February 2021 Conversation: Reflections on Covid-school 1 Year Later

Nearly a year after moving the school online in response to Covid-19, Ryan and Abby held a reflection-sharing session on February 17th, 2021.

This document isn’t a complete transcript, but it includes a lot and the ALC-NYC crew hopes it’s useful. Much gratitude to Hugo, Monique, and Cedar for their participation and for allowing us to share their shares. 

Ryan Shollenberger, ALC-NYC facilitator and co-director: It’s been almost a year now since we’ve moved to mostly remote learning and it was, I guess, March 15th or 16th of last year that we decided to do that as a result of the pandemic. [We decided March 11th that Friday the 13th would be our last day where anyone was on site and we’d be fully remote Monday, March 16th.] And last spring to finish the school year, we were fully remote. We didn’t have any in-person stuff going on. Of course, information was more sparse back then. We didn’t really know yet how the virus worked or, you know, what we could and couldn’t do safely. So we decided to close the space. And I will say we decided before a lot of other schools, including public schools, to do that. And that was mostly at Abby’s suggestion. And I think it was, in hindsight, absolutely the right move. 

Anyway, we were kind of just, like, thrown into this —  I’ll call it a challenge and an opportunity — to move everything on to Zoom. And, you know, I think given how quickly we had to do it and the lack of practice a lot of our community had with being on a screen all the time talking to each other, I think we did remarkably well. We’ve had different challenges than other schools, but I think that our ability to transition was a little bit easier than other schools, and specifically larger schools, have had. So that was one thing. But I think the nature of what ALCs can be and how adaptable they are, that was a huge part in why it was successful for us. We haven’t been without our challenges and struggles, but I think there’s a lot of things that were easier because of how adaptable we can be. 

Abby Oulton, ALC-NYC facilitator, co-director, and admin: I’m curious to hear your perception of what happened, and Hugo put in the chat that he was rereading old emails, so I’m curious to hear from you all. Because I was…very in the back-end stuff.

Hugo, ALC-NYC student and newspaper editor: Yeah, you were really looking into it. Even Monday before we closed, or like, Wednesday, you had already made the whole Zoom account and were saying, like, “It seems like it’s getting bad, so we’re planned to go ahead, but not yet.” And then Thursday, you then sent the email saying “we’re partially closed tomorrow, if you have to take public transportation.” And I was just looking back and like… You put together that app so quickly. And then, there was, like “I’m updating it. Don’t worry. There’s problems, but I know.” It was just…great how active and…how we were so prepared even before we had to close.

Ryan: Yeah. See, Hugo, that was the perfect gap to fill in for me. Thank you. I forgot to mention that, and Abby, I will get to what you just asked a second ago, but that was a big part of it —  that you started to kind of set up the infrastructure, even though it wasn’t perfect or complete in the beginning, so we could go right into it. So it wasn’t like, “Oh, we have to wait a week or two until we set things up so just hold on.” And I think that was, in hindsight, really important because, you know, it was a really uncertain and tumultuous time. And to just have the continuity of being able to show up for our morning meeting and afternoon meeting, even if we didn’t have all the offerings figured out yet, I think that was really important. And I mean, Hugo, maybe you could confirm my feeling here, but I feel like for you guys, as students, it was good to at least have something ready to go. Because I know a lot of other schools didn’t have that right away. And kids kind of felt like, “Well, what’s going on?”

Hugo: Oh, yeah, definitely. And it was also so easy, partially because of just how the school runs. But I feel like we never had any problems in changing over. It went pretty smoothly because we were so prepared. 

Ryan: Yeah. So, one of the one of the things that we’ve been able to continue to do is to have our daily morning and afternoon meetings: the morning meeting, which we set our intentions for the day and the afternoon meeting where we review “Did we complete those intentions? Did we do other things?” and sort of reflect on our day and what we learned. And then also we’ve recently reincorporated into that having time to speak the things we’re grateful for. We used to have a separate Gratitudes meeting at the end of the day when the school was open. We’ve now kind of rolled that into our afternoon meeting with the other purposes I just described. And then the other thing that I found worked pretty well when we transitioned to Zoom was doing our Set The Week meeting. So normally that would be all of us, and it would look like all of us sitting in the same room together and populating a physical calendar board that would later get used to update with an online version. But, you know, what that’s looked like on Zoom is us all being in the same room, having a screen share of the Google calendar, and populating our schedule that way.

