President’s Pen: On the Triumph of Student’s and Teacher’s Spirits Through Challenging Times

We are back at it! Our students returned to full-time classes at CRSM this month. At last, the building is full again instead only a subsection of students per day. For our first day we scheduled a late start to the Corporate Work Study Program so that we could hold our traditional all-school assembly. There are only two days in the academic year when all the students are together: Start of School Assembly and Senior Send-Off. This year’s assembly marked the first time in two years we have all been together as a community. Although we were wearing masks, everyone’s eyes were smiling. The air crackled with excitement – it just felt right, like a giant step toward normalcy.

At one point in the assembly, our Principal asked if any returning students would be willing to come up and tell the audience a story of an educator that impacted them. A senior jumped up first to talk about how his Physics teacher made special time to help him through some difficult assignments. He ended up getting a “B”, but he was prouder of it than any “A” because of the extra effort it took to earn it. While he spoke, it occurred to me that, as he and all our seniors start their last year here, three of the six semesters they already completed have been either remote or hybrid. That’s 50% of their CRSM experience. Then I did the math for our juniors: 75% of their CRSM experience thus far has been remote or hybrid; and 100% for our sophomores! School success starts with a strong school culture where respectful and caring relationships can develop between students and teachers. Can you imagine how much more difficult it is to build relationships during COVID?

When the senior finished his story, a junior volunteered to speak and shared about how a counselor had helped her through some difficult emotional times during remote learning. As more students came up to share, I was struck by their stories. They were all about strong, respectful, and caring relationships. Somehow, in the face of pandemic chaos, teachers and staff were still able to connect on a deeper personal level with students despite limited in-person exposure. I have always admired our team at CRSM but that admiration is even more profound given what they have accomplished during such challenging times.

Another thought occurred to me as I looked out on the student body. We moved to our new campus in February 2018, so none of the 401 students currently attending CRSM ever took classes at our old campus even though it feels like we just moved in! Being part of a high school is humbling. High schools have a four-year generation – if you leave and come back four years later, none of the students will know who you are. It’s really a speeded-up microcosm of life, a reminder of our mortality… how little time we really have together in this world. High schools, by their very nature, imbue a sense of urgency. These are some of the most influential years in a human being’s life and they fly by.

COVID certainly threw a curve ball to both our students and teachers yet, they persevered and found ways to forge relationships and move forward. As the Delta variant spikes and breakthrough cases increase, we really have no idea what the future holds. When the masks came off this summer, I confess that I threw my face masks away. Now, I am buying new ones so we can have classes in-person. We worry that surges in positivity may force a return to greater distancing and restrictions on how many students can gather in one place at one time. Will we take more steps backward before we move forward? Will COVID be with us forever? Will new variants effectively create a new pandemic? Does anyone know? I don’t. What I do know is this: we are called to do what we can, while we can. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love one another as we have been loved. It is a call that transcends just CRSM. Whether we are separated or in-person, we belong to one another and we will find ways to connect and be in relationships – that is our purpose and our calling. It is the only way forward and it is what we were made to do and to be. Time is of the essence.