My newest life lesson has been my need to conceptualize mathematics. The news is filled with numbers that are so extreme that their meaning is often challenging to comprehend. Our compassion has become stretched by the size of the math. In a few short months, more than 70,000 people in our country have died from the coronavirus. That’s more than the population of my entire city of Royal Oak, more than the seating capacity of Ford Field, more people than our country lost in the entire Vietnam War. This is an illness that does not recognize privilege, it is random and strong.
Numbers can feel distant and abstract, but they are more than charts, graphs, or press briefings; they are people, human beings with families, careers, and dreams. As we continue to study outcomes, and prepare new calculations, I hold tightly to the lesson that each of us has a story, and each of us has a group of people who love us.
A second lesson that is abundantly clear to me is the power of technology. For the past few years, our school has been engaged in a variety of conversations about how students use screens, the impact of that screen time, and the potential challenges we face as young people navigate social media, and virtual interactions. While those issues remain, we see that Zoom, Seesaw, and Teams have become the tools by which we now deliver school, and social media is in fact a tool that we genuinely use to keep us socially connected. These apps and programs are no longer toys or games; they are the medium of our workplace and our places of learning. It is fascinating to hear stories today from parents of how their children can be heard saying that they can’t wait to disengage from their screens and are seeking opportunities to get outside and play. Crisis has taught us that technology is more than a toy.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, I have learned that school is not a place. When I first arrived at Roeper, long-time Roeper teacher, Emery Pence would often quote an alum, who once joked with him that, “Roeper could happen in a barn.” I laughed at Emery’s story and pictured students gathered in a hay loft having a debate. I also have to admit that I was more than a little put off by the comment. I looked around our campuses and thought to myself, our students and families deserve facilities that are state of the art, they deserve spaces that provide inspiration for learning. We may not have the newest buildings, but our students deserve more than a barn. I’ve spent a great many days during my tenure at Roeper raising money to build those spaces and to ensure that Roeper students and teachers have physical spaces that inspire learning.
Today I think about Emery and his story with a greater degree of understanding and appreciation. In the era of Covid-19, it doesn’t matter how many acres of land a school has, it doesn’t matter if you have a new computer lab, a fully equipped media center, library, or gymnasium. Classroom spaces, cafes, art studios, theaters, and science labs all sit empty now. Those shiny new spaces constructed with multimillion-dollar campaigns may as well be a barn. The coronavirus has pushed us to reassess the arms race that schools compete in to build new facilities.
The Roeper School is a community. It is the people who occupy those spaces. Roeper is the teachers and students working together to make learning come alive. Roeper is the parent community partnering with each other and with teachers to make learning joyful at a time when we need joy. Roeper is the relationships we form to guide our children to become fully engaged compassionate citizens of the world. What I am learning while watching our community sustain our School through this pandemic is that through tenacity, resilience, and love, Roeper can truly happen anywhere.