Freeport School District is committed to staying connected with our staff, students and their families and community during the COVID-19 crisis. In this first of a series of columns entitled “Pretzel Perspective” we hear from FSD 145 Superintendent Anna Alvarado.

The first round of announcements from Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday, March 13, that mandated the beginning of emergency school closures brought our lives to an immediate halt, until we realized that life does not stop; we just have to adjust to our new normal. We are creatures of habit and the feeling of not being able to control our environment and surroundings has thrown most of us into an unfamiliar and uncomfortable space.

Much like in any crisis, people look to their leader and to each other for strength and support. On that Friday, even prior to the official announcement, members of my cabinet went into action in anticipation that Gov. Pritzker would mandate the closing of all Illinois schools. Upon receiving the mandate, we gathered in the conference room to immediately draft a message to our families and staff and further plan for how we would meet our obligations towards our students:

1. No student goes hungry.

2. Provide students the opportunity for continuous learning in order to minimize learning loss through e-learning plans.

3. Do our best to connect and check in with students and their families. The e-learning team was assembled to manage and help transition our teachers from the traditional lesson planning to creating non-digital and digital activities that our students can do independently from home.

The initial Act of God Days were just that. They were also days that gave our staff the chance to get a sense of how we are going to manage the change the best way we can and respond to the needs of our students and families.

While I am constantly concerned about how the school closures will ultimately impact student performance, I am reminded that I, along with many other superintendents across school districts, are in the same situation.

Times of crisis can be an opportunity to bring out the best in a community. The FSD 145 staff has demonstrated strength in character in many ways. I am amazed by people’s desire to extend their goodwill and ability to volunteer their time and services. From our Nutrition and Dining Services staff who bravely serve meals three days a week to our educators and support staff who continue to plan for digital and non-digital activities for our students each week and figuring out ways that we can engage more students each day, our school leaders and district staff are showing the moral imperative to lead with empathy and compassion. This extends to our families who have been our stellar partners in educating students, to our Board of Education which has governed with a strong commitment to equity. These and many more are examples of how our FSD community has learned about ourselves and our ability to face crisis and challenges.

The poem below penned by Kathleen O’Meara speaks volumes to this time of pandemic crisis, social distancing, shelter in place, and remote learning and working.

“And people stayed at home

And read books

And listened

And they rested

And did exercises

And made art and played

And learned new ways of being

And stopped and listened more deeply

Someone meditated, someone prayed

Someone met their shadow

And people began to think differently

And people healed.

And in the absence of people who lived in ignorant ways

Dangerous, meaningless and heartless,

The earth also began to heal

And when the danger ended and people found themselves

They grieved for the dead

And made new choices

And dreamed of new visions

And created new ways of living

And completely healed the earth

Just as they were healed.”

Much like people during the 1919 flu pandemic, we certainly do not have control over the disaster, but we can choose the way we respond to it. And as history repeats itself, from this we will heal. We pride ourselves in our community’s ability to come together and live purposefully each day throughout the shelter in place. After all, this is what Pretzel Pride really means. We are resilient, hopeful and proud of who we are and what we can become.