We are officially one week into the new school year! To have so many students, teachers, and staff back on campus, albeit under such unusual and challenging conditions, has been a welcome change of pace. I am grateful for your patience, and I assure you that the question against which it is tested is the same question that tests my own: How will we know when it is time to resume school as we know it?
It is a question whose answer depends on the answers to others, which include these:
- How is learning impacted by masking and physical distancing? Our teachers and staff are observing whether our on-campus students learn comfortably and with a high level of engagement as they adhere to the contagion prevention measures that we have put in place. We are interested to learn whether our students would rather interact with their teachers and classmates online without a face mask or in person while wearing one. We are confident in our implementation of distance learning, having proved ourselves in this medium on short notice last spring, and having invested in enhancements and teacher training over the summer. (Our faculty will deploy upwards of 50 educational technologies, from Adobe Rush to Zoom, as they facilitate student learning online.) Nevertheless, we recognize the many intellectual, social, and emotional benefits of in-person learning, even as masking and physical distancing are observed.
- Are a sufficient number of our teachers able to work from campus? Like so many people today, several members of our faculty are under the advice of a doctor to avoid group settings, or they live with someone who is so advised. Many other teachers have struggled to secure care for their own young children who attend schools with closed facilities, and they are therefore also challenged to work from campus and still meet the needs of their families. We will continue our efforts to expand on-campus childcare resources at MICDS for impacted teachers as the school year progresses and therefore increase our capacity to provide in-person learning for our students.
- How essential is fixed-group cohorting in preventing COVID-19 contagion? Because rosters vary from class to class in the Middle and Upper School, in-person learning entails exposure to a relatively large number of overlapping students and teachers—as well as multiple transitions from classroom to classroom—over the course of the school day. Online classes, by contrast, can be attended from a single location, limiting exposure only to people in the same assigned room. We will be interested to learn whether schools in St. Louis and around the country that have implemented in-person learning for older students experience COVID-19 outbreaks to a greater or lesser extent than we do with our fixed-group cohorts in Middle and Upper School.
- Is the perceived public-health risk of in-person elementary and secondary education diminishing? We will continue to consult with and seek advice from epidemiologists and medical authorities, in view of all available information, about the safety of returning to in-person instruction on our campus as the school year proceeds.
I began by thanking you for your patience, and I will conclude by thanking you again. The poet W.H. Auden once wrote, alluding to the Garden of Eden, “Because of impatience we were driven out of paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.” The concept of paradise hardly squares with the circumstances we are enduring now, but an admonition against impatience is ever worth hearing, especially when our patience is so constantly tested. The musician Nathaniel Rateliff released a song this year whose title, “And It’s Still Alright,” is a reminder to me every time that I hear it of the virtues of patience, adaptability, and optimism. “It ain’t alright, the hardness of my head… / It ain’t the way that you want / But it’s still alright.” It is the first entry on a Spotify / Apple Music playlist to which I will add weekly in my letters to you. I hope that you enjoy it.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. I wish you and your families a very restful and enjoyable weekend, and I will look forward to being in touch with you again soon.
Head of School