Friday Message 11/20

   Greetings from school! ... Only Monday and Tuesday stand in the way of our completing this on-campus/at-home/quarantined/academic portion of our first semester. It's a good thing that betting is just now becoming legal in Tennessee because I would have lost a ton wagering on us not getting this far ... looking back, I just didn't see how it would be possible. 
   The credit is shared by everybody - students and families, teachers and staff. We didn't get through unscathed by any means. In fact, I need to officially notify everyone that we have had another positive case with all contact tracing having been completed.
   I don't know that there's been even one "easy" day since August 3rd but based on what I've seen and heard, it could have been much worse.
   So as we approach this upcoming Thanksgiving, please know that I am most grateful for all the effort, all the sacrifice, all the hard and sometimes unpopular decisions folks had to make to help this work as well as it has. 
   Thank you!!!
   Please note the following important announcement re: 2nd semester: While we were making it through the Fall, we were also paying attention to what's been happening at other schools. Several - not all - but several who took a Fall Break experienced an uptick in cases and quarantines afterward. 
     We're also aware that many of the experts are encouraging (if not begging) families to do "Thanksgiving Light" this year with minimal travel or guests. It's not for everybody but many will choose that path.
     Thus, when it comes to Christmas itself, odds are really good that many will finally hit the road to be with family they haven't seen or we'll open our own doors and welcome our guests -- true for our teachers, true for our families.
     Therefore, in an effort to mitigate the January impact of all that possible travel exposure, we have made the decision to begin the second semester with NO on-campus classes and everyone doing "At Home" learning remotely for a period of two weeks (January 5th - 15th.) 
     As we do on occasion, we have some laptops that we will be configuring during the holidays for those who might have need. Please see the attached sign-up form to help us plan that piece of the puzzle. 
     When the New Year gets closer, we will be sending additional information with class schedules and bell schedules and all the rest. For now, just please note that classes are scheduled to begin remotely on Tuesday, January 5th with all students at home and on their computers. (Borrowed computer pickup will happen on Monday, January 4th.)
     I suppose there's a fine line between deciding too early and giving adequate advance notice. If I knew exactly where that line was, I'd jump right on it. But I'm going with the best info I have at this point. 
     As for the present, students should leave here after their exams with all the books/notebooks/planners/art supplies/etc ... whatever they'll need for next semester's studies.
     As we are doing this upcoming At-Home week and through the holidays, we will continue with extra-curricular activities where and when we can though we will likely reduce fan attendance even more. We're not being forced to stay home, we're just trying to be smart and cautious for when the student body gathers as a whole.
     A few thoughts about our post-Thanksgiving Community Outreach Week ...  Rather than tell students what to do, we have been encouraging them to use their creativity to come up with an idea/project that would utilize their own interests/passions with an eye toward "improving" or perhaps "educating" others on some aspect of the school/city/world in which they live.
     We know that many families are okay with having their kids interact with the public in the traditional sense of service but not everyone. And that is key to this whole thing ... moms and dads (not us) getting to decide if what your student is doing is acceptable from a family health perspective. 
    We do have kids who plan to go out into various parts of the community ... but we also have students staying apart with ideas such as cleaning a river bank; making a video on how to change a tire; writing a blog about how to survive and flourish through remote learning. 
   In the end, I'm not sure if all of these will truly benefit the greater good, but the attempt was more to get kids to think outside themselves. 
   Still and most importantly, the safety factor of the project is one determined by our parents. 
   I love their creativity, I really do, but they don't always see what we can see. I look forward to seeing what all they accomplish!!  
     A repeat from last week ... As we were forced to do with football, we will necessarily need to greatly limit attendance in basketball/wrestling. For basketball, we are moving our JV games to the Varallo gym. And we are limiting our varsity game attendance in Phifer Gym to participants, parents of participants, a small number of students and a small allotment for the other team.  
     In order to attend, our students must reserve one of the limited spots by clicking on the link to Sign-Up Genius they will be emailed the day before each home game. 
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     I don't know what really happened at the first Thanksgiving but I have an image that's still stuck there in my mind from when I was very young. Probably not all that unlike the vision you have. Reality seldom matches our visions; sometimes it doesn't even come close. Maybe it's what I want to believe.
     But somehow, somewhere there were in fact people who survived an incredible journey - back when the word 'incredible' really did mean that. They travelled through who knows what, facing nature, disease, each other and Lord knows what else. And they came through on the other side. If they didn't celebrate joyously, they sure missed a good chance, they had more than enough reasons to be thankful.
     We've not yet reached the other side of this particular journey we seem to be on, but we are still moving forward. Some are bruised and battered; some have stepped up for others; some are just hanging on. But hanging on isn't all bad, all things considered.
     Yeah, we wore our ugly Christmas sweaters the other day because it seemed like a smile was needed. I hope it helped a little. But it doesn't mean we've forgotten or are skipping past Thanksgiving. Certainly not this year.
     What I said at the beginning of this email bears repeating. I give thanks for everyone who has tried to make this better than it actually is ... thanks for everyone who has thought about others ... thanks for everyone who has made the extra effort - big or small, doesn't matter - but the extra effort to get us through. 
     I pray God will bless your Thanksgiving - the ones round your table and the ones you wish could be there.  May it be happy, healthy and safe! 
George Valadie