Background. Covid 19 One Year On. “An anniversary worth noting if not celebrating”. An Open Letter from Andrew Gibbs, Principal and CEO of Dubai English Speaking School and College.
The following is a letter written privately to parents at both Dubai English Speaking School (DESS) and Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) by Andrew Gibbs, the Principal and CEO of both schools.
We asked Mr Gibbs for permission to share his private letter with our readers because we think it is helpful, and inspiring, to recognise both the date that Covid 19 first begun to wreak its heavy toll on education – and to share with all parents and schools that managing Covid 19 has been a struggle for all of those in education, including our most outstanding schools.
DESS and DESC are shared recipients of the 2019-20 SchoolsCompared.com Top Schools Award Award for Best School in the UAE, the single most prestigious Award in education presented by Which Media, SchoolsCompared.com and a panel of independent judges to schools in the emirates.
If there is a single message in what follows from Mr Gibbs, it is, we think, that schools across the UAE, in the face of an adversity we have all shared, have worked tirelessly to ensure as far as possible the best possible education and whole child development of students – and have responded to the needs of families as a vital part of this equation.
It has not been easy. The world has changed. But we will recover from this. As Mr Gibbs says:
“What we have lost, and miss, we will have again.”
An open letter from the Principal and CEO. 5th March 2021.
Re: An anniversary worth noting, if not celebrating…..
Thursday March 5th 2020 will be indelibly imprinted on my mind as ‘The Day The World Changed’ for DESS and DESC, as it did for schools across every corner of the UAE.
March 5th 2020 was exactly one year ago today.
Spring Break brought forward by two weeks, with all the ensuing travel chaos that initiated for people; long-arranged plans, vacations and events cancelled or re-jigged from original dates for the holiday period. Growing unease and uncertainty as the ‘new’ Spring Break unfolded about the potential for travel bans and generally what lay beyond that two-week window.
The rest, as the saying goes, is history. What at first glance to some might have appeared to be a temporary disruptor very quickly became an all-pervading and consuming crisis: two weeks of mandated online learning was quickly extended to the entirety of Term 3. 15 weeks of the same. Physical, in-person schooling completely removed as an option.
At the same time a shattering and brutal series of blows to people’s livelihoods began to be meted out as the economic repercussions manifested themselves in sweeping job losses and reduction to incomes. We lost a lot of really fantastic DESSC families over the next six months, many of them long-time supporters and advocates of both school communities. Some of the distressing conversations and exchanges myself and colleagues had with such people will stay long in the memory.
Whilst we cannot negate every economic impact of the situation that has emerged since last year I am grateful to the Trustees for sanctioning the support we have managed to extend to our parents in various forms, whether that be the 20% discount on fees we announced almost immediately or the fee reductions confirmed last August.
And, of course, most significantly and poignantly, for those impacted upon, the fact that tragically Covid began to take the lives of friends and family, both here and overseas. And continued to do so, as it still does.
Given, as the expression goes, we can only ‘control the controllable’, it is the experience of our two schools over the last year I want to focus on. Both to remind ourselves what they were like as busy, vibrant, ‘rocket-fuelled’ communities (and thus what we have missed out on) and what we can look to the future to recapturing and enjoying once again.
For the majority of our young people they will readily recall how both schools ‘used to be’, and how different the current experience is to DESS and DESC pre-March 5th 2020. However, for several hundred new pupils who only joined us in various year groups, from FS1 through to Year 13, they have only ever had a rather restrictive, ‘klunky’ and ‘Groundhog Day’ vibe to reference. This is their ‘old’ and ‘current’ norm; they have never experienced anything else. The whole of FS1 and Year 7, sadly, have only ever seen their new school as one dominated by bubbles, social distancing, sanitisation, controlled breaks and playtime, etc, etc. Not DESS and DESC as they were and will be again.
