One year ago today, on March 30, 2020, we ‘returned’ remotely after an extended three-week spring break that allowed us time to better understand the threat of the burgeoning Covid-19 pandemic. Given the rapid spread of the disease; concerns of medical systems being overwhelmed; the ballooning number of heartbreaking stories of harm in places as unfamiliar and familiar as Central China, Northern Italy, Iran, and New York City; and the uncertainty about the longer term effects of the disease on those who survive; we realized that we could not wait around for local, state, or federal agencies to determine our response to the pandemic.
At Abrome, we have always sought to center the needs of those most impacted when making decisions. While that most obviously meant that we would need to prioritize the wellbeing of the members of our community who were most at risk of serious illness from the disease, because we are all interconnected we would also need to concern ourselves with the impact of our decisions on broader society. In time, and unsurprisingly, it became apparent that in addition to the elderly and those with certain underlying medical conditions, the worst consequences of the disease disproportionately fell on Black, Indigenous, and people of color, as well as those without material resources. It was this expectation that led us to our April 1, 2020, decision to remain remote through the end of the 2019–20 academic year.
In June we published a living contingency planning document that would uniquely allow us to be together more safely this 2020–21 pandacademic year. We took everything outdoors (in physically distant small groups, for three week cycles at a time). Because we are a Self-Directed Education community that has never been stuck to the practices and structures of schooling, we were able to transition to being fully outdoors rather seamlessly. As a result of our community’s dedicated efforts (and some luck), one year in, no one in our extended community (Learners, immediate and extended families, Facilitators, housemates, and dedicated pod members) has contracted Covid-19.
Now, as vaccinations roll out and as Covid-19 numbers trend down, it seems everyone wants to “return to normal.” However, “normal” was never good enough. That “normal” prioritizes academics over relationships, and success over solidarity. It tends to have some combination of age segregation, forced curriculum, personalized learning apps, homework, testing, grades, and forced exhibitions (with some Covid-19 security theater sprinkled in); but what it has never had was a respect for the autonomy of children. “Normal” also ignores the cost of schooling on young people and on communities, especially during this pandemic.
Our approach to the pandemic has been a continuation of what we have always done at Abrome — prioritize community care. We believe in the power of community, and centering the needs of the people most impacted is one of the hallmarks of a strong community. We are proud of the way we have put community over convenience, and people over profits during this pandemic. Post-pandemic, we will continue to reject the “normal.”