The 2020–21 school year marked a turning point for Brazil and the world—the pandemic intensified. We realized we were in a marathon, not a short-term sprint, which required ongoing adjustments to ensure safety and continual program development. We persevered in battling the invisible forces of a virus that has changed our patterns of life, from how we work to how we socialize. We recreated how we live our everyday lives under the specter of fear, uncertainty, loss of lives, and the intense suffering afflicting so many. Our staff developed, implemented, and refined three distinct, demanding educational programs: distance, face-to-face, and hybrid.
The hardships we have faced have caused tremendous stress, but they have also fueled enormous growth in our resilience, cooperation, and bonding as a community. This school year has been a unique period of opportunity, learning, and service. It has shown what the human spirit can achieve and overcome in the face of adversity. The incredible efforts, dedication, and even heroism of our children, families, and staff as they forged new capacities to cope with the worst ravages of the pandemic are nothing less than inspiring. We united and collaborated to get through and survive the tempestuous stages of the pandemic. While we still have a long way to go, the promise of brighter days brings us hope as more people receive vaccines. We continue to implement rigorous preventive measures to help prevent the spread of the virus in our School, families, and community. Our School has been a relative haven of safety because of these efforts.
The pandemic has shown us the benefits and limits of technology. It has shown us the dangers of spending too much time in the digital world. We are raising a generation who can mobilize instantly and network online to solve any problem. We have noted that our students benefit from the flexibility, the choices of learning activities, and the powerful online tools available to guide their individual learning paths. Most students have gained essential skills in autonomy—exploring the world in alternative ways, navigating through information from multiple sources worldwide. We have come so far from the days of simply reading textbooks inside a classroom to learn!
On the other hand, we have seen the toll of Zoom fatigue on everyone. Students are longing for more connection, interaction, and learning alongside their friends at School. Our students are happy when on campus despite the many restrictions and rules they must follow; the diligent use of masks is but one. In our meetings with students, they expressed their desire for teachers to continue being as open and flexible next year as they were this year and that they most like learning through projects. They enjoy the challenge of extending their learning in creative ways to apply concepts in authentic situations and to design solutions and products that are meaningful to others.
We are impressed with our students’ resilience and their ability to adapt. We believe the challenges they are facing provide opportunities for them to build character and resolve and will help define their purpose and priorities in life. Students are overcoming the inevitable difficulties of this prolonged pandemic, and we believe they are gaining essential life skills, not ‘losing learning.’
A frequent comment of many community members is how much they have come to value teachers and the realization that computers will never replace them. Calling a teacher an essential worker does not fully convey their multiple and demanding high-level professional responsibilities. Their role extends beyond what we associate with a typical worker. They lead, guide, and even mold the most precious treasures of all—our beloved children and our next generation of citizens. A child does not come to school as a walking brain or memory to fill. Children need comprehensive attention, care, and integrated teaching. Our teachers have addressed their students’ well-being and needs of being understood, supported, and loved, and they continue to do so.
Our teachers learned how to adapt our curriculum and their teaching methods to deliver programs at a distance. When we opened for hybrid learning, they once again needed to adjust their approaches to teach simultaneously students who were learning from home and those in their classrooms at School. In addition to delivering two kinds of programs, they need to orient students daily on the many safety and hygiene protocols on campus to ensure safety. Teachers have used feedback from students and parents to create teaching and learning environments that are sensitive and responsive to students’ needs. Our programs, both on- and off-line, are dynamic and continually evolving.
We could not have provided any of the services or made the outstanding progress we have throughout this pandemic if it were not for our partnership with parents, who have been more deeply involved in their children’s education than we have ever seen. First, they are coaching students at home. Second, they are attending numerous meetings and working with teachers and administrators to help adjust our programs in the pursuit of excellence. We thank parents for their understanding, insights, and role as educators alongside us.
We look forward to and are planning for our upcoming school year in which we will celebrate our newfound strengths and the lessons we have learned to make our School even more impacting on our students’ lives and to serve as a source of hope to others.