April 5 – Letter to Community-distance learning update

Dear Friends,

As the novelty of distance learning at Keystone begins to settle into a new normal for at least a while, I want to share a few thoughts with you.

Spring is usually a dynamic time to be in education. This time of year can feel crazy busy with drama and musical performances, baseball, softball, track, and tennis matches, Science Fair and other academic competitions, and seniors engaged in deep discussion with their peers as they weigh their college acceptances and scholarship offers.

Students typically are walking that fine line of finishing one year and preparing for another. Seniors, in particular, balance the desire to start the next phase of their educational journey while waxing nostalgic about the things they will miss when they leave Keystone.

There is usually a great deal of excitement at this time of year. Now, the campus is silent. On a personal note, my wife and I worry about family in the New York area, a son in Chicago, and how the pandemic will affect our country. On and off campus, the current situation deeply saddens me.

At Keystone, classes are meeting online, and we’re all working to create routines and bring our sense of community into the virtual world. However, it is sinking in that distance learning is not the same as being with friends in person and talking to teachers face-to-face.

And yet, amidst all of this change, I see an incredible amount of good. Our teachers are digging deep to create lessons that challenge students academically and help them learn new content and skills. Our teachers and administrators are collaborating and supporting one another with new ideas and different ways to help students understand new material. Staff spring into action wherever they can to support students, parents, and teachers as we all navigate this new normal. The adjustment to distance learning is pushing us as educators to look anew at the way we have done things, adapt to new technology, and develop alternative ways of teaching.

Meanwhile, our Cobras are continuing their schoolwork, while finding and maintaining connections with their classmates. Children in the Little School parallel play with friends via Zoom, while lower schoolers discuss assignments with one another or their teachers online. Middle schoolers compete in a virtual Field Day, and high schoolers use this time to be creative, like the ninth grader who has developed and posted the first episode of his new podcast series, the other freshmen who have created a pandemic diary, and many other examples. These students are modeling for the rest of us how to make the best of a difficult situation. Their resilience amazes me, and their willingness to try new things and innovate bodes well for their future and ours.

I have also been heartened by the comments from parents who have jumped in feet first to help their children while working from home. Some of you have told me that you’re discovering new literature as you read along with your children, and others have expressed the joy of playing board games with your family or going for walks and having meaningful conversations. I commend you for finding silver linings in these uncertain times.

None of us chose this new reality, and we would all like to return to the lives we had before we had ever heard of COVID-19. Unfortunately, we may be in this for a while. In a recent conversation, a Keystone teacher and I discussed “The Wizard of Oz,” and I couldn’t help but think of the cowardly lion and his desire for courage.

So often when we consider courage, we envision heroic people battling insurmountable odds in epic struggles. We also know, though, that courage can be found in our daily battles with adversity. As the writer Mary Ann Radmacher says, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow’.”

In the days and weeks ahead, we will have good days and bad days. Wi-Fi connections will give out, services will crash and at some point, we will all have our difficulties navigating the technological challenges thrown at us. Nevertheless, I stand awestruck at the bravery of the Keystone community and the willingness to “try again tomorrow.”

As we continue to grapple with the coronavirus and its repercussions, I wish you health, peace, and courage.

With gratitude,

Billy

William B. Handmaker
Head of School