Nearly a year ago in March of 2020, Friday the 13thto be exact, we received the news from the Governor late that afternoon we would be closing school for two weeks to decrease the potential of community spread. Shortly thereafter we were informed the likelihood of returning to school for the remainder of the school year was very slim. Looking back, what happened next was nothing short of miraculous. In the span of a few short days our school transitioned normal everyday coming to school, playing sports, senior trip, graduation, etc. … to a totally different reality. We began remote learning…which has become almost a four-letter word (yes, I know there are more than four letters…but you understand what I am saying). The spring of 2020 was truly more of “survival mode” than anything else in more ways than one. How many of you were going store to store trying to find toilet paper? What we also remember is what we lost… so many traditional memories were taken away. We saw sports seasons ended or not even begun. Prom…. maybe if you snuck over the state line. Graduation… Can you say virtual? Can you say week long so every senior and their family could come and take part in putting together our ceremony? The end of the school year came and went. But did it? Was there an ending to the year or did it seem to just fadeaway into a continual lockdown?
Looking back, we also saw handwashing, social distancing, and masks become part of our reality. We have always known that washing hands was good for personal hygiene and reducing the spread of viruses. Typically, we would get on our students about washing their hands after using the restroom. Now most people wash their hands 8-9 times on average per day. Social distancing… we only thought of that when you had a “close-talker” who invaded your personal space. Now it is 6ft!!! MASK… definitely a four-letter word. I am NOT going to say any more about masks because everything has been said …the good, the bad and the ugly… about masks.
Coming back to school this year we had protocols for taking temperatures, riding buses, plexiglass dividers, sharing equipment, sanitizing anything and everything, PPE, hand sanitizers, and the list goes on. But we did this so we could have our students in-person and learning. Contact tracing and quarantining became a daily occurrence for what seemed months. All of this we did and much of it we continue to do. Now we are seeing rapid changes allowing more flexibility and the return of extracurriculars…with limits.
None of what I just looked back on could have happened without some very hard work and dedication from many, many people; bus drivers, para professionals, custodial and maintenance staff, cooks and kitchen staff, secretaries, school nurse and social worker, teachers, administrators, and board members working together with one aim in mind. We all wanted to keep Unity Schools open for our families. So many helped when others couldn’t. Teachers doing extra duties like subbing during their prep, serving food during breakfast and lunch, supervising students after school, etc. If we needed help, someone was there to help. Para professionals taking temps on the bus during the early morning. Secretaries have been the main source of contact for our parents who call. They have done such a wonderful job handling all that has been thrown at them. Our kitchen staff has worked shorthanded dealing with meals here at school or being sent home. The list goes on and on. I know I cannot mention everyone, but everyone has helped make it work.
By the way, did I mention we completed a new elementary addition and upgrade to the existing facility enlarging the kitchen, offices and classrooms and adding a new gym. We did a district energy lighting project as well. All of this was done simultaneously while handling an ongoing pandemic.
Looking back, it also would not have happened without the support of our students and their families. They have done everything we have asked them and more, beginning with a delay to in-person learning for the start of our school year waiting for the completion of our elementary project. They followed all the protocols put in place. They adapted to a different school schedule. Parents brought their students to school when we did not have enough bus drivers to cover all our routes due to quarantining. They have dealt with quarantines and remote learning of their own kids when needed. Parents and families have had to watch from afar as their children go through school and limited activities using Zoom, Facebook Live, or YouTube.
Looking forward I could not but look back and realize all the “silver-linings” we were able to find during the past year. Leading during these challenging times has not been easy but necessary. It was necessary to make decisions that often would not be popular. It was necessary to make decisions that caused disappointment. It was necessary to make decisions based upon what is best for our students and our school. As a leader I often pointed out the “silver-linings” we found during the past year. I wanted us to focus on the positives we were seeing. To be honest with you, there were many silver-linings even with all the loss of life, sickness, quarantining, missed events, isolation and depression we have heard about or even experienced. These cannot be discounted or ignored as they are a part of what we have gone through. But we are a strong and resilient people. Throughout all of this we have seen a rejuvenation of the sense of community and togetherness that had gotten lost in a fast-paced world. Even when we were apart, we were together. We saw teachers working and collaborating more than ever before. We saw families working with their kids and the schools trying to make things work. People helping people. Volunteers hosted food banks and drive throughs, delivering meals and supplies, checking on neighbors. People helping people. Everyone has tried to be as creative as they could to keep us together.
Which brings me to now…looking forward. Looking forward it is my hope that we continue with many of the positives we discovered…the silver linings. We are not through the pandemic, but we are looking forward. We are looking forward to the experiences we took for granted. We are looking forward to being able to provide for all of our students and staff a sense of reality which feels right and feels good. There are many changes that are happening and we will continue to work to communicate them to you as quickly as we can once we have put into place the best plan for Unity Schools. Looking forward it is my hope that we can build upon the sense of community and togetherness we saw this past year. I say this knowing it will take all of us to get to a point where we are looking back because we have moved so far forward.
Thank you to everyone!