On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, a group of Belmont Day school leaders met in my office for several hours to decide whether to make the call to close school due to the burgeoning pandemic. Ultimately, of course, we decided to. The plan, at the time, was to close campus for two weeks. We would have two days to get our distance-learning plans organized for offsite learning to begin on Monday.
I remember agonizing over the decision and its inevitable impact on our students, families, and colleagues. What about the upcoming musical to be performed that Friday and Saturday night? What about admissions and placement decisions and the opportunities for our eighth graders and newly accepted Belmont Day students to see their next schools before making their important decisions?
We didn’t know then what we all know now in retrospect: campus would be closed to everyonefaculty, parents, summer campers and counselors, and studentsfor more than six months. At BDS, 187 days after that fateful night, we welcomed students back onto campus at the start of this school year, offering onsite programming five days a week for all students, pre-kindergarten through grade 8. There were exceptionsthe weeks between Thanksgiving and Winter Break, the occasional quarantine of a cohort or gradebut for the most part, we have been able to be onsite together throughout this school year. A luxury not afforded to others and one we have not taken for granted.
Even so, the impacts of the pandemic have been ever-present:
- cohorts instead of grade-wide classrooms
- art intensives instead of the year-long comprehensive approach that contributes to the whole child philosophy that guides us
- physical distancing
- assurance testing
- no parents on campus
- the constant caution and concern about transmission
At one point or another over this year, these impacts have felt staggering for each one of us.
On this anniversary, your naturally optimistic head of school is lifted by hope thanks to vaccines, dropping case rates, promising new data, and 60 degree days. My BDS interview process included the question: “If you could add a core value to the school’s six, what would it be and why?”
My answer: courage. At the time, of course, I had no idea just how relevant that answer would be in 2020-2021. This year has been a 365-day exercise in courage for our students, their teachers, and our families. It has been courageous for our students to accept that learning looked different than it had before. Courageous for our teachers to step into classrooms and trust that the protocols we put in place to mitigate risk would be effective. Our parents expressed courage by believing in our protocols and trusting that BDS would be there for their children.
For my part, I sincerely believe (and yes, I am knocking on wood as I write this) that we will never face a more challenging or more demanding calendar year. Never. And here we are, with our eyes trained on a bright horizon of hope. One of the rewards of courage is that we often emerge stronger for our effort of endurance and bravery. Belmont Day is stronger today than it was on March 11, 2020. Thank you for believing in us and for your courage along the way.