Growing Community: Looking for lemonade

The signs of spring are miraculous (and we’re biased), but more dramatic in the Roaring Fork Valley than almost anywhere. To go from snow and the many shades of brown and grey that succeed it — to the astoundingly vivid green that pops seemingly overnight and sweeps up valley — is an amazing and invigorating annual event.

It reminds us of renewal, and this year in particular, of recovery. A theme that many are discussing, and one that was by no means guaranteed even a few, short months ago in this pandemic year.

As with anything, adults — and children — will react differently to major life events. There are many who will find it easy to shake themselves off and head back out into the world with the pandemic squarely in the rearview mirror.

The fact is that once you’ve had that vaccine, you gradually feel yourself emerging, blinking into the sunlight. You sit around a table with friends again. You move towards and not away from other people. You begin to imagine uncomplicated travel and important life events.

Children will bounce back most quickly. When we look around the Aspen schools — or any schools — we see the vast majority of kids just being kids. They are amazing creatures — adaptable, resilient and gifted with the ability to live in the moment. They will remember the pandemic, of course, but the trauma of the event glanced off them.

However, some children and adults will find it harder to recover and for many recovery will take longer. This gives us an opportunity to remember that we are not all wired or situated in life the same way.  This pandemic did create major, global trauma, and kids are not exempt from its effects. Luckily for us, trauma and its potential impact on our mental and physiological selves is becoming much better understood. Care providers of all kinds — including our educators — are trained in a trauma-focused approach to what they do. This is more essential now than ever.

We understand that reactions and behaviors of all kinds have their roots in trauma, and not just for an individual, but can be passed on within families and even across generations. By understanding trauma and what it does to us, we can both empathize and also provide appropriate services and support in every facet of life, including in preschools and schools.

Locally, it’s time to consider our untenable economic foundations, to look at the challenges of living here, to examine our systems, identify gaps in provision, our risk and protective factors and to consider how we engage and support the entirety of our community. That means considering every single person who is part of it.

This also means taking a long look at our children in all their beautiful diversity — the educational foundations we provide them with, their resilience and mental health needs, the opportunities to engage, play, learn, develop interests and grow into the productive and contented adults they are entitled to become. Every single one of them. That’s why the politicization and vilification of the concept of “equity” that is rearing its head in society, schools and other institutions is an ugly and cynical thing. It is more important and necessary now than ever to remember our humanity, recognize inequity and take account of everyone.

In some ways, this terrible time and terrifying pandemic — which is still ravaging the planet — provides us with an opportunity to press the reset button. Despite the trauma, we must learn and grow and improve together.

Growing Community, by Shirley Ritter, the director of Kids First, and Katherine Sand, the director of Aspen Family Connections, runs every other Wednesday in the Aspen Daily News. It features topics of interest related to early childhood, parenting and education. To reach the authors, email Shirley at shirley.ritter@cityofaspen.com or Katherine at ksand@aspenk12.net.

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