“School days, school days, dear old Golden Rule days. Readin’ and writin’ and ’rithmetic, taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick.”

Times have changed, haven’t they? Will D. Cobb and Gus Edwards wrote that silly song back in 1907. My mom, who was born in 1922, taught it to me around the time I started first grade, back in 1960-something.

Back then, we still had the Golden Rule, and we still learned reading and writing and arithmetic, but I never saw a “hick’ry” stick. I presume the songwriters meant that as a means of punishment for those naughty students who didn’t pay attention.

When my children started school in the 1990s, they were already reading, writing was keystrokes on a computer, and arithmetic was called “math” – and evolved into algebra by third grade.

My parents (and many other older folks) told me how they walked 5 miles to school, even in the snow – uphill, both ways! I finally figured that out and called them on it.

At the ripe age of 6, I walked to Wither’s Elementary School – by myself – every day from first grade through the beginning of third, at which time my first-grade brother joined me.

We lived just a few blocks away – and it was a straight shot, down one street. Mom would watch me as far as she could see, and I guess she just figured I’d make it the rest of the way. No one worried about kids getting run over or kidnapped. It was safe.

My kids were driven to school. It was quicker than arguing with all the reasons the bus was unpleasant, stinky, crowded and too early.

When I was in first grade, all students ate the cafeteria food, because it was hot, tasty and nutritious. The cafeteria ladies made it all fresh, every single day.

My kids tried the cafeteria, but skipped the good stuff and went straight to the soda machine (yes, they had soda machines in public schools 10 years ago). We wised up and started sending them with a peanut butter sandwich and fruit.

Things are so different now. In these pandemic school days, kids are facing new and unusual protocols for virtual learning. It’s not exactly homeschool, and there’s a lot of time spent in front of a screen.

I’ve been thinking about the unusual challenges our teachers are facing, the unease some students are feeling, and the anxiety many parents have expressed in this first week of school.

Many of us recall the tough times we had as kids in school – but this surely is worse. How hard must it be for an entire nation of pandemic-era students to be thrown into a unique situation in which they are still expected to meet academic requirements of learning at all levels?

I have just read a press release from the S.C. Department of Education reporting that the statewide “Class of 2020 outperforms nation on Advanced Placement” exams – despite the obstacles of COVID-19. That speaks to the determination and perseverance of our students and their families.

I can’t imagine going to school in the dining room (though that is where I work these days), but I hear from younger parents that it is a whole new world. So kids aren’t walking 5 miles uphill in the snow to get an education, but they still have challenges.

From what I’ve seen and heard the first week of school, they are up to it and will shine in their own way. These students, teachers and parents are making history in a totally new way. They are to be commended for their mighty efforts.