Healing Together: When Our Community Needs Each Other Most
Recently, I drove onto campus on a damp and gloomy morning in the middle of yet another difficult week in my psychology practice. I parked facing the oval and was delighted to see two groups of Lower School students running around under tents. I was early for a meeting, so I rolled my window down and sat listening to the joyful shrieks and laughter of children at play, together. The final line of a poem by Dante Di Stefano, published early in the pandemic, came to mind:
Remember, the world is sweet and spinning, still.
I spend my professional days with young people who are struggling with anxiety, depression, and hopelessness and all of the accompanying maladaptive behaviors. When I sit with these children and teenagers who are desperately longing for some sense of normalcy, I feel immense gratitude that, with the Herculean effort of so many resourceful and determined members of the AFS community, a way opened for our students to learn profound lessons in innovative ways.
That moment was such a balm for me, and I have thought about it many times since. It reminds me that despite the coronavirus, the political divisiveness, and the grave injustices and inequalities happening all around us, there is good in the world and there is hope. At Abington Friends School, it is easy to see both in action. Indulge me, if you will, while I reflect on some of the School’s many shining moments in the past seven months.
In April, with little time and minimal experience with virtual education, we launched AFS Everywhere. This effort kept our students deeply engaged with academics and kept our community whole during a time when connection was more important than ever.
In June, with reverence for many of AFS’s long-standing Commencement traditions and some creative touches, we celebrated the class of 2020 with a drive-in event on campus that no one in attendance is likely to forget. I still smile when I remember the daisy chain caravan of cars and the life-sized cardboard replicas of our international graduates, who joined us live via Zoom from China. Members of the AFS administration and faculty got a sense of the wishes of the class of 2020 and then worked tirelessly to create something extraordinary to honor these young people at the end of a disheartening Senior year. Horns honked and applause and cheers rang out as each masked graduate picked up a diploma and crossed the stage. This kind of exaltation was rare to witness in those times of nationwide civil unrest, and the positive energy of that day fueled many of us in the community through difficult days to come.
In response to the police killings of unarmed Black people and the ongoing demonstrations across the nation, the AFS community has been moved to self-reflection and action. The School created opportunities for sharing and listening with our Black alumni and current students. It is clear that the School Committee, our Head of School, the administrative team, faculty, staff, students and families are all fully committed to seeing AFS grow into its potential. We have important work ahead, and together we will cultivate a place of true belonging for all and continue to demonstrate our position as leaders in this work.
AFS administration and faculty kept Zoom humming throughout the summer while they prepared for many possible scenarios for the opening of the ’20-’21 school year. School leadership, in consultation with local public health experts, opened up the campus to Early Childhood and Lower School students in August and to Middle and Upper School students in September. Our international students in China and students learning from home have remained a vital part of our community, joining hybrid and online-only classes, events and activities. We are three months in, and the School has thrived!
I spend my professional days with young people who are struggling with anxiety, depression, and hopelessness and all of the accompanying maladaptive behaviors. When I sit with these children and teenagers who are desperately longing for some sense of normalcy, I feel immense gratitude that, with the Herculean effort of so many resourceful and determined members of the AFS community, a way opened for our students to learn profound lessons in innovative ways. I am so pleased that we have been able to be in community together, at home and on our beautiful campus. At the same time, I am heartbroken that so many young people are not as fortunate. I know you all join me in holding them in the Light.
I want to acknowledge the wise governance of the School Committee as this dedicated group of volunteers has led the School through unprecedented challenges and to express boundless appreciation for the visionary leadership of Rich Nourie. He and his administrative team have cleared every hurdle to make it possible for the School to thrive during this time. I especially want to thank the AFS faculty. The majority of our teachers have come back to campus, while some have been working from home. Together, all have given our students the true gift of a rich academic, social, and spiritual experience that is the very essence of an AFS education. When all seems dark, I close my eyes and remember the sounds and sights of the cheerful play I witnessed at AFS. I hope the unmatched joy that this community fosters continues for another 323 years and beyond.
Go well, friends.