The year 2020 is finally behind us. There were positive moments in 2020 that can provide us with seeds of hope for the coming year. Author Jodi Picoult said, “The human capacity for burden is like bamboo – far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.” When we first thought the lockdown from in-person learning would be only two weeks, while inconvenient, we all knew it was doable. As the virus continued to rage and pandemic fatigue set in, our families’ and staff’s resilience became evident.

Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). She can be reached at [email protected]

Pre-COVID, remote learning was an educational strategy only a few employed. It has since become an imperative. Teachers and staff who were previously technologically challenged knew they had to quickly learn more. Within days of the shutdown they embraced the need and began providing learning remotely. Professional development for any new initiative typically takes a few years for implementation. Knowing we did not have years, our teachers scurried to help one another learn ways to teach from afar while juggling their own families’ needs.

In September, with the return to in-person learning, resilience and student-centered learning took on new meaning with the introduction of outdoor learning. Our educators proved once again that they could overcome obstacles! Outdoor learning took place on stumps, picnic tables and under tents that sometimes blew away.

Gym classes moved outdoors to minimize risk while music classes included outdoor drumming and humming, allowing our students to continue to experience the joy of the arts. In late fall on a chilly night, resilience never shone brighter than when Freeport High School performed “Antigone” outdoors. Despite the chilly night, parents and staff braved the temperatures to support our students in pursuing their passions, similar to actors performing in amphitheaters in Shakespearean times.

With the help and distribution of the vaccine, let’s keep fingers crossed that by September all students will be returning to school five days a week. At the heart of education is the human connection between student and teacher. In an article in the Boston Globe, student Michelle Bojar reflected this best as she wrote, “I didn’t realize how these connections supported me, raising my spirits and allowing me to have a positive outlook on school. … Without human connection, school is a shadow, a bare-bones skeleton. Without human connection, there is little warmth and inspiration to help us learn.”

Without a doubt the human connection will be strengthened when our students return to school.

In 2021, we as a nation will discover ways to alleviate the learning loss that many of our students have experienced. We must address the exposed weaknesses in our educational systems to resolve the inequities and disparities that exist. Some solutions can be realized through robust summer learning programs, before and after school programs and community partnerships.

Fingers crossed in 2021 our kids return to playing sports, performing concerts and theater productions in packed auditoriums. I hope the popular hashtag of #AloneTogether will be replaced by #LearningTogetherAgain.

Moving from 2020 to 2021 does not mean things will magically improve. Magic occurs by working together, being adaptive and remaining resilient. In 2021, let’s challenge ourselves to use our new learning from 2020 to inspire and lead one another to be better. Let’s bring out the best in one another and work creatively to provide optimum learning opportunities for our students. Let’s commit to making 2021 the best year ever. Fingers crossed!

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