In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s Alice finds herself quite suddenly and unexpectedly in a world alarmingly different from her own orderly one. When the pandemic struck last winter, we, too, went down a rabbit hole. We had no choice but to engage with the new reality and use our wits, as Alice does—all the while registering surprise and amazement.
“ ‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English) . . . ‘Goodbye, feet!’ ”
Alice is curious by nature—enough to jump up and pursue the talking rabbit. Renbrook, too, nimbly sprang into action. During March vacation it became clear that we would not be returning to campus. When we found ourselves in a curious situation—“remote learning,” an oxymoron at Renbrook!—our curiosity was a great asset.
Students and faculty did some fancy footwork together. We were like Alice, plucky, confident in her own resourcefulness, giving herself good advice, but sometimes not following it in unpredictable circumstances. Alice is undaunted; she does her best to take control, and so did we, as we Zoomed our way through classes, meetings, and fun activities.
We were not afraid to experiment. Eat me! Drink me! Find useful tools in whatever comes to hand! Don’t drown in a pool of tears! From the first, we focused on emotional support. Learning had to go on, but activating our students’ resilience and providing extra support had to take new forms. We had to replace Renbrook the place with sharing and connecting through technology—to feel like our community even when remote.
“And Alice went on planning to herself how she would manage it.”
Professional development took on new dimensions as administration, faculty, and staff worked furiously to plan for in-person learning. This was Renbrook creativity on steroids! As LL Cool J said in an interview with Stephen Colbert, “Curiosity is important, but it can be passive. You have to act on curiosity; you have to search!” Faculty read, took online seminars, and conferred in Zoom meetings, while administrators and staff searched out equipment to meet the demands of an unprecedented situation. The organization of the school—spaces, schedule, the movement of students, arrival, dismissal—nothing would be “normal.” How could we not just cope, but thrive? The school thrummed with creativity.
“Alice led the way, and the whole party swam to the shore.”
We returned in September dedicated to safely learning together on campus. The gift of our campus has made both safety and dynamic in-person learning possible. Outdoor learning has been an adventure and pulling together around shared goals has deepened our community.
Keeping each other safe has required trust and discipline. Our leadership has put in place carefully crafted protocols, and scrupulous communication has ensured that they are followed rigorously. The whole community has demonstrated heroic care and commitment to our common welfare. Each in their own way, everyone—parent, faculty, staff, student alike—has made sacrifices to put the well-being of the whole school uppermost, in ways often unnoticed. We have all been isolated from colleagues, schoolmates, friends, yet the sense of purpose and concern for others has elevated us individually and as an institution. Truly, our fundamental Renbrook principles have carried us and will continue to do so as we build a surprising, treacherous, yet fulfilling school year.
So how has Renbrook steadfastly been Renbrook through the challenges of 2020-2021? What did the school look like in spring’s online phase? What has school looked like on our campus this fall as teachers, staff, students, and parents strove to keep us together?
In some ways it looks different from the Renbrook you remember—think flocks of blue adirondack chairs beneath the trees and twinkling eyes above masked smiles—but in substance, Renbrook is Renbrook. Through generations, pandemics, times of national reckoning, technological advances, the unique qualities of the Renbrook experience remain constant, rooted as they are in timeless values and a laser focus on the heart of the child. Stayed tuned to our blog throughout the spring as we tell the tale of Renbrook School during a pandemic. Renbrook proudly carries on.