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Nurturing the New End-of-Summer Butterflies

By Allan Shedlin

Dad, Grampsy, Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group

Visiting my daughter Raya's class - she teaches bilingual 1st-grade in Albuquerque, NM

Once upon what feels like a long time ago, the butterflies that hatched before schools opened for the fall were primarily felt by students. As a former teacher and principal, I can let you in on a secret: plenty of teachers and administrators feel some pre-opening jitters as well. And I’m also aware that the empathic parents and grandparents among us may not be entirely spared those jitters either.

But that was back in the "pre-covidious" days when things surrounding the opening of school were a lot more predictable and when we weren’t in the midst of an unprecedented convergence of unnerving, if not outright frightening, conditions that include:

  • A deadly, out-of-control pandemic

  • Extreme racial reckoning

  • Widespread unemployment and economic distress

  • Greater awareness of climate change amidst the earliest hurricane season in decades, as well as “historical” wildfires; and

  • Extensive/far-reaching global tensions and realignments.

And all of this is amplified by the looming national elections taking place in a nation more divided and confrontational than any in our lifetime.

As principal in New York City, 1983

When the cocoon of childhood summers past opened into a more predictable fall, the emergent butterfly was able to unfurl its new wings and fly into a school year much like any other. Many of the things that precipitated those pre-opening butterflies felt in the pit of many stomachs [a full explanation is offered here in my original take on the concept] would be resolved mostly by the predictable rhythm and familiarity of schedules and reassuring adults.


But the reassurances that parents and teachers could offer before are essentially gone because there is so much we really don’t know, including such basics as:

  • The very nature of the COVID-19 contagion

  • The frenzy of last-minute decision making about whether kids will be allowed in school buildings, when, and for how long

  • How kids will get to school safely

  • What the arrangement of classes will look like

  • When schools might suddenly close

  • Where kids will eat lunch; and

  • If they will only be able to “attend” virtually, where will needed computers and reliable internet access be secured to serve ALL students?

So, the new landscape into which these butterflies fly is unfamiliar, if not outright unknown, and uncertain. And that is equally true for the adults who have often provided the protective cocoon the caterpillars need to complete their summer metamorphosis into butterflies ready to fly. Each of us will need to dig deep to discover reassurances we can provide that might encourage the butterfly to emerge from its safe chrysalis. Here are a few reassurances adults might offer:

Photo by my granddaughter, Casey, Cape Cod, Oct 2019
  1. We will do everything in our power to protect them

  2. There is unprecedented cooperation and sharing of knowledge among the world’s finest scientific minds/researchers toward finding a cure

  3. Vast financial resources are available from a number of local and national sources – public and private – to help cope with the consequences of the coronavirus disaster

  4. There is increased awareness of underlying social and economic factors that make some populations more vulnerable to suffering from such disasters and greater attention to addressing these

  5. There have been previous pandemics and world catastrophes, manmade and natural, that have occurred on a similar scale – although those were pre-internet and thus less widely-known – and humanity has survived, and

  6. The confluence of crises has provided us a unique opportunity to see how interdependent we are as a species.


I’ll bet you and your children can come up with other ideas you can share with each other, as we are indeed all in this together.


If we summon our most optimistic and resilient capabilities, we will be better able to encourage our kids to move from pupal to pupil. If not, who could blame them for waiting for a more hospitable time to emerge from the comfort of their summer cocoons?


Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, a “bonus” son, five grandchildren, and three “bonus” grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, policy development, and advising. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, and now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019 he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy and Mommy Up! programs. He earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D the most important “degree” of all.

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