The high school where I am a principal fielded its first girls’ flag football team this year. I love the games—pure athleticism and joy. The team dancing on the sidelines, the coaches smiling through every play. When I stood cheering our girls to victory last Thursday, the spirit was palpable and energizing.
And now it’s gone.
My school will honor its scheduled spring break this week, but no one I know is still going out of town. After break, we will implement our full-blown distance learning contingency plan for the first time ever. We hope it is just for a week and back to business as usual, but who knows? Even as the plan was rushed through review and refinement last week, it felt like a thought experiment. Now, it’s here. Another first for a generation of students who have lived through a lifetime of firsts. I am a Gen-Xer, born months after Nixon’s resignation in 1974. My childhood was colored by the Cold War, its distinguishing factor being that nothing happened. Detente. A looming threat, but no event.
That is why it was so shocking in the summer of 1990 when we went to war, right before the beginning of my junior year. Desert Storm. But then it was over, before that year’s prom. I graduated high school and moved on. Close to three decades later, I’m out on a run, and I contemplate the student assembly I called for next day, the Friday before break. My students beg me not to make them attend school virtually. What is school, they say, without each other? I can’t really disagree, but I can’t make them any promises. I wish I could.
And that’s just it. We’ve never been able to promise them anything that our parents so confidently promised us. Their lives have been so very different.
The seniors were born in 2001, 2002. The newly post-9/11 world. That attack changed us. Challenged any presumptions of safety. Their entire lives, we’ve been at war.
Columbine preceded them but its gruesome legacy has made annual active shooter training their reality. No promises. Not even first-graders in a Sandy Hook classroom were safe.
My students lived through the launch of the iPhone, the guinea pig generation for disruptive innovation that put the world in their pockets and at their fingertips — but never let them disconnect or be alone.
Now this. Coronavirus looms. Rather than face it together with a duck-and-cover drill in the classroom, we have to send them home to practice good social distancing and promise to do our best through the interface of a screen to not rob life completely of the joys that only come from shared, lived experience.
I want my students to know that I see them. I see how it must feel unfair. It has changed their friendships, their futures. Canceled their classes and field trips. Their proms.
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
But I also want them to know that so much of what makes them wonderful is this simple fact: They have lived through so much already.
They are adaptable. Resilient. Funny. Creative problem solvers who demand authenticity in their friends and mentors, who expect empathy and equity.
They are also realists. They know we can’t fix this for them but that we’ll be there to figure it out with them.
I hope we are back together soon. We will get through this together, and somehow we’ll become smarter, stronger and more connected than ever.
Sara Rubinstein is the assistant head for academics and head of the Upper School at Carrollwood Day School in Tampa.