My ambition this year was to write an article without mentioning a particular virus that has turned our country and the World upside down. I fear that our readers will be as weary as I am of the increasingly gloomy news that dominates the TV and the internet. But what would an article about the last year be without acknowledging that bringer of chaos – Covid-19.
As we headed into March 2020, it was becoming increasingly apparent that schools would not remain open for long. At Stowe, we marched on, waiting for the latest government advice each evening and furiously working to deal with each new twist and turn that the emerging pandemic presented us with. When we finally closed our doors on 19 March 2020, we knew that we had just days to move the whole Stowe experience online.
This would be no mean feat. From delivering a packed timetable of lessons, to providing a broad and interesting co-curricular provision, not to mention how to tackle our sports offer, there were numerous challenges to be navigated. The technology needed to be sorted, the staff needed to be trained, we had to replan lessons for online delivery and work out how to engage with Stoics in the virtual space that they are all so comfortable in, but that, for many of us, was new territory.
And so, the Stowe Distance Learning Programme (SDLP) was created. Live lessons, synchronous and asynchronous learning, tutorials, online meetings of clubs and societies, competitions to engage all members of our community, online Chapel, virtual assemblies, sports challenges and much much more. Zoom, TEAMS, Whatsapp Stream and YouTube became our go to places – they replaced the Mansion, the Bourbon and the Day and Boarding Houses. Houseparents took stance on TEAMS, birthdays were celebrated on Zoom and the Head filmed his notices each week (with various levels of success!). Stowe TV was born with the rather more professional filming style of Jonathan Glynn-Smith who helped us to make films the BBC would be proud of.
In true Stowe style, the staff rose to the challenge and threw themselves into providing the best provision they could, even designing pre A Level and pre university courses for the Fifth Form and Upper Sixth Form Stoics who had been left without the passage of taking exams. The Enabling Futures Programme gave those about to leave Stowe the opportunity to discover more about the subjects they were going on to study at university. Even the Director of Marketing and Admissions dusted off her Archaeology and Anthropology books to help out!
This challenge was not for the staff alone, our pupils, whilst comfortable with technology, had to get used to not just the idea of a pandemic, but a new way of learning, with their friends no longer sitting next to them in class. And what an incredible effort they made to continue their studies. I do not think that we can underestimate the impact that this year has had on the young. Stoics were, and continue, to be the reason that the herculean effort made by staff has been so worthwhile. Their engagement with the SDLP, the Enabling Futures Programme and the Sports and Co-curricular provision was incredible.
As I write, we are in the middle of Lockdown III, the SDLP is back up and running and pupils and staff continue to show Covid what they are made of. The Stowe community is full of Change Makers, those who look on adversity and decide that it will not defeat them. We look forward to a time when we can, once again, gather as a community to celebrate all those things that make Stowe such an incredible place.