Our Head of School’s Perspective on the Pandemic and Education
Here are my five most important takeaways from this unusual year at Gulf Stream School, navigating through the pandemic:
- In-person school is important.
- Relationships are more important.
- Traditions matter.
- Independent education is a valuable and durable investment.
- The GSS community can accomplish anything.
In-Person Learning is Irreplaceable
According to EdWeek, an independent education news agency, thirty-six US states still have no direction on when or how to open their schools, and schools in three states and DC are still at least partially closed. Dramatic learning loss will be the outcome for 90% of school-age children in the US who attend public schools.
Online schooling is a good option when you can’t be in person. Having now experienced, observed, and evaluated both in-person and distance learning, there is no question that distance learning (for most children at the PK-8 stage) is inferior to in-person learning for capturing the volume of knowledge and skills required to avoid learning gaps.
Gulf Stream School, along with 74% of its National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) counterparts knew this intuitively. We’ve witnessed first-hand the deficiencies inherent in online schooling during mandatory school closures, and made the bold decision to open for in-person classes (or on a hybrid model) in September of 2020.
Fostering Relationships is a Significant Part of the Educational Experience
While minding the learning gaps is important, it has become increasingly obvious to me that the real danger in closing schools is the social, emotional, and psychic damage that can be done to young people. For our Nation, what will be the long-term results for 50.8 million students who are and continue to be isolated from other children, and without any opportunities to build healthy relationships with caring adults?
Gulf Stream School is a community. It is complex and many layered. Children don’t come here only to learn, they come to enrich and to be enriched by other people. Ask a GSS student what he or she remembers from lower school and you likely will not get a response that correlates with academics. Most likely, the child’s answer will be about friends he or she made, games played at recess, an experience with an influential teacher, a class field trip, or another example of healthy socialization.
Traditions are Important to Maintain Through the Pandemic
As hard as we worked to mitigate learning gaps and maintain our students’ opportunities to build relationships, there were times when I felt like something was missing; like the vibe was not as robust as usual. Then, someone would say something like, “Hey, what about the parent coffees? Or, Is the family picnic a possibility? Or, Are we going to do the 3rd grade Mothers’ Day Celebration? Or, can we bring back graduation in the Clough Chapel?” And, then it was obvious, in a major way the pandemic interrupted our traditions.
At Gulf Stream School, a missed tradition sends a palpable sensation across campus, and we have a lot of traditions. Why did the recently hosted new parent coffees in the 8th grade courtyard feel so good? Because they were a shout out to the traditional things that we did before the pandemic. We are working to bring them all back.
Independent Education is a Valuable Investment
NAIS created reams of survey data throughout the pandemic. By March of 2021, 73% of NAIS schools were open for in-person learning. 70% of private schools hired additional personnel in order to accommodate campus health protocols, and invested in technology, air filtration, and personal protective equipment.
While public school teachers resisted returning to work, private school teachers cheerfully honored their commitments to children, with 84% of school Heads reporting high faculty morale. In hybrid schools, high student morale was reported at 60%, but soared to 80% for students attending in-person school.
Evident in these data is that private schools put children first and are capable and willing to nimbly overcome obstacles to achieve that purpose, and spend the money to do so. GSS students are completing a year of schooling that was missed or incomplete for over two-thirds of the Nation’s children.
Thrown into high relief is the life-long overwhelming value of investing in independent schooling; a value that will only be further realized as our children emerge from the pandemic academically accomplished and have been enriched by their classmates and teachers.
The Gulf Stream School Community can Accomplish Anything Together
“The best way out is always through,” American poet Robert Frost. The Gulf Stream School community is going to come through this pandemic having opened on the first day of school and remained open throughout the school year, with abounding transparency, communication, and support from students, teachers, and families; and with a 99.7% COVID-19 negativity rate on campus. If we can do this together, together we can accomplish anything.
By: Dr. Gray Smith, Head of School