And we had a lot of cool offerings right away. I think some of the ones that were really fun last year were Board Game Time, which was a time for all of us to come together and play board games online, which I just want to say generally, like, having an offering in a space like that where it’s kind of light and we can have conversations about other things but be playing games together, or like… I can’t remember when Mel started offering Art Jam, but that’s another one that has been really kind of special. Because it’s a time and space for everyone to come and be creative and produce art, but it’s also been a space where we can just kind of, like, talk about what’s present for us for an hour and a half. And that’s therapeutic, especially when you get to be making art at the same time. 

I guess I would ask…Abby, I guess I wouldn’t ask you the same question, but you mentioned the back-end stuff you did. Hugo mentioned the app, the Glide app, that we were originally doing attendance and offerings on. And then you also made the virtual classroom page, too, which has been a pretty important resource to direct people to. Any other logistical or backend stuff that I’ve forgotten that you set up in the beginning?

Abby: I had been watching Covid generally, and when the first case was confirmed up in West Chester, I had a conversation with with Katherine, Katherine Chen, who’s in my book club group and is a sociology professor and sociologist, and she started telling me about figuring out how to move her university classes online, how she didn’t have institutional support, and so she was trying to figure out what that process looked like. And so in talking to her I was able to kind of clarify what the sticking points were going to be, kind of what were the things that were going to be trickiest for families. And I got a clear idea about the timeline, both in terms of when we would need to act to keep people safe and…essentially, that I should expect institutional and governmental inaction. And so started changing communication to set people’s expectations. Started setting up. I mean, we had a Zoom room, but like, looking into Zoom more, looking into other options, and…The first few days, I was like, all right, how do I… This transition is coming, so when is the right moment? How do I do this in a way that’s responsible, but doesn’t panic people? How do I minimize friction as much as possible and maximize stability and continuity through what’s going to be a really uncertain time? Help people be tending their emotional health? So, we stopped taking attendance in the same way. Little things where it was like, actually if you are coping with this by sleeping until noon, I’m going to validate that choice. And do what you need.

So we transitioned online from a Wednesday to a Friday, that Friday the 13th. Monday, we opened- that following Monday, we opened fully online. And from there the choices I was making on the back end — because on the front in school, we just continued collaborating with the kids. We expanded it to collaborate with other ALCs when everyone got pushed online. And that was super cool. And I heard feedback from a lot of people that that made their spring in a lot of ways. And into the summer for folks, because, like, a lot of the southern ALCs in the US close, typically, in May. And having something, like, a place their kids could go online, kind of have a ritual, see other kids, through June…I heard that that was really helpful for people.

And so from that point on, it was like, how do I minimize whiplash in the communications? The Department of Education was doing this like “Oh, we’ll open in two more weeks…Oh, actually two more weeks…Oh, actually…” So both in our community communications, in the spring, and then over the summer — I released our plan for this year ahead of when the DOE released theirs and intentionally wrote it like– And it was a gamble, kind of the same way closing early was. Because it seemed wildly conservative relative to what the DOE was saying in July. But the goal was to make something that was dynamic enough we could adjust as we got more information. And to not– to get parents something concrete as soon as possible, that wouldn’t be changing on them every three days. 

Ryan: Yeah, Abby, I’m glad you highlighted the collaboration between ALCs, because, something I feel a lot of times when friends or family or other people ask me “Well, like, hey, how are things, like, going for your school?” — This is, like, a question that I’ve heard again and again since last spring. And I tried to, a lot of times, focus on the sort of unforeseen or unintended positives. And the collaboration between ALCs was really one of my favorite highlights. And the potential for that’s always been there. There’s a network of us all doing, you know, very similar things, and at the very least that have commonly shared philosophical roots. So in a traumatic time to do what we do with more people, it was an affirming thing.

