

The normal we knew is now an alternative world. Physical contact is restricted, faces are covered, and friends are visited through a screen.

This fall is not what we expected. How do we step into the new school year with restrictions, regulated days, learning via zoom–no normalcy in sight?

How do we approach the school year with excitement and wonder?

We hold to the words etched into the book of Joshua: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua’s words affirm that God is with us wherever we go. Doubt, trepidation, and weariness have no place here. The text encourages us to be courageous and willing to learn new things in changed times.

These words will prevail when classrooms are not as you remember them. We remember and hold tight to those words that learning can occur through this time of uncertainty. Gaining knowledge can occur.

This fall is the moment to explore, wonder, and find oneself amidst the chaos. Yet, this is easier said than done when all you want to do is return back to bustling hallways of schools, embrace someone without fear, and remove the screen’s barrier.

This situation is hard. We need to name that, own that, and live into that. Once we do, there is a possibility to grow, to learn, and to reshape the year.

So, the question for this new school term is, what do you want for your school year? How are you going to navigate these unfamiliar waters in a time of unrest?

Look for the little things that make you happy. Bask in friendship. Explore new ways to tackle information and be in the moment. Because going to games, dances, plays, and school festivities is halted, we must redirect our desire to grow and explore. In this time of transition, we can meet our new norm with strength we never knew we had, discover learning through technology, and tap into new gifts. We know the fall is not what we expected or could imagine. So, keep moving forward and keep growing. Stand in the moment, strengthen your skills, use technology to the fullest, and appreciate that education can be elevated. Now is the time that you can create and make it your own.

Closing prayer:
Gracious God, we come to you in this time at the beginning of the new school year with many feelings that we can’t convey feelings of fear, trepidation, and hope. We ask that you guide us in this time of uncertainty that we learn new ways to gain knowledge, perspectives, and skills. That through this newness, we can see the gifts you have given us and bestowed upon us. Allow us to continue to thrive, preserve, and wonder during this time. Amen.

Discussion questions: 

1. How are you preparing to go back to school?
2. What are your goals for the school year? And how are you going to achieve them?
3. How will you take charge of your learning this year?

Ralen Robinson is a recent graduate of the United Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia. She is currently seeking a call to be an ordained minister in the ELCA. Ralen believes faith and a good pair of shoes can take you a long way.