“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”
I have long had a deep appreciation for the power of literature to act as both a document and agent of real life, and as I sit at the end of what must be one of the most surreal weeks of our lifetime, I can’t help but think of these famous first words of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities (1859). Out of nowhere, we are living in an alternate reality––the “worst of times,” it would seem. A pandemic is engulfing the world, an economic crisis is threatening our nation, and “social distancing” is separating us from grandparents, friends, school, and even church. While I typically hesitate to employ the superlative, it seems not a stretch to say that it is the “worst of times,” indeed.
In my three years of directing communication efforts at RCLS, I’ve published blog articles and posted images and anecdotes that reflect the content and character of this school. It is my great pleasure to curate the perspectives of teachers and parents at RCLS, for in doing so, I tell the story of the school itself.
With only a couple of exceptions, I have avoided sharing my own perspective. Yet, given our extraordinary circumstances, I hope you will allow me to offer an inside look at how Rochester’s first private school prepares for the unprecedented. In the worst of times, this is a "best of times" kind of story.
February 26: The first case of suspected “community spread” coronavirus is identified in the U.S.–– in California.
February 27: RCLS school administrators begin to learn about and discuss the possibility of a school closing. Connections with schools in China and messages from our communications platform enable us to imagine that this could be a reality in the U.S. (This will never really happen, will it?)
March 4: Faculty Meeting. Faculty are charged with the task of beginning to plan for a possible school closure. Additional faculty meetings are scheduled, and other projects and meetings are sidelined. (This is crazy. Sure, we’ll plan, but we’re just a little ambitious here, aren’t we?)
March 9: Staff Development. Faculty members meet to learn how to use Google platform tools for the possibility of Remote Learning. We pray together, asking the God of all peace to grant us wisdom and grant our students, family, and community health and safety. (Developments are unfolding so quickly. Could this really happen?)
March 11: Teachers meet in teams. Early Childhood, K-3, 4-5, and Middle School each develop age-appropriate strategies for delivering instruction so that RCLS students can stay on track with the curriculum. Teachers are instructed to have a plan for at least two weeks of remote instruction by March 13. (We still think we’re just being proactive. We can’t believe an extended school closing will really happen, but we are getting a little nervous. How are we to make this happen for young learners?)
Also on March 11: The Grace Foundation board votes to postpone Blue and White Night, scheduled to take place on March 13. This is an agonizing decision after months of preparation and hours of volunteer efforts, and it poses a possible financial risk for our Foundation and the school. (Is it worth it? Could we just go ahead?) Just 24 hours later, it is apparent that this was the only appropriate action to take.
March 12: Per state recommendations, after-school activities are suspended until further notice. Regrettably, we have to cancel the spring musical, which dozens of students have worked all semester to produce. Teachers begin to prepare students for a remote learning experience. They ensure that every student in Grade 4-8 has a device and internet access at home. Middle school students are already adept at using Google Classroom, but Grade 4-8 teachers prepare students for logging into Google Hangouts and Google Meet, where class will take place. Early grade teachers begin to prepare materials to send home with students. (The possibility of a school closing is increasingly a probability.)
March 13: President Trump declares a national emergency.
March 15: Governor Walz announces that Minnesota schools must close by Wednesday, March 18 and remain closed through the end of March. Public schools must provide childcare for health and emergency care workers. Part of the RCLS administration team meets to formulate a plan for honoring the executive order and initiating a contingency plan, already well under construction. (Other local schools will take a week and a half to plan for remote learning, but our contingency plan is nearly ready to implement. Should we go ahead and begin on Wednesday? Yes, let’s minimize the disruption. We’re ready.)
March 16: RCLS faculty meets to ask and answer questions about the contingency plan. Schools have just been closed through the end of March, but there are strong indications that this will last longer. Stress is high and there are a lot of unknowns, but these teachers…wow. Individual teachers are overwhelmed with how this is going to go, but they are equally concerned for each other.
“I can help with that.”
“I’ll do that for you.”
“We’re all in this together.”
And then we prayed. (The Lord our God is with us.)
