I am the head of school at the American School of Madrid. I am an educator, not a scientist. This is not a data driven report, this is one school’s story, our school’s story. As much as we need data to guide decision making, we also need stories to give hope, to serve as examples, and to give a broader context than points on a graph and percents in a spreadsheet. The discussion about COVID precautions and preventative measures has become polarized and deeply divisive in many communities. In some school districts and communities, what began as a discussion became an often heated debate and has even moved to shouting, threats, and intimidation. The irony that in an information era, common sense and clarity has been eclipsed by noise, is crushing.
Maybe our story will help. Maybe not. But it is critical now, in our troubled time, that in the challenges we face, those of us with direct experience give witness.
Spain has not had an easy time of it during COVID. In March, April, and May of 2020, Spain in general and Madrid specifically went through one of the most severe and strict lockdowns in the world. Children were confined to their homes and apartments for weeks. Only one family member could venture out to shop for groceries. Only essential workers could move from area to area. People were fined significantly for walking their dogs too far from their homes. In a nation that loves its cafes and long lunches, in a nation which kisses two times to say hello, in a nation of conversation and closeness, people retreated from all forms of human activity. In this context we had virtual school and learned the hard way why learning is social and schools are human environments. While virtual learning provided an opportunity for continuity on one level, and some students even thrived, for many it felt hollow and lonely. Students in schools everywhere fell behind and fell by the wayside.
In August of 2020 we prepared to open school, our school. In an atmosphere of great uncertainty, fear, and conflicting opinions, we crafted protocols and procedures to keep a school community of over 1200 students and staff, safe, healthy, and focused on learning.
We had to make key, practical decisions. How were library books going to be handled? Could students share materials? What about ‘dress-up’ in the early childhood program? What…