Pangs of uncertainty and isolation.
I’m sure we’ve all felt them from time to time in the last two months. They come in waves, and I’m sure that, for many in our community, they are only growing stronger as we head into the summer and inch toward normalcy.
I want to take a moment to tell you about why these feelings of uncertainty and isolation have faded away for me as each week passes.
On Friday, March 6 — before stay-at-home orders and recommended masking and school closures — I presented a challenge to our district school administrators. At the heart of that challenge was something this district has done successfully year after year: grow and educate children while modeling poise and confidence.
This challenge would be like no other in their careers, though, because I asked them to develop a plan to educate our children remotely for several weeks, if not for the remainder of the year.
Throughout that tumultuous week, our school board consistently directed us to put the health and safety of our children first. With their support, on Tuesday, March 10, the administrative team developed a draft of that plan.
Unfortunately, on Friday, March 13, we had to execute that plan. At that time, we did not know that it would be our last face-to-face day with our students.
On Friday, March 13, uncertainty and isolation reigned. For me and my administrative team, it felt like we were on an island. We were going to be stretched thin as we tried to offer the comprehensive services on which our community relies.
The next week, though? These days reminded me why I love the community we have built in Vigo County.
We were flooded with calls and emails from nonprofit agencies, faith-based organizations, and members of our county government. The messages were roughly the same: How can we help kids?
In order to educate, feed, and care for our students’ physical and mental needs, we have needed to mobilize our resources. It’s the community mobilization that we will remember after terms like “social distancing,” “flattening the curve,” and “PPE” have been forgotten. In 10 years, we won’t remember if it’s “N95” or “Z82.” We will remember the spirit of kindness in our community.
Although my family and I have not been residents of Vigo County for very long, we have found it to be a place with an unselfish spirit bound together by a common concern for each other and our youth.
I’m reminded of the words of Theodore Roosevelt: "... the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena ... who strives valiantly … and who spends himself in a worthy cause.”
I’m in awe of the selflessness that continues to be found in our neighborhoods and towns as we address this pandemic and all it has brought. I speak, in particular, of the selflessness of food service workers, nonprofit volunteers, local faith-based groups, and county blue truck drivers who put others before self to feed our children. To the creativity of our principals, teachers and staff who tried to provide the social/emotional part of education by having parades, creating innovative videos and content, by putting up yard signs, dropping off supply packages, and providing virtual hugs. The selflessness found beyond the educational ranks, and in the countless residents that provided financial support to the backpack program, in those stocking shelves of our local grocery stores, and in delivering packages door to door. Above all, the selflessness found in those families and their loved ones working in our local hospitals and our first responders, some of whom have paid the ultimate price.
As we consider how to make schools safe in the fall, we are humbled by our community. We are once again encountering a new challenge. The pangs of isolation and uncertainty, though? They still creep in from time to time, but they have mostly faded. They have faded because we live in a community that is still asking: How can we help kids?
Before we close the door on the 2019-2020 school year, I hope a valuable and unforgettable lesson has been learned. A lesson that our current students will share with their children and grandchildren. It’s a lesson far deeper than days missed or the prom date that got away.
It is my sincere hope the Class of 2020 and all students speak of a community that embraced them in the face of a national emergency: who kept them fed, educated and taught them the timeless lesson of selflessness.