Head of School Blog: October 23, 2020

In many ways, it is difficult to fully comprehend that we have been back at school for eight weeks now. The warm weather, although quite helpful in some ways, has tricked us into believing that it is still late summer. However, a simple glance at the calendar shows that Halloween is but a week away. First quarter grades have been tabulated, and plans are in place for virtual parent conferences in November. The countdown to Thanksgiving will soon follow; sadly, we know that many of the traditional events which accompany the holiday season will be very different this year.  

It is unfortunate that the pandemic still hovers over our lives, and we cannot wish it away. Several schools in our area had to go to all-remote instruction, as cases occur in their populations. Thus far, and I emphasize thus far, we have been able to maintain in-person instruction, and while some things are different, there is much to celebrate about being back on campus and being together. It is wonderful to witness on a daily basis students and teachers working in classrooms, younger children joyfully playing outside, and on sunny days the various groups enjoying lunch on the quad.

Our goal is clear – we will maintain classes on campus for as long and as much as we safely can. Yet, our ability to avoid shifting to all-remote instruction depends on the fierce cooperation of everyone in our school community.  

I have been heartened by the response of our faculty, students, and parents. The level of cooperation by all remains high, even as we tire of the many restrictions required by Covid-19. Mask wearing, social distancing, and frequent handwashing, though becoming the norm, still seem abnormal. Nevertheless, the virus will continue to be a challenge for us all for the foreseeable future. Science and history inform us that a safe, effective, inexpensive, and widely available vaccine will not be here until 2021, at the earliest. Thus, our protocols are likely to remain in place for the entire academic year. In addition, our planning continues to include, if needed, the transition to full distance learning for our students, provisions for conducting contact tracing, and for individual or group testing.

Amid any kind of challenge, urging (or telling) people to "calm down" has never proven to be helpful. Everyone reacts differently to difficult situations, and unless each of us purposefully chooses to take a step back and reflect on the circumstances, the chances are we won't. Nonetheless, this is what is required in these days of the pandemic, so that clear-headed and thoughtful decisions may be made. Reason and consistency will carry us through this time. Please know that at Gill St. Bernard's School, we will continue to make decisions based on the science, as well as on common sense.

Part of our strategy to prevent an outbreak and to keep the campus open involves compliance with our protocols and transparency in reporting issues or concerns to our nursing staff. To that aim, we ask that all families planning to travel during the holiday vacations to any area, state, or country on New Jersey's travel advisory list, should also plan on self-quarantining when they return home, based on the CDC recommended guidelines of 10 days.

Following these guidelines ensures that everyone stays safe – for everyone plays an important part in helping to preserve in-person instruction throughout the year. We are not planning any voluntary closures at this time, as every day in-person teaching takes place is important.

As a former history teacher, I often look to events in the past for insight. The concept of "rugged individualism" first entered American History in the late 1920's when Herbert Hoover coined the term to praise the qualities of self-sufficiency that once sustained frontier settlers in the movement westward in the 18th and 19th centuries. Certainly, I agree with the basic notion that we all must take responsibility for ourselves and acknowledge that is an important characteristic of a democratic nation. However, during this time of the pandemic, it is essential that we recognize that the needs of our community are more important than the individual.

Transparency and open communication with our nursing staff about symptoms or travel plans will make a significant difference in preventing the spread of the virus and safely keeping our campus open. Also, the longer we do this, the closer to an effective vaccine we will get. In addition, the academic year will continue to unfold in a positive way, and the next thing you know, I will be writing about spring break.