Nearly one year from the day all schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the common theme has been the extraordinary resilience and determination of the families in the community that we serve, the Bronx.
Despite the fact that the Bronx remains one of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 — more than 90,000 COVID cases, and hundreds of fatalities — with one of the lowest rates of vaccine inoculation across the city, the students and staff members of International Leadership Charter High School took care of each other and adhered to social distancing protocols, becoming creative in our homes and with loved ones, and found purpose in a time where most were crippled by fear and despair.
On Sept. 14, International Leadership dared to resume in-person instruction in a highly successful hybrid model in order to provide continuity in learning and social emotional support of our students during this pandemic because we knew that, for many of them, our school was the only place to go.
On March 3, International Leadership celebrated its 100th school day of in-person learning during the 2020-21 academic year.
How have we achieved this milestone? Staff members and students alike led by example by following the health and safety guidelines provided by the country’s leading health experts. Masks are required at all times. For students who do not have a mask — or have a damaged one — the school provides masks.
Daily temperature screenings take place for every individual upon entry. Hand sanitizing stations are available in every classroom and on every floor. We set up 21 “learning pods” or classrooms to enforce social distancing during in-person learning.
And to make sure all of our students and their families understood the steps we were taking to ensure everyone’s safety, we relaunched our website complete with videos about safety measures in both English and Spanish.
While children and students are unable to be vaccinated at this time, adults can — and should. International Leadership has worked tirelessly to educate our community by partnering with local health experts and government officials to provide real information about COVID-19 and the vaccines developed to combat the disease.
In a recent survey by the Association for a Better New York, 8 percent of Bronx residents have decided against getting the vaccine, while 49 percent of Bronx residents indicated that their concern about side effects was a significant factor in their decision. I am proud to say that 95 percent of the leadership team has been vaccinated, and continue to encourage all faculty to do so — to protect our loved ones, our students, colleagues, friends and family.
And with our commitment to excellence, international learning and enrichment, we have adapted our instruction and found new ways to bring the entire world into a different kind of classroom.
When our nation was struck with questions about social injustice, we brought the conversation to the forefront of our classrooms, and pushed our students to utilize their classroom strengths in the pursuit of a better tomorrow. Throughout the pandemic, International Leadership did not walk back on its promise to provide a superior high school education to prepare our scholars for a higher education.
And our effort was recognized when U.S. News & World Report ranked International Leadership in the top third of all New York City high schools, and in the top 2.5 percentile nationwide in math and reading performance. Despite the challenging circumstances that our students faced, International Leadership did not falter.
There is something very liberating and sobering about living through the recent events, and not just embracing, but learning from this reality. Our elders have taught us that what does not kill you makes you stronger. Our young people are indeed our future leaders, scientists, engineers, researchers and teachers — they are our hope.
International Leadership works every day to provide the best for our future, and is leading by example. Are you a change maker? Let’s continue to lead by example and be a source of inspiration.
Their eyes are watching us.
The author is the chief executive officer and founder of International Leadership Charter School.