And, you know, it just makes offerings more fun to have more people. Most of the ALCs that exist are like ours. They’re smaller communities. And so just having more people in the offerings makes them more vibrant and more fun. And in an offering like Geoguessr [which is an online geography game], it’s nice to have people that are literally from different places and have different cultural perspectives and different languages that they bring to the table.

So I think that that was one of the awesome things. And then also just the way that ALC culture and the culture of our school and some of the other ALCs were able to say, OK, we’re going to prioritize your mental and physical well-being right now. I mean, we always do that. But in a time of crisis and an actual pandemic, it seems insane to focus on content as your main thing. Which sadly a lot of schools still were doing and are doing. A thing that you’ll hear the facilitators at our school say a lot is, like, “Take care of your body.” And we tried to really embody that message and just give people a lot of space to take care of themselves and grace to show up or not show up as they needed. And it was, the message was, “We’re going to be here. You know, like, we’ll be here every morning for spawn. We’ll be here every afternoon, and you just got to show up when you want to and when you can.

And if you can’t, that’s OK. Take care of yourself.” And I think we’ve continued to do that. And I’m definitely proud of our whole community for how they’ve handled it.

Abby: I’d be curious, Hugo and Monique, if you have more you want to share…if you want to share about the last spring and this fall and what that’s been like for you?

Monique Halley, ALC-NYC parent and brilliance behind CaregiversWellness.org: OK, so… I can’t believe it’s almost going to be a year. That we’ve been dealing with this…So last March, you said from last March to now?

I’m trying to think… For me personally, I’m usually good just being. I’m good either way, like being more sociable and being more introverted. But it’s been an adjustment to just be completely more to myself. It’s really just me and Pharaoh. And I and my brother and his girlfriend, we’ve decided to alternate, like, they’ll come to the Bronx or we go to Brooklyn. But it — it’s been almost a year. And I think we went to Brooklyn twice. So it’s not that often. So just making that adjustment from knowing you had the option to be out and do these things and then knowing that you’re really limited — or we have to just be more mindful of it — Adjusting to just that whole process… Pharaoh’s language is usually he feels like he’s in jail. He’s just…in. And we pretty much just go out to doctor’s appointments and that’s it. I go to the grocery store, I go out. So he’s in. So he’s had to adjust because he likes to socialize, but in person. He likes to be around you guys and everything. And so he’s had to adjust to not, not being in person. He was really excited about the pods [the small, masked, outdoor adventure groups], because when school was starting again, I was like, I don’t know, they’re still trying to figure out how are we going to do this? And he was just like, oh, please, let us be able to go and have the pods. And so he was happy about that. But then with the weather, that kind of put a hold on things. Him socializing is more, like, video games because he is — The Zoom thing is challenging for him. He’s really a in-person kind of person. So that’s an ongoing discussion for us. Adjusting to that is an ongoing conversation. And so, I think the socializing thing has been the adjustment on his, on both of our ends. I’m trying to think what else. I think that’s been the hardest thing for us. Movies is a big thing, like going to the movie theater. He’s a movie person and — both of us are. And so just, those types of things… Thankfully, he’s been safe. He gets tested for covid every month, and he’s been negative. I was like, OK, I’m doing something right. Because I’m the only one that go out and come in. 

