Keep Both Feet in the Door


On March 13th, Graded will commemorate the day when it first closed its doors for nearly seven months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What started as an exciting two-week holiday turned into an infernal quarantine filled with speculation, isolation and desperation. No one ever expected that a simple virus would leave the Class of 2020 without a graduation ceremony, let alone cause IB exams to be canceled for the Class of 2021. Yet as we look back on what this year has brought us, we cannot be so quick as to look forward already. Having recently had the highest number of cases since the initial March 2020 lockdown, we are nowhere near being out of the woods yet– even if it feels like it at Graded.

As I covered before, being able to learn on Zoom while in the middle of a global pandemic is the epitome of privilege, and we should not let it go to waste. Therefore, one can only imagine what it means to be on campus while cases keep on climbing all around us– probably in closer proximity than we think. But even as we test weekly and take the appropriate measures, staying safe when we go home is now even bigger than preserving our own opportunities to be on campus. Gathering in small groups, wearing masks, and socially distancing is now more clearly than ever about Brazil, and us doing our part to help when leaders seem to be unable to do so. 

As bars previously opened before schools, one couldn’t help but wonder two things: firstly, how did putting off the reopening of schools benefit those going through the hardest times, and secondly, what does it say about our values? For many parents, schools have two main functions– namely, educating their children, and being a place that assures their children are safe while they go to work. By not opening schools before bars, schools’ first function was completely undermined given that children simply could not learn. Staggering behind on their studies and widening inequality, children in public schools were put at a real disadvantage that will be tough to recover from. In the longer term, Brazil will undoubtedly see the effects of an uneducated society: happiness levels going down, the economy struggling to grow as people’s productivity decreases, and more political polarization as inequality rises.

On the other hand, schools are slowly opening up again but concerns of teachers being exposed as they are unvaccinated still surface. While Graded students, teachers, and staff may be able to test whenever they need to, teachers all over Brazil understandably are hesitant given the high risks they would be taking as the general population fails to follow health guidelines. Though we may not be at such a high detriment if schools close again, we have to do our part and stay safe as others around us try to be in classrooms like we are. It cannot be that we take better care when we have seven cases than when we have seventy thousand a day.

Moreover, with schools opening again, the second function is also addressed and alleviates working parents of an additional stress-factor. Balancing both a job while taking care of your children– especially if they are little ones– is unimaginably difficult. Throughout the pandemic, women have been the most impacted by unemployment worldwide as they take charge of domestic duties and caregiving responsibilities. In Brazil, considering that women are the main breadwinners in nearly 45% of households, putting off the reopening of schools placed far too many families under pressure to keep their head above water through already-difficult times. Yet going back to classrooms gives parents a chance to take a sigh of relief– that is, unless you or someone in your family is part of a risk group. Similarly to teachers, parents are concerned about sending their children to school as measures seem to get looser or fall on deaf ears. Again, we have to continue doing our best outside Graded for others to get the same sense of stability and somewhat normality that we get from being on campus. 

Though we are leaving behind the days of “beer over books” as government officials are now maintaining schools open while bars shut down for the fase vermelha, this improvement comes late and with high risks to teachers and parents like previously explained. I appreciate that leaders are finally taking more appropriate measures, but as President Jair Bolsonaro keeps on questioning masks and social distancing, the rising numbers on newspapers are not only an obvious reflection of our government but more deeply, of us. It’s comfortable to blame the government for their incompetence– though it is unmistakably central to our circumstances– but we cannot abscond of the role we also play in aggravating the spread. While we have been to campus since September of last year, leaders only significantly allowed public schools to reopen just over a month ago. Most recently as we enter a stricter stage of precaution, government officials have now made more efforts to keep schools open at a limited capacity. We have seen that regardless of whether leaders keep taking more steps forward or revert back to their old ways, one thing can be constant: our behavior. If we consistently make efforts to take safety measures regardless of what leaders say, then consistency won’t mean eternity. 

We simply can’t afford to keep on thinking about our next steps in terms of what’s good, easy, or beneficial for now. Whether it be about the next policies leaders will implement or whether we hang out with twenty people at someone’s house, we have to think about others and place ourselves in their shoes. We have to think about our long-term consequences and desires. If we are really serious about overcoming the pandemic, we must be patient and make sacrifices but until children, teachers, and parents have the same stability that we have, we must chip in our part. We cannot be so quick to have one foot out the door while there are millions being left behind.