Staying Close from Afar by Sarah Sallee

The Spreading Virus:

During the first months of 2020, news spread across the globe as individuals heard about a novel virus that would soon be named COVID-19. It would take a few weeks for the news to truly hit the nation as people around the world began identifying new cases in their communities, but back at the Dining Hall on campus in March, Catalina girls were already discussing how this virus was going to affect the rest of the school year. New prayers were given in Wednesday chapel services as parents of Santa Catalina students volunteered in China – where the first signs of the pandemic were identified – to help care for the rapidly growing population of virus patients. 

As a boarding school, Santa Catalina girls come from all corners of the globe: when COVID-19 broke out, the Dining Hall was the newsroom of campus as girls asked one another what they had heard from home and how their families were doing during this uncertain time. In the United States, students across the nation may have been initially unconcerned with regards to the virus because it was not rampant in the country just yet, but at Santa Catalina, our extended community was already being affected. When Philadelphia ran out of rice and New York was overwhelmed with tens of thousands of cases, the rest of the United States started to join the conversation that had already started back at the lunch tables. Questions were coming faster than students’ Amazon deliveries and no one truly knew how the school would proceed forward. 

When the time finally came for our administration led by Ms. Bradley, Ms. Edson, and Mrs. Polacci, to make the call for the school to close, for the time being, students initially didn’t know how to react. However, if there is one thing Catalina girls know how to do, it is to face any new obstacle and figure out how to overcome the challenge it brings. In the next few hours following the announcement of the school’s closure, boarding students booked flights and prepared to fly home as early as six o’clock that same night. By Monday, the majority of our roughly three hundred students were off-campus, however, it is those ten minutes that passed after the announcement of Catalina’s closure that many students will remember looking back on a bustling day.

The Announcement:

After the announcement of our school’s closure, students had roughly ten minutes to call or text their parents before returning to class. As Ms. Edson walked off of the stage, students looked around at their Catalina family. Day students turned to stand by their boarding classmates who were already scanning airlines websites for increasingly expensive tickets to fly home. Within seconds, seniors were hugging their fellow classmates as tears welled in their eyes, overwhelmed at the thought of what this closure could mean for the conclusion of their final year at Catalina. The juniors were already gathering, checking that everyone would have a place to stay and arranging carpool groups for their trips to the airport. It was organized chaos in its simplest form as the Santa Catalina girls hugged their sisters and prepared to overcome this new challenge. That was how everyone’s first period went that unforgettable Friday, but it wouldn’t take long for the Catalina students to exercise their organizational skills to plan what they would do next. By 12:45, students in every grade had created group chats with their classmates and arranged buddy systems to make sure that everyone had a friend to call on in case of online school technical difficulties. Catalina girls were moving fast – faster than when there were mac-and-cheese and chicken tenders for lunch – knowing that they needed to embrace their final moments before everyone would be returning home to locations across the globe. By 3:30, day students were helping boarders take their books to the dorms and boarders were running throughout the halls to hug each other goodbye. While all four grades knew that they would use technology to stay in touch, there was a sense of resounding sadness at the thought that come Monday, students wouldn’t be congregating in Study Hall, cheering for Motivational Monday, or smiling at the thought of what lunch was going to be that day.

The Beginning: How Catalina Students Are Staying Connected:

