Better Together

Well, we made it. We did it. We hit a major milestone yesterday. With record speed and expert coordination and collaboration, we created a virtual learning program for GVP students and a remote working model for our staff. We ramped up our outreach and communications and our engagement with parents and families. We have taken our food and technology provisions to a whole new level, and now we end our semester and school year with typical GVP style.

At 4PM on Friday, our entire staff participated in an all-school Zoom with students, and we had more than fifty members of our GVP family together again online! Our School Counselor, Ms. Katelynn, recognized students for embodying and modeling Core Values, and we all cheered and shouted for each one. We shared time singing with Ms. Elise, thanking Ms. Amy, our departing Newcomer Teacher, for all her years of love and service, and dancing! Today, we will hold a GVP staff car parade for our students through Clarkston, riding through each one of the apartment complexes where they live. We will decorate our cars and hold out signs, as we congratulate and honor our graduating Form 3 students and say goodbye to our returning students--for now.

I shared with staff in our morning Huddle on Thursday how hard it has been for my own daughters to see school end so abruptly. There have been no real send-offs of any kind for them at either one of their schools, no class Zoom meetings or parties, no school assemblies, no awards, tributes, or farewells. Nothing. It is so strange for them not to have that moment of joy and celebration and that feeling of completion. I am so deeply grateful that is not happening for our GVP students. We completed family-school conferences this week; we had small class celebrations online; and then we ended with a whole school celebration and a car-parade. For us, recognizing and honoring our students and their accomplishments can’t be overlooked. I am deeply grateful to all of our staff for making the time and space for these celebrations.

I had all the same jitters I would typically get as the last day of school approaches, both yesterday and today. I was restless last night and had the most bizarre dreams about runaways and underground meetings in caves. As I woke, I could feel the rising anxiety mixed with excitement, wondering about how the end of day events would go, how many students would show, and what our collective emotional state would be. On our morning Team Huddle call, several of us shared the same feelings of excitement and anxiety, mixed in with some sadness. We also reflected back on past challenges as we ended one school year and looked towards a new and uncertain one.

In 2017 when the church that houses our school underwent major renovation, we had to pack up all that we owned, store most of it, sort through the rest of it, and set up administrative offices at Agnes Scott College for the summer and then set up a temporary school space at Clairmont Presbyterian Church for the start of our new school year. We planned, worried, and wondered about how we could make it work. Our bus routes were different; we didn’t have access to all of our resources; we couldn’t show newcomer students and families our “real” school as they interviewed with us; we couldn’t go to lunch at Agnes Scott in our new location; so much had changed and would change. But still, so much remained the same. The team came in each and everyday with the same level of commitment and focus on our mission and vision. We created a plan. We were flexible and leaned on one another. We made it work, and we moved back into our beautifully renovated school space for the second semester, and GVP went on but differently. Of course, a national health and economic crisis cannot really compare to a temporary displacement and renovation. But, it reminded me of how strong and resilient we are as a school and as humans. We adapt to what’s new and what’s needed. When things get tough, we come together. We are better and stronger together.

Post-planning for teaching faculty will take place next week. This year, we will be meeting together in the afternoons on Zoom instead of in person in our empty classrooms. Our Educational Coordinators are working diligently to design a summer program schedule for the weeks between June 1 and July 17. We won’t have our traditional GVP book club this summer, but we are creating something new. Now more than ever, it is critical that we keep our connections and support students in continued learning over the summer. Staff will be sharing that schedule with students and parents in our weekly calls on Monday. After June 1, our weekly family calls will go to a bi-weekly schedule, but we will continue to stay in touch. We are also planning for May 18, June 8, and July 6 deliveries to families. We will provide food, cards and communications, and other needed documents and learning supplies for students and families.

GVP’s Administrative Leadership & Support Team will continue to work remotely Monday through Thursday throughout the summer. We have planned some Admin L/S Team strategic sessions over the summer and will similarly be planning some strategic sessions for teaching faculty. Teachers at GVP are all contracted and paid to work 40 hours through the summer for curriculum and professional development. This summer, we will need to spend some of these hours working together to plan and prepare for reopening and the possibilities ahead.

There is so much to decide and do this summer. As the past months have proven, things will likely be very different during the summer and into next year. Maybe they will always be different moving forward. Right now, our Admin L/S Team is scheduled to return to work together in our GVP Offices on July 20, but there is much to plan, consider, and finalize before then and much remains unclear and unknown. The teaching faculty is scheduled to start pre-planning on July 27th. Whether that happens together or online is yet to be determined, too. So much is uncertain, yet plans and possible scenarios have to be made. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must be ordered for staff and students, new classroom layouts, procedures, and plans for safe distancing designed. But, I am also feeling a very deep desire among our staff for some separation from school and work and some much-deserved rest. As most teachers and administrators do, we have pushed forward with almost supernatural strength in this time of crisis. We have put our super powers to good work and done all that we could for our students and families at home and at school in order to bring the school year to a positive and powerful end.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I often refer to our teachers as superheroes. We reflect on and share our super powers with each other; we bring them to our work together. Recognizing those powers is part of what makes our team strong and reflects our strengths-based approach. We have even created superhero names together; mine is Passion Flower. It is interesting to note that a number of comic book superheroes were also educators in their everyday lives. For example, Jefferson Pierce, a gold medal winning Olympic athlete, earned an English degree and returned to his old high school as a teacher. When his first attempts to protect his students from drug dealers and criminal organizations left one of his students dead, Pierce became the superhero Black Lightning to clean up the streets and protect the school. Spiderman, Emma Frost, and others similarly took up day jobs as teachers in their stories.

While it can be very exciting to put our super powers to work for the good of our students, families, and communities, I am personally looking forward to slowing down at least for a little while and looking for time to rest, renew, and recharge before the fall so that I can be my best for the changes and challenges ahead. As part of this slowing down process, I will limit my blogging to once per week over the summer. It has been a great challenge and joy to finally start this blog and to fill these pages with my thoughts on education and our school in these unusual times. I am thankful to you for reading and look forward to continuing to document our collective journey, as we enter year #12 at GVP and a whole new kind of “normal.”

Some possibilities:

"A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter when it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you're in and take advantage of it." -- Nikki Giovanni

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” --John F. Kennedy