SMSD News: Life In a global pandemic – how are we doing?

Dr. Mike Fulton has served as SMSD's superintendent since 2018. He plans to retire in July, 2021. File photo.

Across the country, schools are doing something that, six weeks ago, none of us could have imagined – figuring out how to keep our children learning in the Shawnee Mission School District while school buildings are closed. Half-way through the last quarter, I want to take the opportunity to check in and share some thoughts about how we’re doing.

It is important to acknowledge that we are facing a natural disaster. It feels much different than, say, a hurricane or tornado, but in terms of the impact on our community (and in this case, every community across the country, and the world), this is a seismic event. The event is impacting each of us differently. For those who have their health and secure income, the impact is real but perhaps more manageable. For those facing health issues and/or loss of a job, the impact is far more dramatic. Undoubtedly for everyone, there is a sense of loss in connectivity to family and friends that digitally connecting can’t replace. One thing we all share in common is thanks for the women and men who serve as first responders, who bravely put their lives on the line to support the health and well-being of us all.

It is important during this pandemic to pay attention to one another’s social-emotional needs. While maintaining optimism and hope, it is also important to recognize and understand the social-emotional impact current events have on each of us, especially children. Recently I came across a graphic which helps make clear the scale of that impact:

Our staff has done a remarkable job in adapting to our reality of living life in a pandemic. In a recent survey through a social interaction tool called Thoughtexchange, students, parents and staff all place high value on the importance of having regular interaction with one another. We are thankful to have the ability to connect students and teachers face-to-face on-line in ways that support the social emotional well-being of students, along with helping to meet their academic needs.

Given the challenges that so many are facing, I have several requests: First, check in on one another with a text, a call, a note on the door. Some of our neighbors, friends, colleagues and students may be struggling, and we need to put a priority on taking care of each other right now. Next, given what so many are going through, I would ask us to have patience with each other. This is new for all of us, there is still much we are figuring out (something I will talk more about in the next column), and everyone deserves a measure of grace as we work to get better.

Finally, please remember to look out for, and thank, all who are taking care of those essential things that allow life to continue for the rest of us. This is a clear reminder of how interconnected we all are, and how frequently our personal well-being is dependent on the sacrifices made by others. To all those who work in essential occupations: We see you, and the contributions you are making to our community, and we are deeply grateful. Thank you!

Mike Fulton