After an intense week of work, during which staff members familiarized themselves with the new schedules and what the different social distancing measures will actually look like—it’s one thing to see them written down, and a completely different thing to see how they change our way of doing things—it will be time to welcome the students on Tuesday.

The Beginning of a Unique School Year

The start of school this year has a distinct flavor. In spite of the doubts and the worries, it gives us cause to hope. If, as the French proverb says, the swallow is a harbinger of the end of summer, let’s hope that, this time, it also brings the promise of better days. Unlike many of you, I didn’t live through the heart of this pandemic, which did so much damage and brought New York to its knees. When I arrived, the city was already starting to pick itself back up. Although the scars were still visible, even to a newcomer like me.

I see the return of students to school as a good sign of a city that is coming back to life. NYC is a city that recognizes the huge sacrifices that were made. We can see its schools reopening as a very concrete symbol that it has the upper hand in the battle it has been waging for months against the virus. 

Forming New Habits

The rentrée this year brings with it a very particular responsibility: the need to keep our students healthy and to assure ourselves that the safety measures are understood and adhered to. I’m not naïve, I know that the first few days will be complicated. Learning to live together is one of the principal aims of the French program. Living together will look different now than it did a few months ago: the joy of sharing a toy or a snack, the comforting touch of a teacher, holding your classmate’s hand when you head out for a walk. So many gestures, habits, small joys that we have to reinvent and relearn.

Focusing on the Students

I was saying that I am not naïve about the complications, but I also have no doubt that we will get through this. Our students are lucky to be surrounded by families who are involved and who support them. They are also privileged to have a team at The École who has impressed me this week with their considered reflection, a team that perfectly understands what is at stake. Indeed, the students were ever-present in our conversations. They were always the starting point—how they are going to feel, what they will experience during this rentrée—of the staff’s focus.

I take the liberty of mentioning this because, in schools, we often talk about ‘putting the students at the heart of the learning process’ as a program requirement, but without any real results. This is not the case at The École, where protecting the well-being of students is a way of life. Incidentally, this will be our motto for this rentrée as teachers take the time that is needed to find the best way to get back to teaching. 

Beyond the Pandemic

Finally, this rentrée will also unfortunately take place in a social and political context which goes beyond the pandemic. It is a context that reminds us of the importance of education as well as the importance of our responsibility. There is no vaccine for racism, and the school has an important role to play in being part of the solution. Our families and students can count on The École on this point as well.

Jean-Yves Vesseau