With so many school districts across the country closed and relying on virtual classrooms to finish the school year, we tend to heap most of our sympathy on the teachers and parents. After all, kids don’t want to sit in a classroom, right? They’re glad they’re getting to stay at home or wherever–as long as it’s not in a school.

But that’s not always an accurate picture.

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Recently, a teacher saw a young man sitting outside of a Subway restaurant with a Chromebook on his lap. She felt compelled to ask him if he was doing his schoolwork. What he told her gave her a poignant glimpse into the lives of many students who are trying their best to keep up their education in a most uncertain time.

Her essay, which appeared on Love What Matters, starts:

Okay, to all my teacher friends out there, I have taught for 36 years and I just got a reality check.

As I was driving by Subway, I saw a student with his Chromebook open sitting on the sidewalk.

When I saw him, I had to turn around and go back. I asked him, ‘Are you trying to do schoolwork?’

He answered yes because he doesn’t want to get behind.

He told me his dad works doing concrete work. His company has threatened to shut down, so having internet at home is not a priority right now.

That last sentence would give anyone pause. How often do we assume that every household with a child has internet for surfing, games, streaming music and shows and for doing homework? That’s simply not the case. This kid may have benefited from his school’s supply of Chromebooks they could lend to students.

But internet–that’s something different.

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His dad’s job is uncertain. Mom may be at home or she may be an essential worker. Either way, the family clearly had to cut out the extras. When they had to give up internet, which seems as critical these days as having electricity, we know times for this kid are tough. And, there he sits on the sidewalk, using free wifi outside of a sandwich shop just to keep up his grades.

I am teaching from home and my husband still has his job.

Both of my children are grown, so I have all the time in the world to ‘do school.’

Seeing this young man reminded me to give some mercy to students and parents. They may have other things to deal with other than just school.

The writer points out something we could all remember. These students are people too with hopes and dreams that have been furloughed like so many jobs. Kids are missing the important milestones they’ve worked so hard for to prepare for a future that no one can tell will look like.

Let’s commit to showing them a little understanding, some patience and a lot of mercy.