First days are hard, especially first days of school. They come with new teachers, new material, perhaps a new building and - even with the same peers - new or evolving social circles. Often, parents try to lessen the nerves around the first day of school through celebration. They buy new clothes, as well as backpacks and lunchboxes with favorite characters on them. They make a special breakfast and take a photo on the front steps to commemorate. They reinforce a foundation, essentially, of love, safety and warmth at home that will remain with the child through the newness of the school year and beyond.
But what of the children who don’t have that? For many young people in foster care, the first day of school is even more nerve wracking, not only because they are so often in a completely new school with unknown peers and teachers but because they know their home lives are different - and not only different but likely temporary, making the first day of school in August or September the first day at this school and just one of many to follow.
If you’re like me, your social media will be flooded with first day of school pictures over the next few weeks. Enjoy those photos. But while doing so, don’t forget that not every child is having the same first day. There are some for whom it is a greater challenge.
This spring, even as late as early July, things were looking up. Vaccines were widely available, transmission rates were down and the media was hyping a return to almost normal. Then vaccination rates stalled, the delta variant became the dominant variant, and transmissions of COVID-19 began and continue to rise.
Yet again, it feels like we’ve taken too many steps backward. It’s frightening but also frustrating, because now is supposed to be different. At least, that’s what we’ve told ourselves.
It may be a while yet before masks come off once more. We may start or continue to pause our in-person meetings and rethink our plans for the near future. But we should not lose heart. We can do this.
Last month, Earth’s Future published a study on the impact of extreme heat in the United States. The study found that people who are low income and people of color live in significantly hotter neighborhoods than those with higher incomes, as well as those who are non-Hispanic, white. The disparities occurred across more than 70% of the counties studied in both subcategories, and in some cases, the difference in temperature was as great as 7 degrees Fahrenheit. When those 7 degrees are spread across ever new and increasing temperature records, that can be a life-ending difference.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us again and again that a global experience, even a community event, is felt differently depending on individual circumstances. The same is true for climate change and more. The disparities that exist in our county, our country and throughout the world will only continue to grow without action.
It is up to all of us, particularly those of us with more resources at our disposal, to find a path toward equity. When the heat is bogging you down this month, remember that.