It was exactly one year ago that our world seemingly went dark. Friday, March 13, 2020 was the last day of in-person, on-campus instruction for Eastern Christian School students in the 2019-2020 school year.
At the time, our local community response mirrored a “hunkering down” that is familiar when the Weather Channel predicts a blizzard. Local grocery stores were raided, the supply chain was impacted and people started hoarding staples like hand sanitizer, bleach, paper towels, and toilet paper. There was a feeling of fear, but also a feeling of, “This will all be over in 14 days.” Reflecting back, how I wish 14 days were the case!
We frankly knew very little about the Coronavirus at that point. We weren’t even calling it “COVID-19.” It was “The Coronavirus.” All we really knew is that this thing was scary, and together, we prayerfully ventured into the unknown.
Then the Eastern Christian School community stepped up. Our school community demonstrated an unbelievable can-do spirit as we took on a complete redefining of what education could be. Pivoting over one weekend, the amazing team of educators at Eastern Christian School developed instructional plans and prepared our students to return to school in a completely new fashion.
You may have heard the expression that “It’s hard to turn an oil tanker.” I now think a better expression might be, “It’s hard to completely revamp your educational delivery system over a weekend!” But our team did it! Through an amazing combination of collaboration, creativity, and good old fashioned grit, this 128 year old institution did the unthinkable. We figured out a way to continue to provide an excellent Christian education- even when we couldn’t physically be in the same space! Through the gift of technology, EC students finished the school year with 66 consecutive days of uninterrupted remote instruction.
We were able to complete the 2019-2020 school year staying true to our mission, and intentionally leaning into our twin core values of excellence and community.
If we were able to produce a tremendous turnaround over one weekend, the team certainly could do amazing things with a full summer to prepare. And prepare they did. While the team at EC is always a hard working group, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve never seen a team of educators work this hard for this long on any project. Our teachers, nurses, maintenance and custodial team, and administrators spent countless hours throughout the summer preparing for our students’ joyful return to campus on September 1.
By the time the new school year rolled around, we had again completely redesigned our educational model- offering a COVID-19 safe on-campus in-person learning environment and simultaneously offering live remote learning options for those in our community who needed to or preferred to stay off campus.
And again, the EC faculty and staff stepped up! Our teachers did an amazing job of teaching and caring for our students in a classroom environment unprecedented in our lifetimes. They invented new ways of teaching and interacting with students, all while maintaining a sense of community and striving for excellence.
Our Health and Safety Team led our response to the challenges posed by operating a school in the midst of a global pandemic. This team helped generate several key initiatives including our comprehensive reopening plan and our COVID-19 health dashboard. They mobilized our entire school community by communicating the importance of social distancing, masks, and proper hand hygiene as means of maintaining a healthy school environment. They coordinated with our maintenance team to install hospital grade air purifiers in every classroom, install touchless faucets and paper towel dispensers in every restroom, and hand sanitizers and plexiglass dividers throughout the school to provide additional layers of protection for our school community.
We would be remiss if we glossed over a look back over the past year and didn’t mourn the significant losses that have occurred along the way.
We lost our sense of physical community. We lost important milestone celebrations like in-person graduation ceremonies, final seasons of athletic competitions, concerts, and senior class events. We experienced the virus itself. Many within our community contracted COVID-19 and dealt with the painful realities of the virus. We even lost lives as members of our school community were impacted through the loss of loved ones.
It’s hard to appreciate miracles when they happen every day. But that is precisely how I view each day of school at EC- as a miracle. Here we are, a community with a reach of tens of thousands of people, trying to provide a Christ-centered education to over 720 students every day despite the most unusual circumstances in our lifetimes. And yet, if you look at our COVID-19 dashboard, there have been only sixteen known cases of positive COVID-19 infection that have made their way to our campuses.
Furthermore, the vaccination efforts are nothing short of a miracle. We live in an amazing time- our amazing God has given our world incredible scientists, medical experts, virologists, and entrepreneurs that have enabled the rapid development of multiple vaccines and treatments that will help our world live with the coronavirus. In less than a year since we were forced to pivot to remote instruction, many in our community have already been vaccinated. Our government leaders now project that anyone who wants to start the vaccine process will be able to do so by the end of the month of May.
As we look to finishing out this year strong, we also begin to turn an eye towards next fall. We don’t know exactly what next school year will look like, but we know that we have an amazing God who is always faithful.
As one of our EC team members put it- “I just can’t help but think of that old hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” when I look at this school year!”
A little over a century ago, the Eastern Christian School community was dealing with a similar issue- a global pandemic. That time, “The Spanish Flu” was raging around the world and directly impacted our school community. And, as he always has, God provided for Eastern Christian School. It’s my prayer that, when viewed through the lens of history, the EC community of 2121 will look back at our current season as yet another chapter in God’s amazing story of his faithfulness to Eastern Christian School.
We’ve been planning a year-end celebration that you simply have to be a part of. Mark your calendars for June 3-5 for the Great is Thy Faithfulness Year End Celebration.
We will have many more details in the days that follow, but suffice it to say that we are planning to celebrate and honor our faithful God for this season of special providence and protection to our extended school family!
Thomas G. Dykhouse
Executive Director & Head of School