Cooking pancakes together in home kitchens. A survey of pandemics throughout history. Writing rules for a new iteration of Fairhaven School. Embarking on numerous D&D campaigns. Meeting pets. Learning figure drawing. Thesis Committees. An Assembly meeting. Hanging out.
After two weeks of Virtual Fairhaven School (VFS), featuring the activities listed above and many more, what can we report?
I like to think of VFS as an avatar, a digital stand-in until authorities allow us to reopen what we’re calling “bricks and mortar” Fairhaven. Not surprisingly, some elements of Fairhaven translate seamlessly to hyperspace, others do not.
The State of the Union is Strong
In many ways, we feel as if we have started the school again. We have had to consider and adopt scores of policies and practices in order to launch VFS, and our democratic culture has ably done so, with students and staff spending hours in committees and subcommittees making rules, beta testing the platform, consulting with school counsel, and modifying on the fly. For the first two weeks after we closed on March 13th, the staff literally met every day, but now we have scaled those back to once or twice a week as committees have ramped up. Clearly the culture, commitment and can-do spirit of Fairhaveners have passed this unprecedented test.
Students have embraced the opportunity to shepherd this start-up, and we suspect that many will remember proudly this aspect of the spring of 2020. How often does one get to tackle such a complex opportunity for problem-solving and adaptability, the cornerstone values named in the graduation thesis? How many of these intrepid students have already grown exponentially from the experience and will carry it forward?
We Miss Each Other
Many Zoom sessions include lengthy check-ins, just to see how we are all faring with the new normal of social distancing, economic hardship, and heightened uncertainty. We care about one another, and the arrival of each first-time participant in VFS has delighted the established members! As Official Authorities Clerk, I am considered an essential worker, so most days I’ve been on campus. If I’m hosting a Zoom session, I participate fully, but I’ve also taken to listening to sessions while doing my work at school, taking great comfort in the chatter, an audible reminder of the lovely voices that make our school.
We Are Growing
We continue to add current students to the VFS platform via certification. While it’s not for everyone, and we decided early on that attendance is optional, we continue also to add activities to the weekly schedule in response to student interest. By constantly questioning how to enact VFS in a manner that remains consistent with the school’s philosophy, we just know that, even now, we continue to grow the nebulous but crucial thing called “school culture.” If you haven’t joined yet, come on in, the water’s fine!
The Schedule or Not the Schedule, That is the Question
When I Zoom, I begin by checking the hyperlinked daily schedule, and I imagine this is true for students. This is both helpful and limited. While ongoing meetings and activities (Theater Corp, Executive Committee, Morning Hangout, Lunch Bunch, Creative Writing, for some VFS examples) are essential to the smooth functioning of the school, for some students, Fairhaven on campus seems to be working best when one thing flows to the next, sometimes with little regard for scheduled activities. Sharks and Minnows leads to spontaneous lunch with interesting conversations which leads to a walk in the woods which leads to a new game of Infection. In VFS, we have seen glimmers of this spontaneity, and we hope to see more in the coming weeks. Still, we recognize that the potential for replicating all of this flow is smaller online.
We Want Bricks and Mortar
This final observation is, we hope, plain: all of the positives about VFS ultimately reinforce the desire to reopen the campus! In addition to Zooming, then, the staff members have been working overtime to plan for our return, whether by corresponding with established and brand new families, comprehensively looking at the unique challenges of budgeting for next year, or applying for SBA relief. These and other avenues present interesting, complex questions, and we will be announcing our proposals as soon as possible. We can walk and chew gum at the same time: yes, we are enjoying VFS despite its limitations, and yes, we are working overtime to create Fairhaven School post COVID-19, always with an eye towards thriving long-term. We look forward to partnering with all of our stakeholders, including parents, students, alumni, friends of the school, and staff members to achieve this goal!
As always, stay well, and keep in touch.