June President’s Pen: Marking significant endings and beginnings

June at CRSM marks significant endings and beginnings.  No sooner did we say goodbye to the class of 2021 at an in-person graduation – the first in our new gym – than we greeted our incoming 9th graders to their first week of training and assessments for the Corporate Work Study Program.   In some ways, it felt like we were climbing Mount 2020-2021 all school year, finally summitting it at graduation, only to look out from the great heights we achieved to see Mount 2021-2022 looming even higher before us.

The year ahead is shaping up to be something much more like a pre-COVID experience, at least academically.  We are planning to hold all classes in-person starting in August and, as of today, 83% of all returning students have received at least their first vaccine dose.  That is a significant number given that only about 59% of people in IL have received at least their first dose.  Families are already on notice that we expect 100% of students to be vaccinated by the start of school.  That also means that 100% of student-workers going to work will be full-vaccinated.

Unfortunately, even as we plan for a much more normal looking school year, the Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP) is not experiencing the same rapid recovery.  Only about 30% of our business partners have signed their job contracts for students to come to work in the coming year.  That is the precise number of committed jobs we had at this time last year before vaccines!

So, we are preparing to start the school year with many students out of work.  As we develop those plans, we are also hoping they will be an unnecessary contingency – we are hoping that our business partners will have their employees – and our students – returning to work by the end of summer.  We are already hearing some of our larger partners discussing timelines and protocols for in-person work that will allow our student workers to re-engage with professionals in their workplaces but, many are not in a position to commit to hard dates.  We are praying hard that the majority of our students will have a CWSP experience this fall that, like their academic experience, will look a whole lot more like it is meant to be – an experience of building relationships and contributing in adult business situations while also earning nearly 60% of the cost of their college-prep education.

Students have really missed the work study experience since lock-down and many are yearning to return to being with their coworkers and supervisors.  This unique and transformative experience is so elemental to our educational model, we have acutely felt its absence – feeling we were not fully ourselves as a school for the last 15 months.  While 25% of students worked remotely during COVID this past year and another 15% worked in-person, the absence of 60% of our jobs took a toll on the school beyond simply having students out-of-work.  We have had to adjust our finances to make up for the loss of work study revenue and focus on growing the number of charitable donations.  So many people have stepped up, knowing we have been fighting the economic fallout of lockdown with our formidable CWSP arm tied behind our back.  Thank God for our donors and friends who recognized our predicament and helped us through.

The important message is that we are not out of the woods yet.  The return-to-work is taking longer than we dreamed and will likely continue through the end of this calendar year and beyond.   If anything, the biggest lesson of this virus has been that I consistently underestimated the time we would be battling it.  When we shut down in March 2019, I sincerely thought it would only be for a few weeks, then as reality started to set in, I thought we would be back in-person for the 2020-2021 school year.  It really was not until August of 2020 that I fully realized we could lose another entire school year.

Here we are in August 2021 and we are still slowly, slowly just starting to come back.  I am reminded of a prayer from the Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin:

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so, I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”

We can’t force a come-back, we must let things unfold at their own pace.  Many people are still grappling with the pandemic, the vaccine, and – let’s face it – the psychological as well as physical toll this has taken on so many.  As CRSM enters the 2021-2022 school year, we believe God’s hand is leading us and we seek solace during this time of suspense and incompleteness in the idea that God is laboring with us during these times and that the future holds great goodness and grace for all of us.  We just have to be patient and believe.