Over this break, we did a lot of family hiking. This largely translated into hikes more or less straight down cliffs, enjoying the view, and then trekking straight back up 1500 or so feet. It is not uncommon on the upward trek during these “family” hikes for me to wonder why I not only sign up for these outings, but I instigate the trips. Those reflection points devolve into those where I am pausing “for a sip of water,” generally reflecting on my untimely demise and listening to our 11 year old ask “how much farther?” Happily, on this trip, there were breezes at these pausing places, and the views were spectacular. Most encouraging, perhaps, was how steep the downward trail looked, so that we could see how far we had already come.
I did not reflect on that too much then; the lack of oxygen was hampering anything beyond my general hope that I would make it to the end not alarmingly far behind the older two children who might have distant gazelle DNA.
However, I did think about it when speaking with a head of school this past weekend. As many of you are, she was struggling with 10% of students out of school, an ever shifting 12% rate of staff being absent, and trying to get a handle on contact tracing (yes or no), collecting vaccine rates (don’t want to appear too pro or anti vaccine), and concerns around the supply chain that seems to be tightening (what’s up with the cream cheese?). I noted that spring will be better and she said, “Now was supposed to be better, or at least better than last year.” My first response was “yes, it was.” But then I looked back, and down at the path we have traveled.
We are in a much better place than last year. We have readily available vaccines. While we are managing a much more contagious variant it is not as virulent, there is generally less concern for the physical health of our staff and students (particularly those who are vaccinated) given all that we have learned over the year, we have seasons of managing earlier generations of Covid under our belts, making the concerns that many school leaders are managing a bit less bottomless. And, finally, the overall effects of vaccines and a less efficacious virus are leading to changes in guidance that are more focused on prioritizing the work of schools and students.
Are there additional stressors? Of course. People everywhere and in every way are tired of these roaring 20s, and aberrant behavior and conversations are in full color online, in carpool, and anywhere else interactions are had. The contagiousness of the virus is stretching staffing, students, and parents. The news is filled with stories of over-stretched hospitals and spiking case counts. At the same time, there are windows of grace and support everywhere. I encourage you to sip on those moments and create as many as you can in your community and in your personal life as we continue this uphill trek, and don’t forget to look back at how far we really have come.
I am not one for predictions for the new year, but the end of this year will find us in a better place than the beginning and we are, in fact, making progress, one step at a time even if this moment feels distinctly uphill.
Happy New Year!
P.S. I did send that particular head of school a chocolate babka. You should always have snacks.
The last several years have brought startling trends in student wellness: increased anxiety and depression, vaping, suicidal thoughts and tendencies. What do these trends look like in high performing schools? How are SAIS schools recognizing some of the challenges and creating systems or approaches to help support students? What might help? View this recorded online conversation with Debra Wilson, researcher Suniya Luthar, Authentic Connections CEO Nina Kumar, Lauren Wainright from Indian