March 17: It’s the last day of class on the RCLS campus (surely not for the whole year?). Again, emotions are high. Our little learners are generally oblivious to the significance of the moment, but their teachers can hardly say good-bye. In the 8th grade––there it really hurts. After a decade of learning at this beloved school, can this really be the last day on campus? Parents are not ready for this. Moms cry. Teachers mourn the potential loss of the last important weeks to be with their students. Students, themselves, are not sure how to process it. Is this like an extended snow day? (This is surreal.)
March 18-19: Remote Learning begins.
It is here that our students and their parents shine in what has otherwise been a stressful, confusing time for the faculty. We’re amazed and encouraged at the resiliency of our students, who show up in their online classrooms on-time and ready to engage. (The teachers meet a lot of pets in these first two days of class. Admittedly, that makes us laugh.) Parents post pictures of their students doing schoolwork at home. Teachers engage with both parents and students in Private FB Groups and Google Meet.
In the office, we heard from school parents, too, and goodness, did that ever bolster our spirits. We have long said that we are working in partnership with parents to educate children. Now, as we work to educate students remotely for what may be the rest of the school year, we’re especially grateful to be in partnership with some of Rochester’s most outstanding families. We're so grateful for the faith you have in us and the blessing you offer us, even in this challenging time. Thank you for some of the first encouraging messages we received this week:
“THANK YOU! To you, the RCLS Staff and countless others who over the course of the last several weeks have taken the initiative to complete due diligence from trustworthy and reliable resources, [to] pray, [and] to educate yourselves in order to act in the best interest of all to formulate a contingency plan for the Coronavirus outbreak….The postponements of events, activities, sporting events within our own community and nationwide sends a strong and clear message of the urgency to be prepared and take action. RCLS, in my opinion, was a community leader in establishing a plan being proactive rather than reactive.”
“I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your strong leadership during this tough time. The level of organization and culture of competency is truly impressive. I’m sure it’s been extremely stressful and you are tired. Your efforts are not going unnoticed... thanks for taking care of our kids & families.”
“We cannot imagine the stress of chartering these unknown areas with information changing hourly. We appreciate all of the extra hours you have put in to keep our RCLS community safe. You have always been there for our families, so know our families are also here for you. If there is anything you need us to help with in the coming days, weeks or months, please let us know.”
“Thanks so much to the teachers and staff. I was really impressed how well online learning went for my two 8th graders today. We appreciate all you are doing to make this happen!”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your long hard hours that you and your staff have put in during this challenging time. Your very loving and caring work shows.”
“Thank you and all the teachers for your leadership. We feel very well looked after and have full confidence in you and RCLS! Stay well.“
Officially, schools are closed only through the end of next week, and then we’re scheduled for Spring Break. Will we return to campus after that?
We hope so, but it is not looking very likely. I can tell you that even as your children’s teachers hope for the best, they are planning for the worst and already adapting and adding to their contingency plans. By now, most of our school parents and students are regularly connecting with teachers via email, Google Meet, Private Facebook Groups, and phone calls. It is a brave, new world. (You’ll tolerate another literary allusion, won’t you?)
Yes, a few weeks ago, we could not have imagined a worst of times such as these. But in these worst of times, I have seen the very best. A head of school wisely planning for the unimaginable. Teachers competently doing what once seemed impossible. Students cheerfully rising to the occasion. Parents graciously reducing us to tears with their encouragement and patience as we work wherever it surfaced. School staff (classroom, maintenance, kitchen, and office) faithfully jumping into the work wherever they needed to be. The content and character of individuals––of an entire school community––are surely apparent in such a time.
What have I seen from the inside?
RCLS, you are very, very good––the best in the worst of times.
We are all in this together.
These worst of times threaten to be challenging for all of us, including Rochester-area small businesses, some of which are owned by RCLS parents and alumni. Please support them if you can.
One local business, Insignia Screen Printing, knows that we are all in this together. RCLS’s Waters family (Mrs. Waters, PK Teaching Assistant, and students, 6th grade and Prekindergarten) owns Insignia Screen Printing, which has created a t-shirt to encourage us and our sense of community. Would you consider supporting this small business? Your order includes shipping (directly to your house) and a small donation ($5-10/tshirt) for RCLS. Check it out here to place an order.