I think you guys have done a really great job with sustaining in the best way. I really appreciate you guys for having, like Ryan was saying, that knowing that…that mindset of “It’s OK if you can’t show up or if you can.” And sometimes I feel guilty, because I’m like, either too much is going on or I’m forgetting or, like…my memory is kind of been an issue for me. I don’t know what’s going on with my short term memory. And the sleep thing. I seen that you mentioned that in the notes for the Assembly Meeting, someone mentioned it about sleep. [Even though articles about how surviving a pandemic is wrecking sleep and memory reliability have stopped circulating, some of us are still feeling those effects. Abby also is, and often owns as much in open discussions like at our most recent school community meeting, the Assembly that Monique references here.] So, I’ve been dealing with insomnia. So that’s been an adjustment for me. Our sleeping is so off. It’s become normal to us, but when you have to address it, it’s like, oh. It’s kind of just, it just became the norm to go to bed that late. He can get up to the morning meeting and other times and when we have appointments, but for the most part… He sets his alarm. He does the stuff, but the whole sleeping thing has been so thrown off. I’m hoping we can readjust. We get up when we have to, and if we have to do something, but I don’t even know how it’s going to affect us when we have to get back into the quote unquote “normal,” back to how we, you know, function. But so — the sleeping has been a challenge. I mean, I don’t know if it’s been a challenge. It’s just been what we had to adjust to. But I was saying that I’m grateful to you guys for just giving us that space to not have that added pressure.

Because I work with kids remotely, and that’s one of the biggest things — that school part has been challenging for them. Like having to still… They’re getting stressed out still having to manage, like you said, the content and all of those things. And deal with some of them missing the socialization and missing being in person. And depression…just different things are triggering them in this space. And so not having that pressure is a sense of relief.

And in just doing the best with the offerings… I do have a question for you, for Abby and Ryan. One of the things that I was hoping for is, like, for Pharaoh to engage in offerings more. But how do you…How do you make sense of that in regards to allowing him to naturally balance him wanting to do it versus me encouraging it or not. Like, I don’t know if that makes sense.

Abby: Yeah, totally. I had a long conversation– I guess, to rewind a little bit for context for folks — So we started this school year mostly online. Like, committed to having robust online offerings for people consistently, knowing families would choose that, and we also tried to have — we committed to having — outdoor, smaller-group, in-person meet ups. And so when the weather was nice, and before we had the most recent spike and the arrival of the variants, we had a pod in Brooklyn and one in northern Manhattan.

With everything that’s been going on and at least until spring break, we’re only doing — there’s one smaller pod that’s up here in northern Manhattan. And hopefully we’ll go back to more when it gets nice out. But I was talking to one of the kids who came to our very snowy pod last week, and he was engaged in a bunch of the online offerings at the start of this year and has dropped off. And he is not one of the kids who consistently is in text or email or letter communication.

Sometimes he’ll, he’ll text. If he initiates, then we’ll have a conversation. But — We’re talking about it. And I was like, did you hear that  the writing offering has a new host? Are you familiar with her work at all? I feel like you might like it. And it was just the two of us were walking, and he was like, well, you know, I get really tired of sitting in front of my computer. And my independent project that I like to do is video editing and kind of researching. — He’s been researching animation stuff — And he’s like, so I do my stuff. And then I want to be in person exploring. I really want to go on field trips. And it’s just — I can’t sit down for more Zoom things. 

I was like, OK, and had to check in myself. And a lot of the pandemic has been trying to check in myself where I’m worried. Right? Because when we’re in person, I notice which kids I haven’t talked to or heard from or whatever, and I would intentionally do laps around the space or go hang out in a different room to be kind of feeding those relationships and checking in on people. And you can’t right now. There’s a couple of kids we’re like… Has anyone heard from this one? Like we tried texting, we tried calling, should we email? Have any of their friends heard from them? Do we know that they’re safe at least? Yes, but is it enough to just know that they’re safe? You know, is it enough to be like, “All right… They have supportive relationships. I’m not part of that. I’m not seeing that. Can I let that be enough?” And really trust. And it’s hard and scary. But so… As I was talking with Mason and he was sharing about, you know, that he’s not doing online school, and he’s taking himself for walks — I asked what he’s doing instead, and he said he’s taking himself on lots of walks and getting to know his neighborhood. And sometimes he helps his mom at her daycare center, where a lot of the little kids are required to do online school. And he shared that it’s stressing them out and frustrating them. And it doesn’t seem to align with what they actually need. 

