Lessons Learned After Operating a School During a Pandemic
Will Yeiser, FBRA Co-Founder & Executive Director
WE MADE IT!!! As the last group of 8th grade students left campus with their families on the evening of June 4th, 2021 after our final graduation event, I finally was able to repeat these words and internalize that we had, in fact, “made it.” Each day since we reopened campus back in August has felt like a grueling march of stress and anxiety, especially back in the fall when we simply did not know as much as we did in the spring. Would French Broad River Academy (FBRA) be on the front page of the Asheville Citizen Times with a headline that read something like, “Ignorant and irresponsible school leaders attempt to reopen school amidst a pandemic?” I certainly spent my fair share of early mornings and late nights tossing and turning in my sleep as my imagination played out countless scenarios of failure and doom for FBRA.
In the end though, our plan developed by our COVID-19 Committee worked. We trusted and committed to the plan from Day One, and, more importantly, we trusted and committed to each other. We made it to the finish line safely with no known cases of spread within our school during the 2020/21 school year. While there are countless lessons learned from this past year related to grit, perseverance, adaptability, and so on, the one I would like to share here is what I call, “Small things step by step.”
Outgoing Boys School Program Director Andrew Holcombe shared this thought one day during our three weeks of teacher preparation and training back in August before the start of year. I did not think too much about his comment at the time, especially since I tend to fixate on the bigger picture ideas and plans for our institution. However, Andrew’s advice proved to be arguably the most important mantra to remember as we redesigned our entire schedule and program to accommodate and execute all of the new COVID policies and procedures. Rather than explore hypotheticals about our upcoming four-day camping trip, Andrew’s concept reminded staff members to simply make sure that all students are washing their hands before they enter the fifteen-passenger van and not wonder if the KN-95 masks would really do their job or not.
“Small things step by step” proved to be arguably the most important lesson for me and FBRA after surviving this pandemic year. It is a life-lesson that transfers to almost any context or application. Whether we are simply planning a math lesson or organizing an international trip to Costa Rica with middle school students, it is a lesson that is now embedded in our culture and it will continue to serve us well into the future.
With a fully-vaccinated staff and vaccines readily available for the public, it seems like the COVID clouds are lifting and we can hopefully move towards resuming much of our traditional programming by the fall. We will certainly be in touch once we know our plans, and in the meantime, we continue to focus on the “small things,” and take each day “step by step.”