Throwing Stones: Mary Franitza 5-11-2020

Monday, May 11, 2020
a rock with "hello" written on it
Education and Applied Psychology in a Time of COVID-19

I’ve regained an appreciation for chalk. When I was little, I used to spend hours outside, drawing my own house with chalk and using the dividing lines in the cement to create walls and rooms. There were never any doors, but the neighborhood kids were pretty strict that you couldn’t jump from one square to the next, rather you had to walk down the hallway, or the sectioning lines between cement slabs. Wisconsin summers, as I was reminded by a friend, are the best summers. Cool winds, a wide-open lake, late nights, and of course, dirty feet. Some of that magic came back this week.

I’ve been trying hard to keep my high school students engaged with SKILLS content as they manage increased work hours, family obligations, school, and more than they’re sharing. We’ve been using prerecorded videos for lectures, and I feel so distant. I’ve come to really miss my students’ head nods, table chatter, and pressing questions about relevancy. We have Zoom office hours, email exchanges, and the occasional 1:1 comment chain, but it all feels so incomplete. I took to my childhood roots this past week and used chalk, my driveway, and the ever-faithful dividing points of the cement, to design this week’s lecture on research presentations. While my ability to spell “research” is questionable, the video itself sparked some liveliness in the neighborhood as the spring is finally starting to reach Wisconsin.

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Being in Wisconsin offers me close proximity to one of my five favorite natural occurrences, Lake Michigan of the Great Lakes. I’m spending COVID-19 a few miles from the body of water, and the miles of beaches lend themselves to socially distant walks and a change of scenery from the computer, desk and wall that usually consume my day. I took a walk this week along the shore and realized I hadn’t seen the lake since I moved to Santa Barbara in September, the longest I’ve gone without seeing the waves, shrinking shoreline, and plethora of rocks. My friend met me there, easily 8 feet between us, facemasks on us both. We couldn’t hear each other over strong winds and crashing waves, but I saw her, and she saw me. There was something to be relieved; she had flown back from Hawaii shortly after I settled into quarantine in Wisconsin, but the giggles of looking at each other from feet apart, wearing practically the same outfit and matching fabric facemask, provided assurance that a FaceTime call cannot provide.

For the sake of an activity together while being too far apart to converse, we began a rock collection. She was constructing a rainbow and needed colorful rocks, I was arranging a gradient of the grays. We would occasionally throw a rock at the other to contribute to their project, but little interaction occurred other than the sounds of rocks hitting each other as we dug in our own little areas. In the depths of digging on the beach, I was interrupted by a loud thump and a large rock that landed next to me. She had carved “hello” onto the rock and by the squint of her eyes, I could tell she thought this was the funniest means of communication given the circumstance. I chuckled, sighed, and looked back. I didn’t have any good writing rocks, but I did have some weird shaped rocks. The gift is as good as the messages, as we turned to each other and simply threw cool rocks back and forth. Eventually, our hands went numb from the cold, damp air, and we parted ways. As I went home melancholy, I found appreciation in the return to simple pleasure that has come from these many weeks apart from those I love.

In my place of privilege as COVID-19 continues to spread and consume the lives of many, I find myself confused about what my place in all of this is. My escape through chalk on the driveway led to many parents whose children were my favorite Capture the Flag teammates to stop and comment on how refreshing it was to see me and their own children return to simplicity. I continue, like many, to be unsure of what life will look like after this is done, but I do hope the pleasure in simplicity and the small remains. And to the person who finds our friendship rock on the beach, a cheery hello to you.

Mary Franitza is a first year MA/PhD student in the Department of Education. She started her quarantine with a frantic two-day road trip from Santa Barbara to a small coastal corner of Wisconsin. Mary is spending her time social distancing with her adult family members, two parents (sixty-four), and sister (thirty) and her just as adult cats, Dodger (soon to be ten) and Socrates (probably thirteen). Whilst at home, Mary is still responsible for work with high school seniors at Santa Barbara High School and tending to her course load and research. Mary is approaching quarantine with a critical feminist lens as she watches the pandemic unfold in her hometown.