So where are all of the students now? While Catalina girls have taken up locations across the U.S. and overseas, this pandemic has barely slowed the speed at which the Catalina community lives and breathes. Thanks to the Student Health and Wellness Committee, led by our admirable Mrs. Hulme, the Upper School has quickly devised a simple and effective way to offer ways students can stay active while sheltering at home. From workout videos provided by coaches to our very own Coach Elliot’s weekly “Chalk Talks,” girls have found an immense amount of resources online for how to continue staying healthy in their mind, body, and spirit. Besides these resources, the Health and Wellness Committee has also created new ways for conversations surrounding wellbeing to continue. Students can access open discussions on Schoology to share new ideas about what they are doing to stay busy during this time, such as cooking new recipes, watching movies and TV shows, and picking up fun hobbies at home. Furthermore, thanks to the Student Senate, girls can tune in to watch a weekly virtual assembly via Zoom and hear student and teacher announcements. Class Senate officers are also working diligently to find ways for each grade to stay regularly connected. From encouraging emails to class Zoom nights where students can catch up and play virtual trivia games, the Catalina girls are discovering more ways to have fun and enjoy the moments they share as a class. While the end of the school year typically is one filled with crazy on-campus traditions, the Senate has continued to prioritize finding ways to celebrate the Catalina community via online resources. From virtual Spirit Weeks to homemade videos, Catalina students continue to implement their unique traditions on new virtual platforms along with students from around the globe.

The End: Students in Monterey and Around the World:

So what are students across the nation and the world doing to stay connected? From virtual birthday announcements to prom live streams, students have helped lead the charge in terms of staying connected with family and friends. One new popular tradition is the drive-by birthday celebration, in which students cruise by their friends’ house and honk their horns, wave signs, and cheer as they wish “Happy Birthday” from a safe six feet away. Students have also conducted gatherings in local areas by sitting in their cars and carrying out conversations with friends parked nearby. As this epidemic continues to call for the practice of social distancing, social media activity has increased and these communication platforms have allowed students to stay in contact with friends and family and find ways to find the silver linings during this challenging circumstance. Today, students and family members of all ages can access their varying social media platforms to see how people across the globe are coping with the changes that COVID-19 has brought to their everyday lives. 

Service has also soared during this time as people find new ways to help members of their community: in Monterey, students from Stanford have volunteered at the county’s Public Health Laboratory to help process more COVID-19 testing kits for Monterey citizens. According to Stanford’s news publication, these volunteers are working “about 20 to 30 hours a week… while also keeping up with their schoolwork and research” (Kekauoha). Members of the Santa Catalina community have also been at work as teachers use Catalina’s 3D printer to create protective face shields for essential workers in Monterey County. In addition, the family of one Lower School student has created Masks for Hope, which supplies homemade masks for those in need on the peninsula. Our very own Mrs. Duncan, head of the Upper School Math and Science Department, has also continued to share even more resources for how people can support those in need during this time and has worked with Mrs. Kline, Associate Director of Admission, who has been collecting blankets, quilts, and food for the homeless shelters of Salinas. Here in Monterey, California and around the world students continue to work with their community to think outside of the box while staying connected. For the graduating classes of 2020 different colleges and high schools have found ways to celebrate their seniors. While Santa Catalina has created a Kudoboard where Catalina community members can leave congratulatory notes for the graduating class as they make plans for their commencement, in Japan one high school has chosen to have avatar robots stand in for their seniors during their graduation ceremony. In Europe, citizens have found new ways to uplift the hearts and spirits of many during lockdown by singing, working out, and holding mini orchestras from their balconies and sharing the videos on various social media platforms. In addition, one Swiss skier, Andri Ragettli, has filmed himself performing parkour tricks in his house in order to raise money and awareness on how people can contribute to slow the spread of COVID-19. Furthermore, one four-year-old girl in England and one seven-year-old boy in North Carolina are running in their neighbourhoods to also raise money for health care workers and hospitals in their hometowns. While some students are finding ways to help their local hospitals, two brothers in Mississippi(third and fifth graders) are selling lemonade and cookies to raise money for meals that will go to students who were dependent on school meals during the year. Finally, in New Jersey, two teenage sisters began a small project which has since exploded to sixteen girls creating and selling bracelets online to raise money for their local hospital. As students share their knowledge of technology to develop new ways to help the world combat COVID-19 while maintaining a safe six feet apart, stories are spreading to every corner of the globe as the world works to step towards a day where students can stand side by side again. Back at Catalina, the Dining Hall is ready for the return of it’s students and a day where we will all be reunited at the lunch tables to share our own stories.

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