College Preparatory School for Girls Grades 3-12

Head's Notes - Gratitude in the Time of COVID-19
Susanna A. Jones

Thanksgiving prompts us to pause and consider all that we have to be grateful for. As many of you know, I try to practice gratitude throughout the year by keeping a gratitude journal. The pandemic has heightened the need to find positives in our lives. Expressing gratitude helps us do that.

In difficult situations, which a pandemic certainly qualifies as, you need to be able to depend on your team. I—and Holton—are so fortunate in the strength of our administrative team, for whom I have been grateful repeatedly, both as a group and individually. We have spent untold hours trying to make decisions where frequently there are no clear answers. They always put the students and the School first, acting with principle and integrity. Not surprisingly, I've also been grateful for our School Nurse. And our schedulers received my gratitude as they performed miracles scheduling our students into cohorts and multiple classrooms. I've also been grateful for our Trustees, again collectively and individually—particularly the Board leadership—for all their wisdom and support.

Last April, as we moved into distance learning, I was grateful when the first day went smoothly. I highlighted the opening assembly and particularly the recording of the Alma Mater the senior singers created—it moved me to tears more than once. I have continued to be grateful for our faculty and staff, who have had to change so many aspects of how they work. Our teachers have continued to adjust, adapt, and learn, devoting themselves to professional development over the summer and then rising to the challenge of hybrid learning. I am so grateful for their tireless dedication to their students and their teaching in the most challenging circumstances most of them have ever encountered. 

The pandemic has also demanded that we reimagine multiple events and even create some new ones—Reunion, Class Day, Graduation, Convocation, Back-to-School Nights, Admissions Open House, Parent-Teacher Conferences, and even the Thanksgiving Assembly to take place this Friday, not to mention last June's Senior Parade, a new event. Every one of those events has turned out remarkably well, a credit to numerous people's imagination, flexibility, and dedication, all of whom received my gratitude. The Senior Parade proved to be hugely fun and something worth repeating, even without a pandemic. Please know, too, how much not just I, but all of us, appreciate the supportive emails we receive from participants in these events. 

While the adults have been figuring out how to manage the pandemic, students have experienced significant disruptions in their schooling. From my perspective, however, positives came even from those changes. For example, last spring, in order to support students emotionally, we required that all Upper School Advisors connect weekly one-on-one with their advisees. As a result of changes to Upper School Advisory, I had a group of seniors whom I didn't know well (and who, frankly, weren't thrilled with the change). However, through our weekly meetings I had the pleasure of getting to know them in a way that wouldn't have happened otherwise. We have continued this practice this year, and I thoroughly enjoy meeting with this year's group of generous, warm, thoughtful seniors. Moreover, they have commented on how much they appreciate these meetings and one recommended that we continue one-on-one Advisor meetings even when we return to normal. That is certainly cause for gratitude. 

Another opportunity pandemic-school has offered is the opportunity to serve as a "caring adult" in a fifth-grade social studies class. Every Wednesday, I get to spend 45 minutes with an enthusiastic, impassioned, very bright group of 10- and 11-year-olds under the (virtual) tutelage of their outstanding teacher as they learn U.S. history. It is a highlight of my week and worthy of much gratitude. 

Some of the hardest part of the last nine months occurred this summer as the country responded to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. As we all know, the demands for racial justice extended—rightly—to independent schools as our alumnae and students shared heartrending experiences of racism at the hands of schoolmates, teachers, and administrators. While the posts on Black@HAS were very hard to read—and made all of us feel terrible that our students had to endure such racism—I was grateful for the sharing. We must hear these stories, and we had not before, or not in a way that had the same impact. By telling these stories, these alumnae and students are making Holton a place that more fully lives up to its mission, and for that I am grateful. I've been thankful for the faculty's response to the Black@HAS instagram and their willingness to dig into anti-racism work. I've been grateful for the Black Alumnae Union, the Black alumnae group founded two years ago, who have provided wisdom, advice, and support for both their fellow alumnae and for their alma mater. I was also grateful to Representative Assembly (RA) and to the student Diversity Steering Committee for proposing the change in the Honor Code so that it now includes engaging in racist and oppressive language and behavior as an Honor Code violation, recognizing such actions as challenges to the integrity of the Holton community. I was also grateful to the BSU girls who met with Melissa Brown, Director of Diversity, Wellbeing, and Global Education, and me to share their thoughts and to discuss the School's response to calls for greater inclusivity and racial awareness. We have much work to do and we will be a stronger, better place for it.

Keeping a gratitude journal helps one appreciate things one might otherwise take for granted. My gratitude journal regularly reflects this sort of recognition: gratitude for our dogs, for the walks we took almost every evening (and that I miss greatly now that it gets dark so early); for the weather—when it's beautiful and also when it's not (I relished the tropical storm that tore through while we were in Easton in August); the stream that runs through campus, whether it's gurgling quietly or gushing over its banks during a rainstorm. We spent a couple of weeks in Easton in August and a weekend this fall in St. Michael's and, even if I was working most of the time, I appreciated the opportunity to be somewhere besides the Holton-Arms campus. I loved sitting on the dock and watching the great blue herons or paddleboarding around the quiet waterway. Going out in our boat afforded opportunities to actually relax, something for which I was incredibly grateful. The weekend in St. Michael's, we went gunkholing around the Wye River and saw a bald eagle, a singular sighting in my lifetime.

I was often grateful for food—for going to the farmers market or my husband's garden, for delicious dinners cooked at home, or the ease of take-out or leftovers. You can track the season's progression through my gratitude for fresh peas, strawberries and rhubarb, blueberries, peaches, local corn, tomatoes, and, more recently, lima beans and apples. I love to bake and made a birthday cake for myself that successfully replicated the ones my grandmother made me as a child (orange butter frosting is the key) and pies: lemon meringue, strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry, and apple. I made quite a lot of bread (yes, I was grateful to get yeast at the end of April) and found terrific recipes for corn muffins, blueberry muffins, and a fabulous blueberry cake. I was grateful to find, with some effort, lobsters for my husband's birthday in August and in October, we savored fresh swordfish caught by a colleague.

Just as people have been critically important at school, friends and family have sustained me. Zoom gatherings allowed for connection during quarantine, and then selective social interactions as we carefully emerged from our houses were definitely sources of gratitude. Our son lived with us until July, and I was so grateful to have his company at home and continue to treasure his visits. And of course my husband, who is an endless source of support whether making dinner, blowing up the tires on my bicycle (bicycle rides were another frequent source of gratitude), making sure we do fun things such as go out in the boat or get together with friends, or simply "cheering me up," as I recorded on October 7. 

We all need cheering up right now and I'm glad that I pause each night to take stock of the good in my life. It's a critical antidote to frustration and despair.