AE/MS Returns to Normalcy, and Finishes the Year Strong

Difficult COVID conditions were overcome

By Dennis Dobe

Summertime greetings to the greater Andover community from your friends at the Andover Elementary/Middle School!

Although the past year was awkward for all of us at times, we enjoyed a wonderful finish for our AE/MS community!  With the momentum we gathered in the later part of the school year, we should roll into a very smooth and happy school opening on Wednesday, August 31.

Much has been written about the challenging year experienced in schools across our state and nation in the final stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.  Significant and ongoing student absence (resulting in schooling gaps and constant interruption/disruption of the learning process), crippling staff absence (stretching our ability to adequately cover classes and duties to their limit and beyond), clear and present “learning loss” (hindered academic and socio-emotional growth in our students due to the effects of pandemic schooling), greater disparities between students with regard to learning readiness (widening disparities between families that could adequately support schooling during the pandemic, and those that could not), diminished trust, respect, and investment in schooling by families and students (resulting in a dramatic increase in strained relationships with parents and the behavior/conduct and academic achievement of students), a widespread loss of connection with families (what had once been a strength for our school community had been almost completely lost), as well as systemic stress, fatigue, frustration, etc., across all elements of our school community.  No doubt about it: it was a pretty ugly year at times, and educators everywhere agree that it was the most difficult year of their careers.

Though these difficult conditions persisted at AE/MS for much of the year, thankfully, it is not how we ended our school year, at all. During the spring season, the weather warmed, the days were brighter and longer, the incidence of COVID transmission in our community and in our school decreased dramatically, and all aspects of school life and conditions within and outside of our school community improved dramatically and rapidly. 

The result was a vigorous and enthusiastic return to normalcy at AE/MS over the last few months of the school year, and people familiar with the school would not notice much difference between the quality of living and learning at AE/MS this spring, compared to pre-pandemic years.  

We offered many student activities, field trips, and school community celebrations.  AE/MS became comfortable and joyful again; we re-established our connection with families; staff and student morale improved considerably; students began to respond to learning opportunities with excitement and vigor; and they began to reinvest themselves in good citizenship within our AE/MS school community.

A couple of sports analogies that seem appropriate for characterizing our progression this year would be:  “Games are won in the fourth quarter,” and “It’s not how you start the race, but how you finish that matters.”  So true, and so emblematic of our experience at AE/MS this past year.  

Throughout the past school year, everyone did their best, and we all survived the challenges and endured the hardships we faced, and usually did so with grace, dignity, optimism, with our chins held high, and with the firm belief that conditions would change for us before too long – that we would one day return to the life that we loved, stronger and better than ever.  And so it is now.

Next year we will capitalize on gains made this past school year (there were many, despite our challenges), and work to meet the high bar for school performance that we have always set for ourselves at AE/MS.  In the coming year, we’ll continue to focus on Whole Child Education (helping kids to grow well, and develop in all the ways necessary for future success and happiness), as well as meeting the learning needs of all of our students every day.  We’ll make up for lost time and lost ground, and we will do so rapidly.  

Additionally next year, we will need to continue our focus on ensuring student and staff safety at AE/MS but, rather than pandemic mitigation, we’ll need to make school building security, reviewing and updating our school’s Emergency Operations Plan as well as providing related student and staff training, an even greater priority.  

We’ll continue to grow into our new math program, begin an initiative to review, revise, and improve our school’s English Language Arts program, and continue to refine our school’s programs in the Arts and STEM, as well.  Promoting citizenship, good character, and maintaining a safe, happy, and healthy school climate are always in season, and we’ll look to make additional gains in this area of our school community next year, as well.

As fantastic as our school currently is, we look forward to making it even more so in the time ahead.  At AE/MS, we have a direction, and our future is bright.  Thank you for all the patience, faith, confidence, and support you offered throughout the past year, and let’s continue to strengthen the bonds between us over the coming year.  

In the interest of improving educational experiences and opportunities for children at the Andover Elementary/Middle School, let’s take our collective work to the next level in ’22 – ’23!

A very happy, healthy, safe, and enjoyable summer to you all!