As a school, you expect to come to St. George’s and learn. Walking into a classroom on a given day, students might discover geometry proofs, learn their ABCs or uncover the mysteries of ancient Egypt. This year, they also learned about the importance of a temperature below 100.5, what type of mask is most comfortable for their face shape and how to interact with peers from an appropriate distance.
The world was flipped in a less-Seussian, more-Orwellian manner. With great foresight, our administration and leadership team worked in February – before the virus was widely considered active in the United States – to create a virtual learning plan. Once enacted after Spring Break, they spent much of spring and summer developing the hybrid model we use today.
Now-Head of School Timothy Gibson oversaw the development of these processes. From the technical plans that have guided the school’s procedures to the response from the community, he is overwhelmingly proud of the St. George’s community.
“I’m proud that we’ve been able to come together as a school,” he said. “Whether in person or virtual, we’re coming together. It looks much more different than we thought it would look. Everyone has stayed positive, stayed engaged and prioritized working together.”
Opening the doors and having a semester of school without major incidents of infection are reason enough for celebration. Students signed to play sports with elite colleges and universities. Upper schoolers put on a successful theater performance. Others conquered Brontë and the tenants of addition. One was even named a National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalist. But in Timothy’s eyes, it’s a number of smaller wins that are most poignant.
Take St. George’s two Lower School campuses, for example. This summer, educators and parents had a number of questions about the feasibility of the littlest learners wearing masks at school. But without much hesitation, students as young as three years old have taken to the practice beautifully.
“The little people have fully accepted that mask wearing is part of their school experience. I watch three- and four-year-olds getting out of the car, and they just do it,” he said. “For them, this is just what they do. They see it in lots of other settings, and it’s become normal that they now wear masks at school.”
When it comes to the seniors, Timothy is most impressed by their willingness to accept missed traditions and desire to create new ones. Off campus lunch privilege isn’t possible because of indoor dining and shared vehicle restrictions. But rather than sulking, a group of senior boys have taken the opportunity to dine together in ways off campus lunch would not have allowed.
“They decided instead to eat outdoors, with each student bringing their own camping chair. The distanced circle started with a few boys, but that group is growing. When someone new joins, they make more space,” Timothy said.
But those examples highlight the successes of in-person learning. There are similarly shining instances that highlight the effort put in by students and families learning at home. Recently, students in person and online gathered for a Zoom discussion about the best food items. This seemingly silly March Madness-style bracket challenge sparked heated debate. How could one student lobby for chicken nuggets to earn a spot in the next round over tenders? In this hour-long discussion of “fine” high school cuisine, students online forgot about the disconnect by engaging with their peers and simply having fun.
“We’re all finding a sense of joy in the small and silly things. It’s easy for things to feel heavy. We’re navigating COVID school, a global health crisis and a local health crisis,” Timothy said. “It feels great to have moments of levity when we all come together, even if it’s to vote for our favorite foods.”
When looking toward the future, the best indicator of St. George’s progress is the example laid out in 2020. The course set by the tireless work of the entire St. George’s staff demonstrates that there is no challenge insurmountable, no obstacle too large to overcome. And even still, while working with the most challenging hand any American educator has been dealt in a century, they never lose sight of their students.
While immediate changes aren’t in the works for the spring semester, there is a spirit of constant improvement, growth and optimism among the team. The entire St. George’s community has learned so much in the last few months, most importantly the value of togetherness.
“I couldn’t ask for better people with whom I get to work,” Timothy said. “Everyone is committed to being the best version of the school that we can be in this moment.”
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