Reflecting on 2020 at Keystone and looking ahead to 2021

Dec 18 2020

Reflecting on 2020 at Keystone and looking ahead to 2021

Dear Keystone Families,

As we prepare to leave for Winter Break, let’s take a moment to reflect on an unforgettable 2020 and begin to look at the months ahead.

Last January feels like a world away now. Although we have experienced a pandemic, severe economic recession, protests in the streets, and a tumultuous presidential election, it’s helpful to maintain a sense of perspective and remember all the other things that occurred this past year.

As in other years, a committed contingent of Keystone students and families walked with other San Antonians in the nation’s largest MLK Day March in January 2020. Later that month, former Cobras shared their expertise and experiences during our annual Alumni Day, and we introduced a first-time internship fair for high school students. Younger students competed in the annual Spelling and Geography Bees, and the tension in the gym during these competitions felt palpable.

In February, a group of 15 educators from across the Southwest visited Keystone for our accreditation. To no surprise, they thoroughly enjoyed their time meeting with students, parents, trustees, faculty, and staff; they commented on the impressive academic and extra-curricular program, the close knit nature of this diverse and inclusive community, and the energy that pervades our school on both campuses. We received notice of our re-accreditation in June.

As we progressed through February and early March, students presented thoughtful and interesting science fair projects, upper schoolers performed community service projects, and our Junior Class outdid themselves with a wonderful Valentine’s Day celebration. We readied ourselves for a final quarter that would be filled with middle school overnight trips, college acceptance announcements, prom, Middle School field day, and end-of-the-year ceremonies. Before we left for Spring Break, we heard talk of a pandemic that had spread to the United States, but we still hoped to finish out a relatively normal school year.

Well, we all know what happened next. A vibrant campus suddenly felt like a ghost town while students and teachers hunkered down at home and learned the typical topics like science, math, history, languages, English, and the arts; however, they also discovered break-out rooms, Zoom class meetings, online assemblies, and virtual Stone Soul evenings. Although the shift to distance learning was a major disruption, we were able to transition smoothly thanks to the advance planning of the Keystone Safety Committee, the hard work of our faculty/staff, our incredible students, and support and cooperation from you, our Keystone parents.

Despite the changes, Keystone students continued to excel while learning remotely. They created cardboard kids, joined in online game day and cooking classes, and participated in virtual field days. Keystone’s younger students were also recognized for their work in both STEM fields and in the humanities. Our amazingly supportive PTO even figured out a way to appreciate faculty/staff via food delivery service!

We reaffirmed during this time that we could migrate from the classroom to distance learning, and while it is not the same, students and teachers can work together online. However, no matter how much we tried to foster togetherness, we discovered that it can be extremely difficult to replicate a community when we’re not in physical proximity to each other. There’s something intangible and almost irreplaceable when we’re together in person, whether it’s in class, around campus, or talking with parents before or after school or at events. This year has taught us that the gift of togetherness is something to cherish and never take for granted.

Last year’s seniors closed out the year on a high note. The Class of 2020 received more than $7.5 in merit-based scholarships, and we recognized them with a parade and a physically-distanced, in person graduation ceremony in June. They’re now attending the finest colleges and universities in the US and abroad, but as you can imagine, some have yet to step on their new campus while others have been attending classes and living in dorms under challenging conditions.

Over the summer, you shared your experiences with us via surveys. Based on your input and the impressively hard work of our faculty and staff, we made significant and substantial changes to our distance learning programs so children could attend school either in person or online and have a relatively similar experience. In addition, our staff created new learning spaces, expanded our technology capabilities, and created new classrooms so we could be on campus safely. We began the 2020-2021 school year in August with a mixture of optimism and caution. Unfortunately, we still couldn’t come back to campus until after Labor Day.

When we returned, teachers took on the challenge of educating students at home and on campus concurrently, and we realized that this is a monumental undertaking. In spite of the conditions, Keystone students continued to excel. The Class of 2021 has 2 National Merit Finalists, 5 National Merit Commended, 4 National Hispanic Scholars, and 1 National African American Scholar. Thirteen students were recognized in the Young Pegasus poetry contest and will be published in an anthology. Cobras of all ages served the Greater San Antonio community by working at the Food Bank, accumulating PPE for front-line medical workers, monitoring polling places on election day, gathering jars of peanut butter for hungry children, and collecting gifts and raising funds so underserved youngsters will have a Christmas during these difficult times. They also assembled videos done at home into excellent theatrical productions, “chalked it up” here on campus, and created striking pieces of visual art.

So, as we look over the past year, what have we learned in 2020? Once again, Keystone was rated as the number one private school in San Antonio, but we learned much more. The novelist James Lane Allen once said, “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” This year has proven that our community is strong, resilient and compassionate, and everyone deserves commendation:

Students — you have persevered in the face of distance learning, mask-wearing, physical distancing, and constantly washing your hands. Whether you were on campus or in distance learning, you have continued to shine in all areas, and you have not allowed these difficult conditions to prevent you from pursuing your studies and your dreams.

Faculty and staff members — you have demonstrated profound devotion, a willingness to start anew and be creative, and a peerless work ethic, all in support of your students.

Parents — you have partnered with Keystone by keeping us informed, supporting our conditions for opening campus, and joining in the awesome task of educating your children.

Trustees — you have offered guidance and support all along the way so we can be present for the here and now while still planning for the future.

It can be easy in the midst of all the sad news from the past year to lose sight of the uniqueness of Keystone. We can start to think that our experience is typical. I can tell you that it’s not. The Cobra community has modelled how to respond to adversity with courage, determination, and hope.

Earlier this year when a high school student returned for in-person learning, she said with both a seriousness and a sense of humor, “I never thought I’d say this, but I miss school!” Perhaps the most important thing we have re-learned this year is a sense of gratitude and not to take for granted what we have.

As we close out 2020, the virus rages across the country and continues to increase locally. The news can feel overwhelming. And yet, we have reasons for hope. Vaccines have arrived and are being distributed. Perhaps we can begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. At Keystone, we have faced challenges as a community and treated them as opportunities to learn and grow. This year, we have done amazing things. Together, we will accomplish even more in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Have a restful Winter Break and please don’t forget to take safety precautions whether you’re traveling or staying home.

With gratitude and hope,


Billy Handmaker
Head of School

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