How strange an anniversary to acknowledge, much less commemorate. Today marks exactly a year since the World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. “About time,” said Dr. Avegno on a phone call with me that afternoon as she braced me for what was coming. It was two days later that every school in the city closed their campuses. Fittingly, it was Friday the 13th. Then, we were optimistic that the governor’s order to shutter schools and limit gathering sizes would be the pause we needed to contain spread and determine next steps. I wrote home to our StG families on the 13th that we anticipated opening after spring break— what was then only a few short weeks away. Those weeks became a few more weeks, and we prayed for a return in May. Instead, our mission headline of boldly reimagining education took the shape the pandemic required. It was a spring at home, and summer for so many simply became one long continuum of the spring. For our StG educators, staff and administrators, it was a spring to summer where the early manic energy drained out of us like a sugar high.
With so many contingencies to consider beyond the usual demands of our work, with everything in need of pandemic reimagining, it is still with great pride that I reflect on our completion of the spring as a StG Community at Home, our successful run of a summer camp as Dragon Care with all the new health and safety protocols in a trial run, and then overcoming the formidable feat of reopening on campus and in person come August. Improbably, with masks on and hands sanitized and desks over-wiped, with physical distancing and a spate of quarantines and all of the roller coaster surges and spikes in cases, here we still are, learning together and so nearly all on campus together.
How utterly improbable, how absolutely unprecedented a year it’s been.
Locally, nationally and internationally, individuals, news venues, institutions and governments are attempting to pay tribute to the incalculable loss, and yet it’s all too calculable. We’re still counting—over 2.5 million people worldwide lost to COVID-19, over half a million Americans, over 9000 Louisianians and 720 New Orleanians just in Orleans Parish. Even as we take a backward glance this week and attempt to honor the living and the dead, we don’t yet know the cost; we cannot now calculate the human toll beyond the numbers and the figures. Every single one of us can name a relative or loved one greatly and sometimes gravely impacted, can count the jobs lost as well as the lives, if not attempt to record the stress and the strain and hardship. If Katrina or 9/11 are the other signature moments in the last two decades that approximate those shared local or national communal experiences, the comparison breaks down as soon as you begin to think of the continuation, how the date we’re commemorating is the start of the pandemic still upon us— that the pandemic isn’t done with us yet. It’s the continuation that makes commemoration so difficult, so different.
So we acknowledge the enormity of the year living pandemically, of still living pandemically.
But isn’t resilience and the multiform heroic responses to it also the experience we’ve lived and shared? Humanity in its grit and even its humor through the hurt and the heartbreak? The other side of the story, the unwaveringly StG side of the story, remains a community still steeped in joyful learning, still embodied by perseverance, integrity, respect and, above all, compassion. By every definition, our educators and staff have been heroic in deed, in spirit, in approach, in the smiles through masks. They have embraced the need of the children— your children and our students— and through exhaustion, illness, fear, tears and all the other things the pandemic has elicited from all of us, it has never been at the expense of or detriment to our students. Always will I be grateful when I think of this year—grateful for these faculty, maintenance and staff members and the community of students and families they serve.
What lift to a heavy year, then, is news of the vaccine! Over the next two weeks, the overwhelming majority of our faculty and staff will receive the second dose of their vaccination through LCMC. Their mobile units come to us these next two Fridays! What lift is it to read and hear about some of the things for which our students are grateful. Beginning in homerooms and advisory today, we asked our children to think together of the 13 things that they’re thankful for this past year— the number 13 significant because of March 13th. Our middle schoolers took this exercise one step further. Over the weekend they will reflect and come back Monday to each share their “silver lining.” That silver lining will form a patch, and those patches a quilt of gratitude. These will be stitched together and hung on the wall of our Porteous breezeway. That quilt I know will continue to grow. It is to them, to all of our students, that I’d like to give the last word. It is a sampling not merely of the year that’s been but the year that we’ve been here together. For March 13th, here are 13 messages of gratitude from our Lower School students:
I am thankful for…
“...having more playdates outside!”
“...the people who made the medicine.”
“...being with my grandparents for like 3 months last year.”
“...more time to play lots of games with family members and loved ones”
“...not worrying and going with the flow.”
“...now we know we need to wash our hands.”
“...flu numbers down because of masks.”
“...it is rare for pets to get COVID-19.”
“...showing perseverance during the pandemic. We know it’s been tough, but we are one year stronger.”
“...our Maintenance Crew!”
“....StG staying open....That we get to go to school.”
- Dr. Kreutziger