I doubt there will ever be a time when we are able to look back on the last couple of weeks in March 2020 without feeling very strong emotions. The morning after taking the decision to close the physical site of the School was especially difficult for me. There was a sense of devastation. For once in my life, I was beyond words. Fiona tried to cheer me up as we walked into School but all I could feel was the oppressive and gloomy silence of absence. The sun shone on our perfectly manicured lawns and yet the empty buildings and deserted site struck me as ghastly. In truth, I felt like I had failed. In less than a month, our community appeared to have been torn asunder by an invisible enemy and we were left feeling totally bereft and exhausted. Nationally, we knew that the peak of the virus was yet to arrive and there was no shred of comfort to be had in any quarter. The Broadway was silent, the trams stopped rolling and the physical frontiers of our existence contracted.
During these most extraordinary of times, many of us survived on adrenalin and endless work. Once we had gathered ourselves together, we resolved to fight with every fibre of our being. Any moment not spent looking after this community seemed like a dreadful waste of time. Lockdown itself was a curious affair. There were those of us who read lots of books or baked endless loaves of bread. Others took up beekeeping or knitting. Personally, I had no interest in sitting around or fine tuning my baking skills. For me, the best therapy came from being in School and focusing upon the future. ‘Live life with hope’ Father John told us, and I think that we were sustained by hope and an unshakable belief in our mission to carry on educating our children. Above all else, that had to be our contribution to our children and their families. Throughout all of this, it has been my good fortune to be surrounded by the most incredible colleagues and friends. Their love for this community has manifested itself in the most extraordinary commitment to go above and beyond. I do not know of another school community that has been sustained by such love and hard work.
Most of my initial worries were misplaced insomuch as I had underestimated the incredible strength of this community and the courage and resourcefulness of our pupils. I had not realised that, in adversity, Rossall would excel and that we would feel a closeness that defied the logistical challenges that we faced. Lessons continued, laughter returned (albeit via Zoom) and the semblance of a normal school routine quickly established itself. Virtual assemblies, music videos and outstanding examples of creativity soon flooded in from so many of our children. All of us were grateful to be members of such a dynamic community and to be part of something much greater than ourselves. If this was life for the foreseeable future then we were going to make the best of it. The most precious gifts of learning, laughter and friendship were not going to be snatched away by COVID-19. Of course, it is important that our children have continued to benefit from structure, routine and the provision of teaching and learning yet, in the fullness of time, I think our children will be most grateful to have had the opportunity to remain connected and motivated.
We are pretty good at online learning but Zoom sessions and Google Classroom is only ever a substitute for normal school life. Children thrive around other children and the friendships and co-curricular opportunities within school are so important for the development of soft skills. Now that our children are gradually returning to us, we feel the most extraordinary gratitude to know that we are emerging from what has been a very difficult time. Our Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 classes have now been back for almost two weeks and it is clear that they are having a fantastic time. On Monday afternoon, we will welcome back our Year 2,3,4 and 5 classes and so the entirety of our Nursery, Infants and Junior Schools will soon be back with us. This week, we have had many of our Year 10 pupils back and we have enjoyed welcoming prospective pupils and their families on visits to the School. Life is slowly returning to normal but I hope that the sense of elation and relief that we feel will linger a while longer yet. Three months ago, schools around the world faced a bleak outlook. Twelve weeks later we have adapted in such a way that we are able to minimise risk and cope with the challenges presented by this insidious virus.
The measures and protocols that we have put in place mean that whilst there are inevitably a few compromises to be made, the essence of normal school life remains firmly in place. Our children have shown us over and over again that they are incredibly pleased to be back with their friends and teachers. We have all been touched by the events of the last few months but I would suggest that us adults can learn a huge amount from our children. They have demonstrated to us the endless capacity of human beings to adapt and make the very best out of difficult circumstances.
We are now focused upon the new academic year and building work has recommenced upon the Infants School. Boarding houses are being deep cleaned and academic calendars are being written. Like the first green shoots of Spring, the school is gradually emerging from a cruel and long winter. We do so, knowing more about ourselves and more about our wonderful community here at Rossall.