Hold On, Dig In, and Be Thankful
Message from the headmaster
Among the many things I am thankful for this week is the fact that we at the Academy remain here together for these two days before the Thanksgiving holiday. Many thought that we would be online by now and were even more convinced of that as the cases of COVID-19 in Vermont and the counties surrounding us continued to rise over the last couple of weeks.
The safety measures that were so novel in August are now humdrum and obvious—the masks, the hand-cleaning, the desks six feet apart. Some of these routines have offered unexpected gifts, such as the little occasions for conversation at morning health screenings (Questions: “Have you traveled outside Vermont? Do you have any of these symptoms this morning? If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?” Answer: “An animal that doesn’t have COVID-19?”).
Most of the measures, though, are just plain hindrances; and it feels particularly tough to be heading into this holiday season with new and even more isolating restrictions (no mixing households, limited travel and gathering, etc.). The rules make very good sense, and I sincerely hope that people follow them to protect us and our loved ones. But they also pry us even further apart just at the time when we would want to come together to eat pie and argue about things with people we love.
To put things in perspective, though, I want to add my voice to the chorus of doctors, public health officials, and educators who are urging communities to prioritize keeping school open for our children right now, even if it means we have to sacrifice temporarily some of the things we enjoy. I say temporarily because the prospect of an effective COVID-19 vaccine is looking brighter, and the experts are telling us there is now discernable light at the end of the pandemic’s dark tunnel. It looks like what we’re enduring is not in fact endless, as it sometimes has felt. For us that surely means that we can hold on, dig in, and do what it takes to ensure that schools can continue doing what we do best and not lose irretrievable time in our kids’ development. We can and should re-classify our teachers as essential workers—in fact, we already have—and recast our work with students as essential work. There is ample evidence emerging that this is exactly what it is.
At the Academy we have had some community members test positive for the virus this month, which we knew we would; but so far, we have had no in-school transmission, meaning that our school is not where the virus spreads from person to person.
This past weekend our COVID response team and Director of Health Services Sarah Garey earned high praise from the Vermont Department of Health for the prevention measures they have put in place. In particular, the DoH was impressed by the quick, thorough, responsible process that they go through to respond to any cases we learn about. Thanks to them, we have been able to trace close contacts, communicate clearly, and do appropriate testing that helps us open school day after precious day with confidence. That has been, really, a very big deal.
So in this time of giving thanks, I want to thank them and the whole Academy community for their excellent work, dedication, and collaboration on this unprecedented project that is so critical to our kids’ ability to succeed in the future. Teachers are coming in and doing their best to build relationships across multiple media. Staff are coming in and keeping campus clean and running smoothly. And we are all looking for as much normalcy as we can find. “Normal” is in sight, so let’s try to embrace the weirdness and make these sacrifices now—don’t travel, stay within your household, and don’t gather—knowing that it means everything to our kids.
Dr. Sharon L. Howell