The writer Leslie Dwight rose to fame through her social media post of her work, What If 2020 Isn’t Canceled? She writes: “What if 2020 isn’t canceled? "What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for? A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw — that it finally forces us to grow," the poem reads. " A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber. A year we finally accept the need for change. Declare change. Work for change. Become the change. A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart. 2020 isn’t canceled, but rather the most important year of them all.”
It goes without saying that 2020 has been quite the storm. This storm has been so loud, it for sure, has woken us from our slumber. Last spring, I wrote a blog post entitled Storms Make Trees Take Deeper Roots. I find that quotes and verses help us find words when we don’t have them ourselves. Rumor has it country singer Dolly Parton is quoted as saying, “Storms make trees take deeper roots.” Though, recently I found another reference that it was the poet George Herbert who deserves the original credit saying, “Storms make oaks take deeper root.” Regardless of its origin, the phrasing rings true, yet it seems to be wearing out its welcome, causing us to ask, “How long is this storm going to last?”
The Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College is an incredible resource for guidance on helping children with the more challenging storms in life. There is a section of their website dedicated to the support of the helpers, as Mister Rogers would say, during coronavirus. Mister Rogers is the bellwether of teachers. One of his more famous quotes instructs children to look for helpers in times of crisis.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” After the events of 9/11, Mister Rogers was trepidatious about coming out of retirement to speak to his audience. While the tragedies hurt him deeply, he struggled with approaching the aftermath and how he would be of any help. Yet despite the fear that his words would be ineffective, Mister Rogers came on television to speak to his audience: not the children, but in fact their parents, those who were children when Mister Rogers Neighborhood was on the air.
“...I know how tough it is some days to look with hope and confidence on the months and years ahead. But, I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger: “I like you just the way you are.” And what’s more, I am so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe, and to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods.” – Fred Rogers
In the first few months of this school year, the faculty and staff of Wardlaw+Hartridge have been doing yeoman’s work. Everywhere you look you see articles and videos about the layperson coming to the realization that teachers work hard. In our latest parent survey, Wardlaw+Hartridge parents commented time and time again with their gratitude for the time, effort, and attention our teachers have given to their students. There are some things that others do and one finds that ‘Thank You’ is not quite enough.
So far, most of the in-person students at W+H are incredibly happy to be back at school, and they continue to feel like this solely due to their teachers. Our remote learners express a similar level of joy in their time in school. Getting to know your students when you can only see their eyes is not easy. Getting to know your students when you are speaking to them through a camera and computer is similarly not easy. It is difficult to connect with children’s personalities with these constraints, and it takes a good deal more time and energy.
When you walk the halls of Wardlaw+Hartridge this school year, things are for sure different, but as Dr. Bowman remarked once, it actually feels quite the same. But, it is different. This year, you’ll see the Upper School teachers teaching their students simultaneously online and in-person, and preparing their instruction to reach both sets of learners. You’ll see the Upper School deans reworking their advisory programming to allow for the students to have fun playing games like Among Us with their friends to be together, even though they are apart. You’ll see the Middle School students engaged in after school STEM workshops launching parachutes off the old football tower. You’ll see eighth graders evaluating the testimony of the eyewitness accounts of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in their history classes. In the Lower School, you’ll see Kindergarteners sharing their own found 3-Dimensional items for Show and Share. You’ll see Lower Schoolers engaged in their music work, their artwork, their Spanish studies, and in their STEM projects. Really, what you’ll see is students learning.
At the beginning of September, the online community Teacher2Teacher posted on their Facebook page the following quote: “The brick and mortar are not the school. WE are the school. … We are the beacon of light for our students when they need it most. What we do matters.” - Teacher Julie Gray
Our faculty are Wardlaw+Hartridge. We spent our spring and summer planning our return to campus and shared that we will return. Our brick and mortar building is important as it is the space in which we gather, and it is our home. But, as Mister Rogers shared, our students need more from us than just the four walls of the classroom. Throughout this pandemic and throughout the reopening of school, our students need to know that despite all the changes in these “unprecedented times” they will always have their teachers to rely upon. Each day, our students come in with their masks, with their QR codes, and to have their temperatures taken. Despite all the differences in the daily routine, each day they can trust that the W+H faculty are there to greet them, are here for them, and are, in truth, the helpers. They can always count on Wardlaw+Hartridge to be there for them in-person or remotely, face-to-face, or through Zoom. Our students and families can count on the tireless efforts of our faculty and staff to be the beacon of light when they need it most.
Most recently, I substituted for our Lower School Art Teacher, and I’m not sure that I have faced a more difficult challenge (well, it’s in the Top 5 anyway) than attempting to teach a 5-year-old how to fold a piece of paper in quarters over a Zoom call. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it requires the reworking of everything we have done before. Yes, most teachers have to shout all day to be heard through their masks and again through the computer’s microphone and speakers. Yes...it is exhausting.
However, we still walk alongside our students in this storm of unknown duration. We band together because with every storm, a beacon of light is needed to help guide the way through to the other side of better days, and deeper roots. In every English, history, science, social science, mathematics, language, physical education, art, and music class, our students know that the constant on which they can rely lies within the walls of Wardlaw+Hartridge.
Leslie Dwight recently wrote “and in your darkest moments, when it feels like no one else could possibly understand the storm you’re weathering, turn to words – to music, to poetry, to books, to quotes, to conversations, as you read, as you speak, the words will remind you that someone else does, in fact, understand; that you’re, in fact, never alone in this storm; and that, just like every other season, this too shall pass.”
William Arthur Ward is an oft-quoted writer of inspirational maxims. He notes: “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” The year 2020 has become the most important year of all as our gratitude for our faculty and staff has provided thanksgiving, joy and blessings. Thank you.