The roller coaster year

I’ve never been a big fan of roller coasters. Because I get motion sickness easily—even turning around in a circle can make me dizzy—and I am not by nature much of a thrill-seeker, I tend to avoid these rides. And I certainly don’t want to be turned upside down if I can avoid it.

Therefore, this year has not been my favorite, to say the least. The roller coaster ride of the past twelve months has left all of us in education looking for a gentler ride, and, sadly, some educators have left the amusement park altogether. Now before I push this metaphor too far, I will add that even our students, who are the most likely among us to enjoy a trip on the old Sky Scream, are looking for a simpler time. Beyond the pivoting and adjusting and endless flexibility, there have been too many aspects of this whole journey that have taken their toll on teachers and students. Stop the ride, we want to get off!

And yet, here we are, still trying to make our way through the challenges that this year consistently presents at Colorado Academy. What have we learned from all of this? For one, we are more resilient than we ever knew. There is nothing like adversity to test one’s strength, and I am so impressed with how teachers and students have handled the many ups and downs. Students still showed up on Zoom or, even better, in person, eager to learn and ready to work hard. They turned out and did everything that was allowed in the arts and athletics and in other extracurricular activities like Ethics Bowl, coding competitions, photo contests, Mock Trial, and Speech & Debate. Seniors continued to work on service projects, even though the in-person aspects of service were all but eliminated.

They poured great energy into our many equity and diversity initiatives, too. Led by some incredible student leaders, they ushered the school community through our annual PlatFORUM day, attended virtual diversity conferences, recruited prospective students, interviewed teacher and administrator candidates, and even came to present at faculty meetings. They have helped us move our efforts forward, and next year’s returning students will help welcome our most diverse incoming Freshman class ever.

Seniors have persevered through the most unusual college admissions year ever. Everything, from standardized testing, to college visits, to application essays, was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and our students had to deal with it. The result? Once again, we see amazing college outcomes at a wide range of institutions all across the country (and even a few abroad). As always, there were quite a few receiving major scholarships recognizing their academic achievements, as well as artistic and athletic endeavors. (A full report on the college admissions picture for 2021 will come in a future newsletter.)

To the extent that students could play sports, they have thrown themselves into those activities this year. It’s been very clear how much those physical activities mean to many of our students, as often they have been devastated when quarantines have shut them down for a week or two. Happily, several fall sports have returned for a second chance in March and April, and the spring sports season is coming soon. Those spring athletes lost their entire season in 2020, so you can bet they will be out playing with renewed vigor and focus, even though the 2021 version of the schedule will extend well into June, continuing even beyond Commencement.

So despite the many ups and downs, I move forward with a lot of hope. The lessons learned about community and in-person communication will remain in our minds. The lessons learned about what effective teaching and learning are all about will also stay with us. Every faculty member has a greater capacity for handling and integrating technology in their classrooms.

Early in the pandemic, one administrator at another school commented that managing the pandemic “could be an interesting intellectual challenge.” I haven’t checked in with that person recently, but I imagine even he has had all the intellectual challenges he can take! We look forward to the 2021-22 school year looking a lot like the pre-pandemic school years. By the time we get there, we will be older and wiser. We will have fresh appreciation for the everyday interactions that were less common this year. And, let us not forget, many will still be mourning the losses of loved ones from this pernicious pandemic, or perhaps others they lost along the way.

Spring is coming, and the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is beckoning. Who knows? By this summer, I may even head to Elitch Gardens.