Today I met with the teaching faculty and GVP’s Educational Coordinators to discuss possible reopening plans. We learned on Monday evening that our local school district has delayed the start of school by two weeks and has opted for a virtual school start. Somehow, actually hearing their decision and reading about the decisions other schools were making this week helped ease some of the stress and anxiety I had been feeling for the past few weeks.
A starting point, a direction, and something to start working towards helped alleviate the anxiety that was causing my recent headaches and stomach upset. Now that we are all coming together, creatively and collaboratively crafting this plan for reopening, I feel like I can take some control, strategize, make my lists and plans, and start moving forward. I think that the waiting, the not knowing, and the unending thoughts and questions about what the new school year would be like was becoming too much for me. So, for now, I am thankful and hopeful and optimistic about the year ahead. I am certain that there will be difficult and challenging days, but today I am actually excited, for the first time in a long while, about the 2020-2021 school year.
This summer we met virtually with about 20 new families. We have accepted 23 new students, and we have at least 25 students returning. We will actually have one of the largest cohorts we’ve ever had at GVP. I am deeply grateful that amid the tightening restrictions on refugee resettlement and the pandemic, we have a wonderful group of students who are eager to join us and to go to school at GVP. These young women and their parents are ready and eager to access the education they want, need, and deserve.
Following several local school districts, GVP will also keep classes online at least through October 30. However, given the unique population of newcomers that we serve, we must dedicate the first two weeks of school to intensive orientations for new families and assessments for new students. We must provide them with the technology and tools they will need, as well as the instruction they require to use the software and applications necessary for virtual schooling. This means that we must begin with some in-person instruction before taking things online. So for the first two weeks, we intend to do our very best to welcome and support our new students and families, making sure they know that they are valued members of our community and belong in this place.
When we met in our teacher meeting today, our School Support Specialist shared how several students had been telling him during food drop-offs and through texts and chat messages how much they miss coming to school. He told us that they miss seeing their teachers and friends, and I thought about how hard it will be for them, learning at home and not coming to school. Almost everyone who visits GVP notes how different it is. People often point out how joyful our students are and how much affection and personal attention we give one another. We talk about GVP as a family, and we typically feel that way towards one another. On any given day, one will see students hugging, holding hands, and putting their arms around the shoulders of a friend as they walk down our hallway. Teachers greet students with hugs, high-fives, and handshakes before classes, and we talk about listening with our ears and hearts in morning meetings. The care and closeness are clear and creates a climate conducive to learning.
I know this is why our attendance rates before COVID were always so high. I know this is why students who missed the bus would walk or ride their bike those 4.5 or 5 miles to school. I also know this is why things have changed.
Since March, we have completed virtual classes and hosted 6 weeks of summer online camp. We have struggled with attendance throughout. One teacher brought this up early on in our meeting today. She asked how we can ensure that students understand that this is “real school” and that they will come. Unfortunately, I don’t know that we can ensure this, but I believe that maintaining a focus on relationships, community, and care for one another is our best bet. So much will be different this year and some of it might not be as good as what came before, but we also have a unique opportunity to connect in new and meaningful ways.
We are planning weekly food and materials deliveries for each family and intend to continue our weekly phone calls. We are also talking about making many more home visits than ever before. We have decided that masked meetings outside of a students’ apartment is probably the most efficient and best way of showing that we care and taking care of any problems. Our virtual end of year conferences and new family intake interviews went so well that we intend to use Zoom and WhatsApp much more often. I am hoping that one-on-one teacher and student conferences will also happen more frequently when other students aren’t always around. Perhaps this online option will open new ways of building relationships and connecting for us. We will see. Again, I don’t know what all this year will bring, but so far there has been lots of new learning and opportunities for rethinking and reimagining our world and our work. I look forward to new lessons and much more learning to come.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” - Martin Luther King Jr
“Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance, you must keep moving.” - Albert Einstein