This past spring, St. Anne’s-Belfield School, along with the rest of the world, encountered a problem like no other in COVID-19. It was, and continues to be, a time of uncertainty around public health, education, and the economy. This has been a moment when we, as an institution and as individuals, have had the opportunity to step up to protect each other and help those with need. Fortunately, the strength and resilience of our School community was on full display through the following measures.
A 180 Degree Paradigm Shift
While public and government response to the pandemic was changing daily, the School began to pursue contingency plans for all aspects of their educational program. Former head of school David Lourie quickly convened weekend meetings for senior administration to pivot and create new programming. The shift to hybrid and distance-based learning models required extensive infrastructure along with innovative teaching. A number of items had to be taken into consideration, including, but not limited to: deploying devices to all students; accounting for the capabilities of rural internet access; providing access for international students; equipping spaces with new technology; acting as tech support for the entire community; and cleaning and disinfecting all spaces throughout the School.
In less than a week, the staff and faculty strategized and executed on a plan to finish out the spring semester. Director of Information Technology Mark Adair worked to develop a wealth of solutions for remote access software, hardware compatibility issues, and more, while closely collaborating with faculty members to transition their content to online platforms.
“I’m extremely proud of everyone’s hard work throughout the unknown and grateful to our donors who have provided necessary funds to position us for success. It took a village to accomplish everything, and as a result, we’ve been able to create a productive learning environment for students that has led to a successful start to this School year,” Adair said.
A Celebration Transformation
This year, the Maroon & White Party was transformed into Maroon & White Week, a week-long celebration bringing the entire School together during our time apart. From May 11 - 15, the School gathered online to honor the community, with special praise and appreciation through themed days for maroon and white teams, the Class of 2020, and faculty.
Countless community members, including students, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni, joined in the virtual celebration, sharing pictures, quotes, and videos displaying their School pride and gratitude. More than 300 members of the community participated in giving through donated gifts and voluntary credits. Additionally, participants bid on more than 115 donated auction items.
The week culminated with a virtual Maroon & White Party via Zoom where more than 100 participants mingled, enjoyed music by the Upper School choir, watched tribute videos, and celebrated the School and community.
Supporting Our Community
The School's Board of Trustees unanimously committed to financially supporting the Saints Care Fund, a giving opportunity designed to ensure continued access and affordability to the School and to build a bridge for those who need short-term support to get through this crisis. This commitment extends to those students and their families who find themselves, through no fault of their own, uncertain of their ability to continue to afford tuition and fees or to pay essential household costs. Overall, the Fund’s goal is to provide everyone in the community a sense of stability and continuity in this time of disruption.
The outpouring of support for this new fund has been nothing short of incredible. Donors have made 74 gifts totaling more than $240,000, all of which will be specifically designated for current members of our School community.
Teaching Excellence and Innovation
As a result of the shift to distance learning, it was imperative that our faculty members were equipped with the best knowledge and resources to continue our mission to inspire and prepare the next generation of exemplary citizens and visionary leaders. During Maroon and White Week, nearly $55,000 was raised to support teaching excellence and innovation, including a $25,000 match by an anonymous donor.
Through a variety of professional development courses and workshops, faculty members have been actively learning new ways to teach and collaborating on important resources that can be shared with students, parents, and staff.
Grade 1 Teacher Heidi Bennett expressed,“I am so grateful for the opportunity to explore new resources to help my students engage with their learning, whether remotely or in-person.”
With students back on campus for the 2020-2021 school year, classroom community and a direct focus on the bigger picture has been essential, while also introducing new safety protocols, technology, and classroom resources.
International PPE Donations
When the St. Anne’s-Belfield School dorm closed in March to protect students against the spread of COVID-19, there were many unknowns in international students’ lives. One thing that was certain, though, was their commitment to the St. Anne’s-Belfield School community and broader Charlottesville area. Director of Residential Life Antxon Iturbe reached out to our international families soon after asking about the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) that might be shipped to the United States, and the responses he received were staggering.
“My wife Becca had the idea of asking families for mask donations since we had seen how families shipped masks to our students since the outbreak of COVID-19 in January,” he said. “We thought these families might have a small amount that they could donate, but the response we received was incredible.”
More than $25,000 worth of PPE was raised by 41 international families to underwrite the fees associated with more than 600 boxes of PPE shipments to the School. Each box was inscripted with the message, “Love is what always goes beyond time and border.” Overall, more than 60 current School families and alumni were involved in the effort, resulting in more than 75,000 pieces of PPE donated.
“This undertaking was astounding,” noted Associate Head of School for Advancement Warren Buford. “That our international families were able to so quickly organize donations on such a massive scale to help us here in Charlottesville is nothing short of amazing. We cannot thank them and our partner Asia Pacific Innovation Center in Shanghai enough for their support, and we cannot wait for the day we can thank them in person for their generosity and commitment to the School and Charlottesville communities.”
Through these initiatives, the St. Anne’s-Belfield community has displayed a remarkable amount of fortitude. In a time of social distancing and isolation, the community came together as one to support each other—a fact that did not go unnoticed by Head of School Autumn Graves.
“At every turn, we have continued to prioritize student safety and well-being together with educational excellence. I want to thank everyone who has worked hard in our community and behind the scenes to continue our efforts to move forward,” Graves said. “Excellence and well-being, well-being and excellence; that is the goal, and I am confident we will achieve it for our students.”