The main reason I love TBS is that the people are super nice. This is my first year and I’m usually super shy and it would take me forever to make friends but on the first day, I felt like I have been there for my whole life. I feel like this is one of the best schools on earth.
A comment like this from a newly-enrolled student would always make us smile but in the current moment, it means the world to every member of our school community. That this student feels known and valued — despite remote learning and detailed protocols that enforce physical separation — assures us that the values at the core of a Branch education remain. Our shared commitment to Love, Learn, and Lead has not wavered and for each devoted member of the Branch community who’s with us on this journey, we are infused with gratitude.
What are you grateful for this season? Imagine if we were able to be together, seated around a huge Thanksgiving table laden with favorite dishes. If we took turns naming the things we’re thankful for – even in a pandemic – what would they be? We know our list would be long:
- for students, who have not let the current circumstance intrude on their relentless creativity, their uncommon kindness to one another, and their unquenchable drive to learn;
- for parents, cheerful and uncomplaining despite the boundaries we’ve had to put in place, who dutifully follow COVID-19 protocols to ensure we all stay healthy;
- for technology, that we admit drives us around the bend sometimes (see below), but has ensured we stay connected and safe during this unprecedented time.
After one student experienced his first day of in-person learning, his mom told us his excitement could not be contained. His vivid and detailed recounting of his day had brought a “little bit of normalcy” to their household. What a joy it was for her to hear him chattering away about his friends and his teacher and what he’d learned at Branch. After so many quiet months quarantining in our homes, we all cherish the beautiful noise of our students’ happy, energetic voices asking questions, reasoning things out, and making plans for the days ahead. It reassures us that our children will emerge resilient from these most unusual months and with, perhaps, a deeper understanding of the world around them. That makes us grateful too.
Our Thanksgiving celebrations will likely be scaled back this year, with many of us reluctant to gather in large groups or to travel given COVID-19 uncertainties. Perhaps we can benefit from this year’s less-hectic, more simplified holiday, by using the time to reflect on what we do have, instead of what we we’re missing. One middle schooler VSL – virtual synchronous learner – put it this way:
Although this year is crazy, I feel as if The Branch School has done a very good job setting up everything correctly. The schedule is still as it would be if this virus never happened. I am still learning as much as I want to learn. I am still getting to hear my classmates and talk to them. I am getting to experience school without actually being there. And as a plus, I get to wake up later and do my own thing at home on my off-time. The Branch School is doing a very good job making this year feel as normal as possible and is making the online kids feel included.
How refreshing to hear a young teen take inventory of life in a pandemic and rather than lament the losses, conclude that yes, things are still pretty good – and I get to sleep in!
Another student found this silver lining in virtual learning:
I think it is really fun to do classes over ZOOM because sometimes random things happen and when they do, it's either funny or the teacher gets disconnected and we don't know what to do, so it's a surprise every time! All in all, I really love The Branch School and how they dealt with the corona virus and how everyone is happy even though it's not really a happy time right now.
Cultivating an ability to roll with the punches, to maintain a positive perspective and good humor in the face of the unexpected — these are skills that will serve our students well throughout their lives. Don’t we all prefer colleagues we work or volunteer with who can deftly manage situations when obstacles arise, those who don’t react as if it’s the end of the world? That’s what leadership is: the ability to pull people together to problem-solve, to look past the immediate difficulties to craft new approaches and solutions with optimism and creativity.
One parent told us she’s “so grateful we found a school that thinks of everything.” In truth, there will be unexpected things that arise that we’ll have to tackle. We also know our beloved school community of students, teachers, and parents will help us arrive at the right solution through their input and feedback. What a gift to partner with parents who care so deeply about the welfare of each family at Branch, who offer insight that helps us get to the right solution.
In addition to our gratitude for the kindness and patience we see in the members of The Branch School community, we also give thanks for all those who are working so hard to keep us safe. We know their good work is bearing fruit. What a day it will be when our world is relieved of the pandemic burden. By our estimation, we will have billions of Branch Bear hugs to make up for, maybe trillions.
Emily Smith, Head of School, graduate of Smith College and M.A., University of Connecticut School of Education.