‘Please just stay home’

Daughter of essential workers makes plea for social safety

Crossroads Middle eighth grader Ava Wagner, center; with dad, Nick, and mom, Jennifer (courtesy)

Crossroads Middle School eighth grader Ava Wagner says daily life since schools were closed in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus is “like any other normal time, but I don’t go to school in the morning.”

Instead, she and her sister, Bailey — a sixth grader at Highlands Middle — do their schoolwork via computer. Class time takes place on Zoom, and face-to-face time with friends happens virtually, too.

For Ava, making it to a class video meeting even took place once in the car, from a parking lot outside the optometrist’s office when her glasses broke.

Besides distance learning, however, what’s not “like any other normal time” for Ava is that both her parents are essential workers — a fact that’s made her more vocal about the need for families to stay home and stay safe.  

It’s all part of adjusting as the school year wraps up from home, and blending the normal with the not-so-normal. 

On stage and on the page: Crossroads Middle eighth grader Ava Wagner, second row center, in glasses; with fellow cast members of ‘Little Women’ in 2019 (courtesy)

A New Routine 

Ava typically works most efficiently around noon, she said, either from her desk in her bedroom or somewhere in the living room.

On Fridays, she looks forward to Zoom meetings with fellow staff members of the Crossroads Chronicle student news site, which kicked off this school year after a successful trial during the school’s J-term

“She’s been writing since she learned to write,” said Ava’s mom, Jennifer. “She loves that stuff.”

Ava also designed the site. Said Nick, her dad: “She’s very creative, anything from making videos to writing scripts, filming stories … she’s even roped her sister into acting in stories. Sometimes she claims she is bored … but she finds ways to entertain herself.”

That past weekend, in fact, she entertained the whole family while helping to clean the garage by using a broom as a microphone and belting out “A Hard Knock Life” from the musical “Annie.”

Practicing Safety at Home 

Ava’s sunny attitude comes in handy as her parents go to work every day. Both are essential workers: Jennifer is a home health nurse who works with those who have brain and spinal cord injuries, and Nick is a facilities maintenance worker at grocery distributor SpartanNash.

Not only has their work not stopped, “It actually got more hectic, and very regimented,” Nick said. That means both wear personal protective equipment and do a lot of sanitizing at work and at home.

“I’m maybe one of the only people I know where both my parents are essential workers,” Ava said. And because of that, the family has a plan for how to isolate at home if Jennifer or Nick becomes sick. Knowing the plan “made me feel not as anxious” about the possibility, Ava said.

Also because of their work, the Wagners are extra strict about physical distancing.

“I feel like I do a lot of talking about it because I see it from a different aspect,” Jennifer said. “They do think I’m a little crazy with my cleaning.” 

Said Dad: “Because we are essential workers, we’re exposed to everything a lot more. We literally don’t do anything right now.”

Ava admits she’s “kind of a homebody anyway,” but “sometimes I just want to go to a store for like, just five minutes.”

She pitched writing a tribute to essential workers to fellow cub journalists at the Crossroads Chronicle, included below. What she hoped to get across with the piece she delivered: “They’re risking their life — and their family’s — for you, so please just stay home.”

Ava’s article in the Chronicle:

Not all heroes wear capes, some wear scrubs

Due to what’s going on in the world right now, I think it’s important to say thank you to our frontline workers, because these workers are risking their lives in order to make sure we’re healthy, we have food, we’re safe. 

This has become my family’s reality as well as others. My mom works at Spectrum, and my dad does maintenance at Spartan Nash. My parents along with others are risking their health and the health of their families because these are their jobs. They don’t do these things just because it’s a job; they do it because it’s what they love. 

So I think it’s time we thank them. So thank you to all the health care workers, service workers, EMS and public safety workers. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for going to work so we can stay home and stay safe.

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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