The following remarks were shared by our Administrative Director, Marti Stewart, to begin our All School Meeting on Wednesday, February 2, 2022.
Good evening. Thank you for joining us tonight.
Tonight we’d like to share some updates and snapshots of current school life and formally introduce several people serving in new roles. You will hear from our Board Chair, Melissa Wright, who stepped into this important leadership role last June and our Faculty Chair, Johanna Garcia who joined our school faculty in July. You will hear some updates from our School Nurse, Julia Bottkol and you will also have a chance to meet our new Development Director, Ed Nelsen, and our new Development Associate, Kate Jacobson. You will also hear from several teachers about their experiences with our students in the classrooms including our new first grade teacher, Coua Vang, Willow Kindergarten teacher, Jessi Lisell and sixth grade teacher, John Miller.
I want to begin tonight by acknowledging the significant challenges we are facing as individuals, and as families, and as a community. We are not all facing the same struggles – but there seems to be a common thread of fatigue, disappointment, frustration, loss, and overwhelm.
On a daily basis we all hear about the struggles of students, parents, teachers, early childhood educators and school staff in schools across the country and around the world.
We hear about severe staffing shortages in schools and childcare centers that cause closures and mean a lack of adequate care and instruction. We hear about teachers and administrators leaving their jobs, parents that are at their wit’s end managing children at home while trying to work, parents who are frustrated with schools and school districts for mandating masks and requiring quarantine periods, and parents who are upset because their vulnerable children can’t attend school because schools and communities are not doing enough to create a safe environment for them to send their child to school.
We hear about children who feel stressed, depressed, and isolated and who are falling behind in their learning due to missed school days and the challenges of distance learning. On top of all of this, rising inflation and wealth inequality, the impact of climate change and systemic racism, add additional layers of stress onto many members of our school and world community. And In addition, the division in families and communities caused by differing perspectives and experiences related to the COVID-19 pandemic are sources of anger, heartache, misunderstanding and a breakdown in trust.
Unfortunately, City of Lakes Waldorf School is not immune to any of these challenges. Contrary to popular opinion, we do not actually live in a bubble! We are a part of the world and this society, and we are all subject to many of the same forces and to the important questions of our time. Our collective experience as students, teachers, staff and parents at City of Lakes Waldorf School is not perfect. Some things are very challenging right now, and many of us feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated, and exhausted at times. We all want the hardships of the pandemic to be over, if only just so we could move on to address other big issues! We would all like to be reassured that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Naturally, we can tend to get caught up in our personal experience, perspective, and woes, and we are not always able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, or to suspend judgement, or to ask the questions that will bring solutions, healing, restoration, unity or a path forward.
And in the midst of our own challenges and fatigue, we are not always able to see our relative good fortune.
We sometimes forget that over the course of the pandemic, none of our students, teachers or staff have suffered severe illness. And that the majority of our students have had 4 or 5 days of rich in-person learning since we launched last year’s school year in the face of so many unknowns in September 2020. We sometimes forget that we had zero transmission on both CLWS campuses last school year, and through this school year until January 2022 with the impact of the Omicron variant.
We forget all the ways we have worked together—and made sacrifices together—to create a relatively high degree of normalcy for our students, and to preserve the important aspects of their school experience and to build on our success as circumstances have allowed.
Remember what a joy it was last spring, when our grade students were able to perform class plays outdoors for their families. As a community, we were able to enjoy 8th grade project presentations and a beautiful outdoor graduation. We prioritized finding a way for our 8th graders to have an 8th grade trip experience and for our then 7th grade to go to Camp Menogyn and the Boundary Waters this fall.
We began this year with a New Family Brunch in the play yard, the traditional Rose Ceremony with parents in attendance, an outdoor all school meeting and our beloved Autumn Festival of Courage at Fair Oaks Park in late September.
This year’s student schedule reflects almost a full return to regular subject programming including string ensemble and choir, versus the block subject schedule offered last year to minimize the number of contacts teachers had each week. In contrast to last year, students now mix freely across classes when outside in the play yard. We’ve seen the relatively uninterrupted return of our Before Care and Extended Day and Afterschool music lesson programs. This year, you may recall that many of us gathered together on a beautiful October day for the annual Bike-a-thon! We offered in-person Parent Teacher conferences in November to those who preferred them.
And In December, our entire grade school—all of the students in grades one through eight—gathered in our “Festival Hall” in the church across the street and shared a music concert together for the first time in two years. Just last week our students and community were able to attend an indoor performance of the 8th grade’s fabulous production of Alice in Wonderland at the Howard Conn Theater down the street; the first indoor play production in two years! And just this morning our young students at our Loring Campus gathered for festivities and games in celebration of the Year of the Tiger in the social hall of St. Mark’s Cathedral on our Loring Campus. None of these things felt possible a year ago.
Despite the challenges and the hardships the pandemic has brought to all of us, we have prioritized the student learning experience that includes academic learning, artistic activity, celebrations and festivals—and acknowledged the critical role of relationships and social connection for student health, learning, and development. For the past 18 months we have overcome many obstacles, and we have found ways to maintain so much of the normal daily joys of learning and being together for our students. We are committed to continuing to do so!
As adults, we have an opportunity to demonstrate for our students that life and happiness are not defined by what comes to us, but by how we respond – by what we tell ourselves is true—and by what we make of ourselves in times of conflict and difficulty. Every day we choose to believe in the good will and intentions of others, in the ability of human beings to name and address injustice and inequity and the conditions that perpetuate inequality and exclusion. Every day we choose to believe in the capacity for human beings to meet and overcome all kinds of challenges, and to do so together—to rely on the mutual care and respect that we have for each other to carry us through.
Like the children, we want to be seen and heard and valued, and we want to know that our voice matters. We have an opportunity to practice, every day, the kind of listening, resilience, flexibility and grace that we hope to encounter in others.
This is what I hope our Waldorf students will remember about this time—that they were held by a community that loves and supports them unconditionally. I hope that they will be nurtured far into the future by the way that we as the adults in their lives demonstrated hope and resilience, and worked together anew each day with compassion, forgiveness, and care for one another, to meet a difficult time with persistence, creativity, openness, and joy!