Over the last several weeks, our social media feeds have been inundated with throw-backs to one year ago. Tweets like “This is the one year anniversary of the email I got, pushing off tomorrow’s meeting ‘until this thing blows over.’” Facebook reminders that a year ago was when kids started “spring break” early...a break that for many would last five to ten months. Columns about how hard the last year has been on friendships and careers and the mental health of kids.
We remember exactly where we were a year ago. We were sitting in what is now affectionately known as “The Yellow Room” at Newport Street Retreat planning for the coming school year. We had posted a job description and had started interviewing for teachers, though none of our current teachers had applied yet. We were in the midst of recruitment for our student body, though the list of admitted students then looks very different from our current classes. We were working with our designer to help stage a classroom for an Open House program later that week (not surprisingly that Open House -- and every one since -- was held virtually instead of in-person, so we made a video of the classroom because no one would see it live). We were prepping for our first board meeting, which would happen -- also virtually -- about a month later (fun fact: our board members have still not met each other in person, and we have a few rolling off this summer, so they may never meet). We were working with a development consultant who was helping us “become a thing” so that eventually we would be able to reach out to donors to support our cause -- meanwhile, thanks to some very generous supporters, we were able to establish the financial sustainability of the school for the first few years.
For most, 2020 will be forever known as the year of COVID. For us, 2020 will forever be the year that our longtime dream of starting a school came to fruition in Einstein Academy. Many have written about how the last year has changed them or the working world or the role of women or the impact it’s had on the education of different groups of kids. For us, it’s been a year of learning. To share just a little of that learning:
Starting a school is hard -- World pandemic or not, there is a reason almost every educator says it’s a dream to start a school...and, yet, almost no one does. We both have business and education degrees, and combined we have almost 40 years of experience in education. But you’re still left unprepared for much of the time. Recess. Staffing changes. The death of a chicken. We generally start our days by 3 am, and there still isn’t time to do all the things.
We need to be very explicit -- While we technically spent a little over a year planning for the opening of the school, we worked closely together for years prior, often discussing our philosophy of education and implementing pieces of what would eventually be part of the program at Einstein Academy with other students and teachers. As such, we have gotten to a place where it’s almost like we share one mind. Great for us because it’s super efficient...not necessarily so great for those around us because we are not always as clear as we could be. Things like “differentiation” and “interdisciplinary block” and “student assessment” are very clear to us, but we quickly learned that our teachers needed a bit more clarity to help bring our vision to fruition.
“The Einstein Way” of education is unique -- The way we approach learning at Einstein Academy is different from anywhere else. Between us, we’ve visited/worked with over 100 schools, and we haven’t seen anyone doing quite what we’re doing. And that’s both exciting and hard. There is no model to tell teachers to emulate. There is no network to connect with and brainstorm. There’s no curriculum to just purchase and implement. Instead it requires ongoing training and coaching and mentorship for everyone involved as we borrow and adapt and create different pieces and weave them together for something special.
And then there’s the pandemic -- We’re not ones to make excuses, so we’ve tried to not “blame” the pandemic too often, but, objectively speaking, this has been a hard year for schools and educators. We didn’t allow substitute teachers into the building, so we had to scramble to internal coverage anytime someone was out. We didn’t mix cohorts inside the building, so coverage for things like lunch tripled and left us with less planning time. We lost a teacher mid-year due to her own kids’ being home during remote learning. Each time a kid was out sick, we wondered if we’d have to go remote the next day. We had to work with kids to remember what it was like to be in school again. And we were so lucky that we have been able to be in-person despite it all.
But, most importantly, we have a village -- Over the last year, we’ve spoken with and relied on the advice of several school founders, and one thing all of them have said is that we are lucky to have each other. Starting a school is an immense and lonely job, and it’s so much easier to do when you’re not alone. While we are grateful (so grateful!) to have each other, we’re very much not alone.
Our board, both our Board of Trustees and our Advisory Board, has been such a source of strength and support. We call with questions and problems. We seek advice on topics from marketing to communications to curriculum. And they always answer and never judge.
Our parent body has been amazing. From small things like stepping up to raise funds for air filters or contributing so that days like Purim can be so special to much larger pieces like giving us grace and patience as we work out the kinks, we literally could not be doing this without them. One of the pieces that was really important to us with Einstein Academy was emphasizing the role of the parent and making parents feel like they are genuine partners. We asked for feedback, and we’ve received it throughout this journey, and our school is so much better for it.
Our faculty members have been troopers. Each day is a new adventure as we continuously try to figure out what works best for everyone. From the way pick-up is handled to groups for recess to how we communicate student growth with parents, we’ve required a lot of flexibility from those within the building, and they’ve certainly risen to the challenge.
Our community is unparalleled. Over the last year and a half, we’ve spoken with over 500 people about the school, and almost every single one of them has supported us and offered anything they could do to help. We love getting random emails and texts from people around the world with ideas or suggestions or just messages of support.
Our students are why we do this. This school is what it is because of them, and not just because we have rabbits AND chickens or we added a student council, but because they are the reason we keep learning and doing. When asked if he was looking forward to the weekend, one of our students recently replied, “I mean, I like the weekends, but I also really like school, so I don’t know.” Our aim was to create a joyful learning environment for kids, and we love to see that happening.
The last week of 2020 was filled with memes about how terrible the year was and how no one was sad to see it go. As we join in on the reflecting of the last year. We beg to differ. 2020 was certainly a hard year, but it was also the year that brought us all together through Einstein Academy, and, for that, we will always be grateful.