Today is the one-year anniversary of when our school closed a week before Spring Break due to the coronavirus. It is incredible to think how our world has changed in the last year. For many, it has felt like a lifetime, bringing great hardship, significant loss and sorrow. This written piece is not meant to diminish or disrespect those who have faced such challenges. My own family sadly lost my father-in-law. We were not able to be with him in the way we had wanted to be; our children did not get to say goodbye to their grandfather. This pandemic has been difficult for all of us. What I want to focus on in this article is actually what is going well, and specifically what is going well in the Middle School – and there is a lot.
During this pandemic we have seen student participation in our athletic offerings grow dramatically. Why is that? Our PE teachers have done an excellent job at continuing our programs, promoting them at every opportunity. Students who might not have played basketball, volleyball or any sport for that matter are now experiencing the joy that sports can bring, regardless if they are a ‘sports superstar’ or not. What I feel is the biggest contributor to this surge in participation is that our students want to spend time with each other. Outside of school, sports programs have been postponed at times and it is not currently possible for students to hang out at a friend’s house. They want to be with each other and sports at SMUS have allowed them to do this. I cannot think of a better combination: having fun with friends while playing sports.
Band, strings and choir have not taken a backward step in any way. Have we had to follow needed health and safety protocols? Absolutely, and that allowed us to still offer these subjects, and in fact we just recorded our end-of-term band and strings concerts this week. Having enjoyed watching the students play in person, I am confident in saying that the standard of playing has improved. Ms. Susan Vachon, our assistant director, shared a similar observation. When I asked our music teachers why this might be the case, they said that students have been practising at home more than ever. We have also had less disruptions to regular lessons due to school trips and sports fixtures. Music is an important part of our school offerings and it pleases me greatly that we continue to offer a program to an exceptionally high standard.
We have had less disruptions. These were often for field trips, guest speakers and sports; things that our students love and desperately miss. As a result, we have been able to invest more time into our core subjects. We have prioritized literacy and numeracy, spending more time working with individual students, doing a deeper dive into their learning. We have increased our learning support team, meaning that we will often have two teachers in a classroom providing guidance, assistance and advice. All of these factors and supports have better allowed our students to flourish in their studies. Has this all been due to the pandemic? No, but there is a feeling that our students are feeling better supported in the classroom at a time when things can feel a little unsettling.
Community and Care
It has not gone unnoticed that we as teachers, counsellors, receptionists and administrators know our students better than ever. In a complicated world, we have had to ensure that we are connecting with our students every day. They need to know who we are and that we are there for them. A byproduct of the pandemic has been cohorting. This has limited interaction between students, meaning that some students are not seeing close friends in the way they had hoped. What it has also brought is teachers having more regular contact with the same students and vice versa. Our teachers are now more able to recognize the signs that an individual student presents when in need. They are able to respond in a more timely fashion and with the appropriate level of care. This is a good thing. I do not feel that any student in the Middle School falls through the cracks, but I am also more confident than ever that our students do not even get near the crack. They are receiving the one-to-one attention they need.
I know there are just as many positive stories coming from our Junior and Senior Schools. Across the board, we are so proud of how students, faculty, staff and families have navigated the last 12 months. The fact that we continue to be together safely at school every day is a testament to our community’s resilience, and that allows us to see the positives in this school year.
Has this been a difficult year? Without a doubt. Are we looking forward to getting back to normal? You bet we are. Has it all been bad? Definitely not!