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The Bright Side

The Bright Side

Late on a Friday afternoon last March, the German government announced that schools would be shut down due to increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. The abrupt closure and quick transition to the Distance Learning Plan (DLP) was a big test for the FIS community. School leaders were faced with an unprecedented crisis situation, parents had to cope with extraordinary demands juggling childcare with working from home, and teachers were challenged to maintain continuity of learning through new modes of teaching.

The effect on our students was profound: children were physically isolated from their peers and distanced from the hands-on support they were used to from teachers. For our youngest children, understanding why they were only able to interact with classmates and teachers on a screen was itself a conceptual challenge. For older students, having to rely more on their own organizational and self-management skills was a steep learning curve.

Nevertheless, as a community we have much to be grateful for. According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), many students worldwide were not offered remote learning and/or did not have access to a computer to use for their schoolwork. FIS was fortunate to be able to quickly mobilize, launching the DLP within two days of the school closure being announced and pooling resources across divisions to ensure every student had access to a digital device at home.

As we cope with the inevitable challenges of the next few months, let us keep in mind the positives that this shared experience has brought to our community, with new opportunities for innovation, empathy, collaboration, communication, and more.

Since then, it has become clear that the pandemic has driven countless positive experiences and interactions among our community members, and the ways in which we have responded with resilience and empathy are changing our school for the better. Here are just a few unexpected outcomes and heartwarming stories arising from our pandemic experience.

Home-school connectedness 

During the FIS school closure, parents gained insight into their child’s education as they took on the role of the teacher, discovering, as one parent put it, “What school is really like for the kids.” And since campus access has been restricted since the start of school this year, FIS has also reported an uptick in attendance at virtual information evenings and parent conferences, with the recent Upper School Back to School Night recording the highest ever attendance. As Dr. Michael Johnston, Assistant Head of School explains, “Parents were able to attend from different countries, from their living room, or while feeding their children in the kitchen, and they didn’t need to worry about who would look after their children.”

In service of others 

The pandemic has offered many opportunities for our community members to demonstrate empathy toward one another and our wider community. The FIS Cares email address was set up for any FIS community member experiencing difficulty due to Covid-19 or a quarantine to write to request support. Whether assisting with shopping needs, translation or other support and advice, FIS parents, faculty and staff have stepped up to help
one another. 

One such parent was Karey Crain. At the beginning of the pandemic she began to make masks for her family and kept adjusting the design to make them more comfortable. When she finally found a design that everyone liked, she set to work making masks for the Oberursel Campus Primary School teachers. Ms. Crain says, “Our teachers at the Primary School are so lovely, and they are helping our children through what could be a very stressful time if not for their loving guidance. I made masks for them as a small token of my appreciation.”

Students stepped up, too, with Grade 12 student Tom S. being awarded the Mark E. Ulfers Award for the leadership he showed during this year’s Kalahari project. Tom explains how a team of students is supporting children in South Africa during the pandemic: “Over the past few months, the Kalahari Team has been developing an off-the-grid learning management system to provide local learners with the opportunity to access fully interactive learning courses, including over one hundred videos created by FIS students, textbooks and practice exams.”

Flexibility and innovation

We have all certainly had to think outside the box this year. One of the biggest concerns the Upper School had during the lockdown last spring was how to ensure the life-defining moment of graduation would be marked for the Class of 2020. Fortunately, with some creative seating arrangements and a lot of behind-the-scenes safety planning in tandem with the local German health authorities, FIS was able to celebrate the success of our graduating students together.

For those on campus this school year, life has changed in many ways but activities go on. Outdoor learning at the Primary and Elementary School level, which was already an important part of the curriculum, now also plays an important role in providing a learning space where students can spread out in the fresh air.

Band and choir practices have moved outside as well, utilizing the Upper School’s amphitheater to keep rehearsals going, and providing a bit of music on the campus boardwalk in the meantime. More recently, a number of FIS teachers participated in professional development in fostering design thinking and innovation. In true “pandemic style” the training was delivered from Asia via Zoom, and the teachers were spread around the school’s Makerspaces in small groups.

More time for ourselves and one another 

During the DLP, FIS students reported that with no commute to school, they had more time for sleep and sport, and “a little more control over time when learning.” Families are also enjoying more time together and have been inspired to get out into nature. As FIS parent Yvonne Pederson describes, “ the beginning of the pandemic, we started to explore the
Taunus trails and realized what we had been missing...The greatest blessing is that this pandemic has given us more family time than ever before...we have had more family dinners this year than the last five years combined...we are all looking forward to putting this pandemic behind us but we do not plan to go back to our pre-pandemic ‘normal’ way of life.”

New ways of learning and communicating

Both students and teachers have developed skills around technology use, with the introduction of tech innovations that are changing learning in a positive way. This was explored by two groups of parents in October when the Parent Teacher Group (PTG) together with Dr. Johnston ran two online workshop sessions entitled, “Leveraging the Pandemic for Educational Change,” where parents were invited to explore the future of education. During the workshop, Dr. Johnston shared an anecdote of an incoming Elementary School student who had been able to connect with peers before they even arrived: “When the student walked into FIS, their classmates were all there waiting, saying, ‘We wish we could hug you...we’re finally meeting you in person!’ That kid walked into FIS and they were already part of the family. They already felt part of the community, they were already doing the learning.” The technological infrastructure and different expectations driven by the pandemic facilitated this pre-arrival relationship-building. 

As we cope with the inevitable challenges of the next few months, let us keep in mind the positives that this shared experience has brought to our community, with new opportunities for innovation, empathy, collaboration, communication, and more.

Leila Holmyard
FIS Parent