As I sat down to join my husband and my two children for dinner last week, the kids were already in mid-conversation. "But Ollie, things are different this year," Zoe was saying.
"What are you talking about?" I inquired.
Zoe is in Kindergarten this year. Oliver, who is in second grade, had the same teacher two years ago and constantly compares his experience with hers. Zoe was explaining about the way her class has been using iPads to document their learning. Ever the skeptic, my son was doubtful. "Zoe, first grade is when you get to use an iPad. We never had iPads when I was in Kindergarten."
And that was Zoe's defense. Things are different this year.
Of course, she is absolutely right. Even from Zoe's young perspective, she can tell that this year has brought about unprecedented change. Like many other parents, the stay-at-home period was hard on our family, and my husband and I worried that this pandemic would have a long-term impact on our children's development. This was one of the many reasons I was so determined to help reopen our campus in June. Preparing and managing Dragon Care was an overwhelming task, but it was worth every bit of time, stress, and energy. The same has been true for reopening our campus for the 2020-2021 school year. Never has it been more difficult to return to school; never has it been more necessary.
The first days of school were joyous as students returned to familiar classrooms and reconnected with friends. School was different, but many of the changes have been positive. Homerooms are intentionally structured to include our small group learners, so teachers are getting to know their students at a deeper level than ever before. We are all building our skills with technology, with students becoming more savvy and teachers becoming even more creative. Other changes have been an adjustment. We've adapted to wearing masks, putting something we've touched in the "used items" bin to be disinfected, and taking regular breaks for handwashing. Everything takes more time, more thought. It is all worth it. As a fourth grade teacher, I see my students rebuilding their friendships, growing in their problem-solving abilities, and making up for the academics they lost at the end of last year. As a parent, I see my children thriving once again in the warm, caring environment that is St. George's. Altogether, it gives me great purpose each and every day.
But I'll admit - it's exhausting. Across the school, we have changed routines in order to minimize exposure. In lower school, students use only their homeroom classrooms and spend more time with their homeroom teachers. They are more difficult to engage and manage, especially at the end of the day. It is not at all their fault; it is just the reality we are in. Effective teaching is harder and needs to be done with less planning time. Everyone - our administrators, maintenance staff, even class captains - are doing the best they can to support us. I am grateful to be at St. George's where, despite the struggle, we focus on finding and sharing joy.
As the city moves to Phase 3, we are faced with a new conundrum: how much should we loosen these restrictions that are keeping us safe but are so hard to maintain? Honestly, it's tempting to give up the battle to keep my students six feet apart all the time, especially to let them enjoy activities they love. We all want a return to normal. But as events in the news have acutely reminded us this week, the virus succeeds most when we relax. The science demands vigilance, even in the face of fatigue.
The answer, I think, lies in one of our most important St. George's citizenship values: compassion. Compassion for our students, who are experiencing an unexpected year. Compassion for our teachers, who are exhausted but do not give up for a single moment providing the best experience they can for your children. Compassion for our families, who are each impacted by the pandemic in different ways and are doing their best to support their children.
At St. George's, we define compassion as "noticing others and being kind." Let us notice that this is difficult. Let us proceed with kindness. If we all act with compassion, we will find joy in the struggle, and that will make all the difference.