Everyone has their “how it hit” story. One employee might remember the email demanding a work-from-home placement for a position that requires human contact. One parent might remember the moment they got the call from school notifying them of the next two weeks that their students would be home. One business owner might recall the horrific moment they had to hold the meeting in front of their confused staff to address “the change in business” that was to come.
Reggio endured all of this. But these moments were not necessarily how it all started.
Friday, March 13th our school day was already so different. You see, earlier that week our team was notified of a virus in other parts of the world that didn’t involve us, obviously. We began buzzing about how to clean a little bit more efficiently. A little more energy grew when we realized gloves couldn't be purchased online. Changing diapers was about to get real weird.
But by Friday, we all listened to the news far too much and we even heard that public schools were taking steps to which required a close for two weeks. Being a private school this wild exclusion didn’t include us- we would be allowed to stay open, make money, cover salaries, operate normally. As long as we did this cleanliness thing right.... right?
So Friday started by cleaning a lot and with the weather around 70 degrees and the sun shining hard, we were still able to do so in amazing spirits. Cleaning with our students was cut short by a (always memorable) first ever picnic lunch on the playground. The spring air was incredibly warm and the breeze was delicious. No one had a jacket on for the first time this school year and we ate, we laughed, we finished quickly so we could have “extra run time”, and we all spoke about how we would be able to make these picnics even better next week.
Then nap's start time came and went.
While the rest of the younger students in other classes began sleeping, one Pre-K class stayed in the sun a little while longer. Barefoot children ran by us teachers, looking up as the sun bounced off their incredibly happy faces- they had no idea our anxiety was rising about the news or the world was discovering some new germs. Teachers even joked about how our school was too embedded with magic to ever let a little virus get to such wild things.
Dismissal came later that afternoon. Children left while we were busy cleaning. I really can’t tell you more about how that day ended, I just know how many students of mine I didn’t hug goodbye.
That’s how it works, doesn’t it? You know what you didn’t do. But when you have humans this young who count on you to always be there for them, what “we didn’t do” has haunted us and we never stopped thinking about it. From March 13th-March 13th. Not a single day.
Because that Saturday morning absolute hell broke loose.
Businesses closed, grocery stores were raided, Amazon was completely vacant of (not only cleaning supplies) basic household necessities. It felt like in 24 hours someone flipped a chaos switch and this included the reality of announcing our closure as well. How is it possible that in one day we went from the most beautiful first spring day of our school year to calling our staff and families to announce a two week closure? We had to.
Reggio picked up the phone and one-by-one told the staff of how this virus has already begun affecting us. Shortly after that, the phone began calling parents. Shortly after that, those parents had to tell their babies: School was closed.
Reggio’s admin team cried. That Saturday morning (we thought) was going to stand to be the hardest day of our history.
...little did we know what was coming.
Our school met immediately to plan out how to connect to our students. For two weeks we would host a virtual circle time via Facebook Live to reassure our students that whatever they might be feeling from this disruption to their lives, we were here for them. Every day.
And at the end of the two weeks? What did we learn? School could open again, right?
Absolutely not. Actually, quite the opposite would be announced with what was probably accompanied by an aggressive tornado alarm across yet another Emergency Press Conference at 5:00PM. Our Governor let us know that in lieu of an opening at the end of our two week torture, there would instead be a formal closure of child care centers... “until further notice”.
But from March 2020 until June 2020, our teachers read, sang, counted, laughed, sorted, rhymed, hunted, hopped, stretched, matched, and de-iced our way through lesson plans on live Facebook circle time meetings. 65 days of consistency for our students, and 65 days of pure hell for teachers.
We woke up to plan for the morning show and thanked God we had something to keep us busy during this storm. But those 30 minutes of air time didn’t last long. Teachers day after day would wave goodbye, exit the stream, and stare at a black screen while we somehow mustered ourselves out of a cry to begin to clean up the leprechaun trap that not one child ever got to test out. Teachers sat in their homes or our empty school studio and screamed hate at that black screen. Because a black screen meant it was 10:00AM and 10:00AM meant it was another 23 hours until we had the privilege of connecting with the very children who we knew needed us the most.
Not all days were hard because of sadness, or fear, or depression, or anxiety, or isolation. The truth of the matter is there are schools and businesses and people who made it through this tsunami and have enough perspective to realize the lessons to be learned in all of this. Reggio speaks daily about the differences this has made on our entire program, for the better.
During COVID our team met... a lot. We leaned on each other, coped with each other, and became closer while we oddly connected so much more than we did while we were in person. One could say we might have been taking each other for granted.
And our parents? They were able to see how we connected with their children in their very own homes. They could see that we wanted to help, that we cared, that we wanted to support them too. The relationships our teachers, students, and parents now have with one another is a partnership that only strengthened because of this opportunity.
The pressures of our industry even decreased- teachers were able to refocus priorities onto our students and forget the ever intensifying pressures to “teach like this, operate like this, plan this much, have children learn this much.” One of the best lessons learned from all of this was our program learned to take nothing or anyone for granted.
The only thing that mattered was that everyone was okay. Worldwide.
It didn’t matter that we had to shut down, it didn’t matter that we couldn’t have our highly anticipated events, it didn’t matter that our friends weren’t around us physically 24/7, it didn’t matter that we couldn’t go to bars, it didn’t matter that we had to film our lessons instead, it didn’t matter that our school was empty for 65 days.
None of it mattered. The only thing that matters now is the universal wish for anyone and everyone, “I hope you are okay.” Our mothers, grandfathers, neighbors, friends, teachers, business owners, nannies, babies, cousins, toddlers- as long as they are okay then everything else was just something that could be overcome or forgotten. What a relief to have it become acceptable to care about one another and just forget the rest.
And a year later? We carry the same perspective , only stronger. Reggio celebrates this mindset and how far we've come because of the positivity and hope. 11 teachers (and counting!) are vaccinated. Our school has reached capacity for students we serve. Our expansion project is complete. More and more top teachers are interviewing to join our program.
Oh yeah, and our very first spring day of this year happened this week, and you know what else? Unlike last year, our students were gifted with our second spring day too.
But the most important privilege we have with this March 13th over last March 13th is the redeeming chance to finally be able to say:
Students, we will see you Monday.