To the Editor:
When school closed in March of 2020, those of us who work in schools entered an educational landscape that challenged us to our core as educators. The vast majority of us were unprepared at the time to run a school remotely, but we dedicated ourselves to the work of continuously assessing and adjusting plans as we learned, and strove to do better each week. Collectively, the staff at MVRHS rose to this challenge. As the leader of MVRHS, I want the Island to hear some of our stories and accomplishments this pandemic year. I am sure you will be as proud as I am of the way this Island school was able to work together as a community to teach and support our students. Despite the grueling nature of the work this year, the quality of instruction and commitment at MVRHS remains incredibly strong, perhaps stronger than it has been in years. Teachers have new tools and perspectives on their craft, students and teachers are connected in deeper ways, and we all have a renewed understanding of the emotional importance of a physical/in-person school community.
Here are some reasons to be proud of MVRHS this year:
- We had a huge number of teachers and staff step up and volunteer their time to plan three different educational delivery models throughout the summer of 2020. Teachers learned the necessary remote and hybrid platforms — as well as a new educational lexicon — and never lost sight of the students at the center of their work.
- Our custodial staff put forth monumental efforts to keep the buildings clean and disinfected. The nurse’s office spent restless days and nights ensuring compliance with COVID protocols, and weekends helping our local boards of health with contact tracing.
- The cafeteria team at MVRHS didn’t hesitate to show up to work during those first months in March and April, when others were on lockdown. They fed our students and the larger community with a sense of purpose and fun, and they continued to do so throughout the year.
- Our front office and IT teams ensured that ALL students and staff had working Chromebooks and Wi-Fi throughout the year. What had been a years-long project to give all students 1:1 access to a laptop transitioned into a two-week project, including the mapping and upgrading of much of our Wi-Fi infrastructure to accommodate the tech demands.
- Our teachers used three vastly different learning platforms to teach this year: remote, hybrid, and finally in-person. In all of these scenarios, teachers worked to engage all students — those who needed the classroom setting and those who were at home and required a different set of supports. Teachers wore headsets and microphones, navigated multiple computer setups, and collected and graded work online. The art of teaching was difficult to maintain amid the tedium of taking attendance using the correct codes, posting links to online activities, and transitioning in and out of breakout rooms. In the end, however, the skill and commitment of the teachers served our students well, and very little instructional time was lost.
- Administrators, teachers, ESPs (classroom support staff), and ASPs (office support staff) began using all possible lines of communication to reach students who were struggling to connect. They used WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and home visits alongside traditional methods of calls, meetings, and email. Our collective outreach to students and families reached an all-time high.
- Throughout this year, MVRHS managed to run three complete competitive sports seasons, and one intramural season in the fall. Our boys’ basketball team was the Cape and Island League champion, and our boys’ and girls’ tennis teams went undefeated in the regular season.
- Our performing arts department managed to pull off several performances. The teachers and students experimented with a new medium for the drive-in screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and they ushered in the re-opening of in-person performances with “Bright Star” and a spring Minnesingers concert at the Tabernacle.
- Amid the nearly insurmountable teaching challenges, our staff continued to show up for the difficult work of maintaining a reflective professional community dedicated to addressing systemic racism and overcoming injustice. The Race, Equity, and Cultural Proficiency group was formed, the Women of Color peer group was born, as was the Black Student Alliance.
- At the same time, committed parents and faculty members created a PTSO for MVRHS, supported in large part by our student leadership classes. As a result, we have a gorgeous new space in the Garden Courtyard.
- The visual arts department used its brand-new gallery displays to show off the amazing work of our student artists for a full week in the art triangle, instead of a one-night event.
- We maintained celebratory traditions by holding a great online version of Honors Night to recognize the work of hundreds of students. We held a modified prom, organized a senior parade and — at the last moment — managed to hold Class Night in person.
- Graduation was a huge success. For the second year in a row, we were able to design an inclusive and joyous occasion worthy of the graduating class of 2021.
- Our partners in this work — the school committee, district leadership, MVYouth and Martha’s Vineyard Bank — supported our return to in-person learning AND health and safety by introducing an amazing COVID testing program. We are so grateful for these efforts, and the financial support.
All of this work was in service to our students. We heard from lots of stakeholders throughout this process, but our main purpose was to serve students the best possible way we could. We surveyed students throughout the year, and implemented their feedback as we designed schedules and plans. When students were back in the building, all of us became reacquainted with the reason why we love our jobs. I want to extend my deep appreciation for the MVRHS students. It was hard to shake the convenience of remote schooling, but you did. You came back to school ready to learn and cooperate with the ever-present COVID rules and regulations. Thank you!
And, from the bottom of my heart, to the entire staff at MVRHS: Thank you. You have made it through the most backbreaking year in the history of education. As a staff member said in our final staff meeting of the year, this was a year where we all fell down and got back up, over and over again. Give yourselves a summer to breathe and relax. Who knows? We just might return to our best year yet.
And, Martha’s Vineyard, be proud of your community high school. The work put forward by staff and the students at MVRHS this year is well deserving of this support.
For those of you who want more information about this crazy year at MVRHS, a longer version of this letter is on our website, mvrhs.org.
Sara Dingledy, principal