‘We didn’t miss a day’

As Nova Scotians were realizing a pandemic lockdown would be necessary, teachers and staff at Halifax Grammar School were trying to figure out how they could still teach.
“We didn’t miss a day of school,” recalls headmaster Steven Laffoley. “We were on March break that week. We called 85 faculty and staff together and gave them a three-day challenge: develop a new way of [teaching] before classes resumed on Monday. They turned to Google Classroom and [video-conferencing platform] Zoom.”
For the private school’s community, which spans all grades, it brought order to a chaotic time. “We moved from a space where we felt like we couldn’t control things to an area where we could,” Laffoley says. The school continuing gives a place where students can be with peers and teachers in common causes. It breaks the isolation and gives comfort and a sense of accomplishment.”

Steven Laffoley. Photo: Riley Smith

At the same time, some people were reconsidering the school’s role in the city. “Parents were asking what can we do for the community?” says Laffoley. “How do we provide a similar experience for parents?”
The result was the Lemonade Project, which parents Maureen Reid and Tracy Stuart spearheaded. “I was inspired by the actions of a group of YPO [Young Presidents’ Organization] leaders who had to cancel a major conference in San Diego and then moved quickly to benefit their community on the heels of the cancellation,” Reid says. She suggests readers check out the YouTube video “YPO Event Cancellation Benefits Local Charities” that sparked her idea.
The school hosts webinars for parents, focusing on “coping in the time of COVID.” Organizers plan to make the material available online to all parents, whether they have kids in the school or not. “We are recording our webinar presentations and the headmaster’s weekly bedtime stories and posting them on this page so that anyone can access them,” Reid says. “We are posting additional resources and sources of inspiration on a regular basis.  We are also using social media to promote our activities and to express our gratitude to essential services workers.”
Topics have included “Practical strategies for managing stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 crisis” and tips on healthy eating, plus story times for the kids. “The weekly bedtime story is fun,” Laffoley adds. “It provides a sense of comfort, and I miss the kids, so it’s nice to connect. For the first one, I chose Horton Hears a Who, which feels pertinent right now.”
The project continues to evolve as people contribute ideas. “We plan to organize a communal art project for gifting to essential services workers post-crisis, a Zoom dance party, a Zoom paint night, a teacher appreciation initiative and some type of fundraiser to support a couple of charities that the school has a long history of supporting,” Reid says.
Laffoley sees opportunities for organizations that are still adapting. “Remain open to all possibilities,” he says. “It is unlikely that any organization can fully re-create what was, as the new framework of interaction will necessarily be different. Let the whole group work together to discover its new collective space and determine its new collective norms. From that experience will come the deep bonds born of a shared journey; that is to say, a rediscovered community.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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