Starting the New Normal…However Long It Lasts: Part One

We had plans to write our next post on a different topic, then Morocco’s handling of COVID-19 changed our plans and those across the Kingdom.  Let us state at the outset that we support the actions of the government to “flatten the curve” here, taken while Morocco’s count of confirmed cases remained relatively low, and think the staged implementation we have seen over the last three weeks has, for the most part, moved us all to where we need to be in reasonable steps that allow everyone to prepare for the long haul.  That said, our lives – like so many millions upon millions around the globe – have altered significantly until further notice. We have started a “new normal,” however long it lasts.

On Friday the 13th (we should have known from the date that craziness would come), amid Act One of the GWA Drama Department’s closing night performance of “Aida,” cell phones of people in the audience started buzzing with reports that – with 17 confirmed cases nationwide, one death, and one recovery from COVID-19 – the government would close public and private schools across the country after the weekend.  Audrey crafted quickly a brief statement, read to the audience and cast after the closing curtain, acknowledging the news and promising to have more information out to parents over the weekend.

Assuming the government’s decisions to close schools would happen at some point, it actually could not have come at a better time for GWA.  We long before had scheduled Monday and Tuesday as in-service days to do all-school professional development with the faculty and TAs. Along with the planning and training we had done over the previous weeks, after some quick repurposing of this time it gave us two additional days to prepare for Online School before launching it with students and families on Wednesday.  We felt good about our position and preparation academically. Still, GWA’s Crisis Management Team met on Saturday after the government’s announcement to work out more details for broader school operation in case we went from a campus with no students but adults able to work from classrooms, to one with no students and a minimal staff, to one with only a couple administrators on site and other key personnel on call.

Meanwhile, word spread that Morocco was closing off air travel between Morocco and most of western Europe.  This kept one administrator from joining the CMT meeting as he sought valiantly to return to Morocco from a week of professional development training abroad.  Changing planes in Amsterdam, the flight’s crew announced it was the last flight heading to Morocco, so anyone not wanting to be stuck in Morocco for a long time should get off.  After half the passengers disembarked around him, our administrator was able to fly home to Casablanca and slip in under the wire. Likewise, our in-house translator had been in France for a few days on family business and, after she translated communications remotely that Audrey had written to GWA parents and staff and emailed to her in France, she rushed to Paris and ran through Charles de Gaulle Airport to get on the last flight leaving for Casablanca.  A third staff member was not so lucky, and got stuck in Germany where she waits while our HR team still explores options to repatriate her.

With all the planning, preparation, training, and communication of the preceding weeks, we both felt fairly confident about starting Online School on Wednesday the 18th.  As expected, the day brought technology issues from older students and from parents of younger students needing assistance to log on and follow the learning plans teachers had laid out.  All in all, though, implementation went pretty smoothly. Teachers, parents, and students provided overwhelmingly positive feedback, especially compared to anecdotes shared with us about things happening at some other schools in the area.  (We heard that one school did absolutely no training of teachers, and another school communicated nothing to parents other than sending out invoices for the fourth quarter tuition payments.)

As Wednesday came to an exhausted close, Audrey said she felt like she had given birth to this Online School platform:  fatigued deeply, but proud of what resulted. Brian – never having given birth, but having grown up in the Apollo generation with memories of rockets launching from Cape Canaveral – instead compared it to the launch scene of every Apollo drama and documentary when the countdown finishes, the engines ignite, and “We have liftoff!”  At that point, in either her scenario or his, the adventure has begun and all you can do is keep moving forward with what you have started.

Of course, we had little time to rest on any laurels as the Moroccan government continued to tighten its controls on people across the country.

[To be continued…]

On your mark, get set, here we go!

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