A Letter from Mr. Billman

UncategorizedComments Off on A Letter from Mr. Billman

Dear Providence Families,

Yesterday, we gained clarity about what the next month will look like: 

“Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday told Texans to stay at home for the next month unless they are taking part in essential services and activities, announcing a heightened statewide standard to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. He also announced that schools would remain closed until at least May 4” (Texas Tribune).

This statewide executive order includes private schools like ours, as clarified by the Texas Private Schools Association. The bottom line is that we will continue remote learning at Providence until at least May 4. Our last day of school for the year is May 14, and if it’s possible to meet on campus for the last two weeks of school, we will. In fact, if we only get one day together, we’ll take it! But we realize that there’s a strong possibility that the social distancing rules will extend beyond May 4 and prevent us from meeting in physical proximity for the rest of the semester. 

Of course, this executive order is in place to “flatten the curve” to limit the rapid spread of the disease, and so that our medical professionals can more ably serve those afflicted with the coronavirus. Our prayers are for those who have already been afflicted, and to those who are most vulnerable. I’m praying for strength and courage for the medical professionals fighting it. A number of Providence parents are or will be on the front lines. You inspire us, and we want to do everything we can to support you. 

At Providence, our community is dealing with a range of reactions to this situation. For some, staying at home has provided a reprieve from the busy rhythms of normal life. The situation has been a “severe mercy” in that it’s provided an opportunity for families to reconnect with each other, and perhaps pursue goals that have been shelved up to this point. But for others, life has only become more complicated. Families are having to juggle work, homeschooling, and domestic responsibilities, all of the time. Some of you have more work demands than ever before, as your responsibilities have increased in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

And I know that many of our students are feeling disappointment over lost opportunities. At Providence, we’ve had to cancel or postpone indefinitely a number of special events, including athletic events, field trips, dramatic productions, and now, our Spring Formal, which was scheduled in April (and we plan to hold the Formal later, even in the summer). Of course, Spring Fest was virtual this year, hilariously memorialized in Adelle Dettmer’s music video, “Lost in Sherwood.” I know that many of us can relate to the visual of Adelle playing bean bag toss, all alone (“Is this what it feels like to do Spring Fest apart?”). We’re doing a lot of things on our own that we would normally do with others. We miss the energy and excitement of the typical Spring Fest, just like we miss seeing each other during the typical school day. The students miss their friends and their teachers, and the teachers miss seeing their students and colleagues. 

My heart is definitely with our 12th grade seniors. Some of them have been here since Fourth Grade! This is their last opportunity to do many things that we hold so dear at Providence. Even the mundane activities take on a special significance when approaching the end, and I’m sad that these students are missing out on simple things, like sitting in certain rooms, strolling on the deck between classes, and of course simply being around friends. 

So we may say to ourselves what Frodo, burdened with the task of destroying the Ring of Power, said to Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” It’s a perfectly natural and honest thing to say. In the past month, I’d guess that most of us have said, at one point or another, “I wish none of this had happened.”

Gandalf’s reply is one of beautiful reality: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” 

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” From the standpoint of the school, this decision about what to do with this time that is given to us is based on a couple of guiding principles:

  • As a school, we want to do the best we can to continue the process of learning. Not only that, but we want our students to continue to love learning!
  • As a school, we recognize that we have an important but also limited place in your life. Learning at home should not consume the entirety of your lives. 

For these reasons, our response to the coronavirus closures has consisted of these steps:

  • Streamlining workload to provide margin for parents who work, for sharing electronic devices, for additional duties and responsibilities, and for the hope that your family will be able to have time for your own choice of activities. Beyond just streamlining our work, several teachers are adjusting some assignments to better fit with the current situation. For example, our students in the middle grades are keeping their own log as a way to remember this historical event that we’re living in. 
  • Remote teaching with flexibility, including video lessons and videoconferencing. Our teachers have added a lot of video to their repertoire, but we also want to strike a balance. Not all lessons are conducive to videoconference or video, and we want you to have some flexibility throughout your day to do certain lessons when you want to do them (and when you can do them), which is one of the pleasures of schooling at home. 
  • Improving the process for assigning and submitting work remotely through Google Classroom. We know that there was, and still is, a learning curve, but this program makes it much easier to remotely communicate about assignments, and to transmit work back and forth.

While our school is relatively well-positioned for this change to learning at home 5-days-a-week, we have been learning on the fly. I’m incredibly grateful for our teachers, who have been taking on new and perhaps uncomfortable ways of teaching. It’s been a lot of work for them, and I’m thankful for their efforts. I’m incredibly grateful for our students and parents. There may be a more constructive, can-do community of people somewhere out there, but I don’t know of a better bunch of folks than who we have right here. And we’re doing pretty well: our students are still learning. They’re still connected with teachers and classmates. And most seem to be getting some fresh air, to boot. We hope that this will be an opportunity to eat more family dinners together, to make music together, or to start a new family read aloud. (We’re about to start Danny Champion of the World. Can’t wait!)

As far as special events go, all is not lost. One way or another, we’re going to have a graduation ceremony. Yes, we’re going to sing our graduation hymn, and sing it loudly, just like we always do. At some point, maybe in the summer, we hope to have a Spring (er, Summer) Formal. We are still going to find fun ways for our upper school students to earn House Points, no matter where we are. I met with our seniors today on Google Meet, and in reference to commencement, one of them said “Yes, this is going to be a different year. That doesn’t mean it can’t be special. I think we should embrace the moment.” Another one chimed in: “This is history!”

That, I think, is the right attitude when deciding “what to do with the time that is given to us.” No, this is not what we expected or wanted, but these are the times — no matter our age or station in life — that we’ll never forget. 

Later in the Lord of the Rings, Frodo is again feeling heavily burdened by his extraordinarily difficult task. His best friend, Sam Gamgee, is there to encourage him, and to encourage all of us: 

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Be strong and courageous, 

Bret Billman

Comments are closed.

© 2015 Providence Preparatory School. All rights reserved. Site customization by Chris Webster Freelance Design.