So, by way of a refresher, I have looked at the two weeks prior to March 5th last year, to pick out some highlights. Two average weeks at DESS and DESC. What was happening? And then to reflect on what was ‘lost’ in terms of enrichment and breadth of experience across the next 15 weeks. A summary of some (and by no means all) of things we miss, treasure and value about being in school/college, that our young people and ourselves want to reinstate as DESS and DESC ‘norms’ as soon as possible.
Pictures, for the purposes of this exercise, ‘say it’ far better than words…
At DESS, just before this day last year we had:
- The Year 2 production of The Lion King, led by the Performing Arts team and the Year 2 staff.
- The Year 5 residential to Hatta
- The DESS Swim Gala, always a great ‘Yell Fest’ as parents and the Houses cheer on their swimmers!
At DESC, just before this day last year we had:
- DESCFest, an open-air concert showcasing the best of musical talent at DESC
- The Dubai College 10s, at which DESS and DESC made history by winning every single age group over 2 days, from Under 11s right through to the seniors.
At DESS, the closing of school meant:
- No BSME Games, an annual highlight for Year 6 children over many years at DESS (and a competition we had won on a number of occasions)
- No Leavers Assembly
- No Sports Awards
- No DESC Transition Days
At DESC, closure meant:
- No Leavers Day or Prom, the social highlight of the year for Year 13
- Among other excursions, no overseas trips to the Rosslyn Park 7s, Sports Tour to the UK, language trip to Spain, Geography trip to Iceland
- And, perhaps most gut-wrenchingly, given how close the actual production was away, for the cast and crew of West Side Story, no annual production. 7 months of toil and preparation with no end result.
All of these images totally at odds with our current reality. (The mind boggles at all the breaches of social distancing on display here).
And this is a mere snapshot of all the things, beyond classrooms and the formal curriculum, that comprised our true identity and reality. They and other memories people will have are what we will strive to bring back as circumstances allow. We will not wake up one day to this bright new future, however. It will be incremental progress, a process that with small steps has already begun within the parameters we are given to operate. But we will get there.
Let us hope that the vaccine rollout, both here and overseas, means the tide will turn for the better and allow us the freedoms we need to restore and reboot all aspects of our lives and communities, including those of DESS and DESC.
A word on the limitations and constraints placed upon us: these are considerable and if we are deemed noncompliant in respect of social distancing, etc the sanctions can be severe. I say this just to underscore the fact that at both schools we will do what we can to further normalize things as soon as we can, whilst complying with the expectations of the authorities that visit us, unannounced, several times a week.
Mrs Dando, Principal of DESS, and Mr Vizzard, Principal of DESC, like schools Principals across the UAE schools, both want all our parent’s children in all the time; we all do. However, protocols around cases and transmissions, applicable to all schools, mean sometimes individuals and classes have to revert to online learning.
In the case of Years 7 to 9 at DESC it means those students and parents need to bear with us as we try to secure conditions that mean we are confident we can move from the current blended structure to a fully in-person model. Next week Year 10 are back in full time, meaning we now have Years 10 through to 13 all back in 100% of the time. Years 7-9, you are next, as soon as it is permissible to do so. (Something to bear in mind here: the rules and protocols are a lot tighter than they were pre-Winter Break, when both schools were open to all year groups for the full 14 weeks – an upping of the ante in response to the rise in Covid cases experienced by the country since January).
So, one year on and some reminders of what we lost, miss, but will have again; with an accompanying appeal for patience and circumspection about the speed with which we are able to secure the norms we crave for our children/students.
My thanks to everyone who has supported both schools in the last 12 months: the trustees, Mrs Dando and Mr Vizzard, all 440 staff across both schools; they have done a fantastic job in the most challenging of circumstances. And to you, the parents and your children, for your continued support of, and engagement with, DESS and DESC.
I hope by agreeing to share this private letter, written to parents at DESS and DESC, I can contribute to awareness across the UAE that we really are all in this together and that all schools are working tirelessly for their students and families alike.
I wish you all a good weekend.
With very best regards,
Principal/CEO of DESS and DESC
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