“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger, the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.”
-John F. Kennedy, April 1959
As I wrote this column, the then Senator John F. Kennedy’s quote from above, resonated with me as I reflected on the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic on the Depew School-Community. This quote was from a speech that Senator Kennedy was delivering at the convocation of the United Negro College Fund, Indianapolis, Indiana, April 12, 1959. His intent was to promote the young minds in attendance and to persevere through the multitude of crises that were unfolding all over the world. He prefaced this famous quote in his remarks with,
“It is necessary, therefore, that we discuss our educational problems in the context of the demands for American leadership in world affairs, for American contributions to peace, for American assistance to the undeveloped nations of the world and for American strength in the face of harsh threats from around the world.”
I am confident that as you continue to read this column, you will also reflect upon these words from the past and see how they will resonate with you as you consider our response to the present state of affairs.
If you recall, on or about January 17, 2020, the first two cases of COVID-19 were realized within the United States in Washington State and Chicago. As New York State, began implementing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we were vigilant to the potential danger this virus could pose to our school-community and began to develop contingency plans. Advance just two short months and on March 16, Governor Cuomo issued an executive order closing all schools across the state, as the total number of COVID-19 cases rose to 950 with 7 deaths. Included with the executive order, the Governor suspended the 180-day instructional requirement for schools and instructed school districts to develop a plan for continuity of instruction, along with a meal plan and childcare for the essential workforce.
In order to be able to serve the children and families within our community, Depew Schools engaged in emergency planning and deploying the necessary resources where they were needed.
Since March 16, our responses have significantly evolved through the following activities:
- Our Food Service Department immediately began offering breakfasts and lunches to district students and as of Friday, May 22, they have served approximately 65,500 meals;
- Being a one-to-one school district for almost five years now with every students having an assigned device and our teachers being highly trained in a variety of technology platforms, we were able to quickly pivot to remote learning and continued to improve practices over time to better connect with students;
- The District collaborated with the YMCA of Lancaster and setup childcare for the essential workforce within the Cayuga Heights Elementary School, serving approximately 15 to 20 children daily.
In addition to providing these three essential functions as a school district, the caring faculty and staff became very creative, in order to maintain and build remote connections with our students:
- Designed and delivered lawn signs to the house of each graduating senior of the Class of 2020;
- The students of our sophomore class sent positive message postcards to our graduating seniors;
- Senior portrait signs were displayed in front of the Depew High School, along Transit Road;
- Our Art teachers continue to collect and virtually share student artwork;
- The 6 th Grade holds "Chill & Chats" at the end of every week. These virtual meetings are offered for students to encourage relaxed social interaction and communication;
- The Middle School created a collaborative playlist of music called "Quaren-tunes" to keep students motivated and share their positivity with the Depew community "Zoom Karaoke" is held with Middle School chorus students as a fun way to bond and spend time together;
- The District honored our Lunch Heroes in food service, administrative professionals, teachers and nurses;
- Weekly videos are being shared such as Funny Friday, this Month’s Birthdays, Virtual Spirit Week and the Masked Reader, in order to keep a sense of normalcy for our youngest students;
- We created numerous videos at each building with photos and messages to our students;
- The Athletic Department honors spring athletes with daily features on social media;
- With the assistance of the Village of Depew Police Department, our teachers held an appreciation parade throughout the entire community;
- A High School Committee is working to develop a special graduation event, all while staying within the parameters of promoting the health and safety of our school-community.
I think you would agree, yes as a school-community, we have been faced with a global crisis; but yes, we have been continually pivoting, being creative and identifying every single opportunity that we can, in order to be able to stay connected and remotely engaged with our students and their families.
I want to thank all of the Depew teachers, staff and administrators, as well as our students and families who have worked to make the most of the situation. Stay Focused and Stay Positive!
Going forward we will continue to put the safety of our school-community first and take advantage of any opportunity to improve the learning experiences of our students.
As the situation continues to evolve, I encourage you to continue to check our website, www.depewschools.com, for updates. You can also see positive school news on our Facebook (www.facebook.com/depewschools.org) and Twitter (@DepewSchools) accounts.
In addition, I ask that you be aware of a different budget vote and school board election procedure for 2020-21. The public hearing on the budget will be held via video conference on May 27 at 9 a.m. Find the link on our website. If you are a registered voter, you will receive an absentee ballot in the mail. Qualified voters who do not receive a ballot can request one from the district clerk. Ballots are due back by 5pm on June 9, 2020.
Stay safe and #GoWildcats!
Dr. Jeffrey Rabey