And I, like, I had a moment. We talked about child development and stuff. It was great. Then I just asked. I was like, “I’m… I’m worried when I don’t get to see people. Like, I’m glad you’re coming to pods and stuff now so I’m getting to see you. I’m worrying that people aren’t getting their needs met. Recognizing it’s not ideal…” This isn’t ideal for anyone, none of us need this, right? But, there’s a lot of work we’re doing in terms of sensemaking and community care and play. And we’re indulging a little bit in the, like, “Well, when the pandemic is over, we’re going to take this road trip and let’s plan it, so we’ve got a thing to look forward to!” And I was like, “Are you… Do you feel like you’re getting your needs met as best as possible while, you know, while we’re stuck in this?” And he said yes. And he said he feels supported and he knows that the online offerings are there if he wants to jump back in. Even though he’s been choosing not to. And he likes knowing he can text any of the facilitators if there’s something he’s, like, wanting or wondering about. 

And so for me, like, hearing that from him was really reassuring.

And Pharaoh is someone who texts me. I always get a text from him when he gets letters I send. And he was texting me yesterday about his art stuff. I’m so grateful that we’ve got the Internet and social media and our school where, like, I can be Instagram friends with a bunch of our students and ‘like’ all their food posts and craft posts and stuff. [Follow Pharaoh’s art account at @pharaohartwork.] That’s been super helpful.

Hugo: My opinion is that I actually — I actually feel like I haven’t missed anything. The only thing I miss is kind of the space. And I’m hopeful that we’ll get back to it soon, but of course, I want to take all the precautions that we need to. And I go to most of the offerings just because that’s kind of what I did while we were still in the space. Pods were great, and I was going to them until it got too cold. But I — even without the pods, I don’t feel like I’m missing much, because there’s so many offerings that I can choose from. And sometimes there’s a couple — there’s a little too many. Like in the spring at least, I had days where I was literally on for five hours, because offerings were just back to back to back. This fall and winter, there’s been a little bit more space between the offerings, which has been good. And I know that Wednesday and Thursday are still kind of geared toward pod days. So there is less on those days. So on Thursday, the only offering I do is from one thirty to three. So I’ve got a lot of time on Thursday. I feel like there’s a good amount of offerings and, I mean, sometimes I am like, well, what should I do now, because I’ve got three and a half hours to do something. And for Christmas I got a loom, so I’ve been weaving quite a bit. And I just finished the crochet blanket I’ve been working on since mid-September that took a while and…I’m on spawn every morning and afternoon. We pretty much get up at seven to walk our dog every morning. That’s been good, because we get out of the house every morning. This past week, I haven’t gotten out as much, because I didn’t want to be in the cold, so I stayed home and helped get everything ready for breakfast. And I didn’t get out of the house then. Guess that’s all I have to say. It’s been really working for me. I’m just hopeful that we can get back into the space soon.

Ryan: I think I think you speak for all of us when you say that, Hugo.

Hugo: Can I just also add…Yesterday I started growing chia microgreens, too!

Ryan: I’m really glad that you finished with that, Hugo, that you ended there with with a gardening related thing, because I forgot to say earlier that I think if I’m looking at the past year and the offerings that I have made and been a part of, I think my home gardening offering has been my favorite. Because it’s kind of like the hobby or passion that I had already, but I think the pandemic has made me level that up and given me time and space to level that up. Also want to give a shout out to Abby for tending all the plants at school, because they would be dead without her.

Another thing that you said, Hugo, that reminded me of another point I wanted to make, and this is like, you know, part of our process of doing Check In and Change Up, our weekly meeting to take stock of the health of the school and how our agreements are working and things we notice, I — What I have noticed you guys, and by “you guys” I mean students, getting better at is not over-scheduling or overextending yourselves and figuring out that, like, Zoom fatigue is a real thing. And that trying to do five hours in a row is actually, dare I say, more fatiguing than doing it in person. There’s something about just sitting and being stationary and looking at a screen for that amount of time that can just make you feel really tired and zoned out. And so, you know, I think you’ve had the most practice with this, because you go to the most offerings of anyone. But I think I’ve seen people get better at this and just recognize, “OK, I just did Geoguessr and art history back to back. I need to, like, take an hour now and just eat lunch and maybe, like, just not look at my screen for a while. Maybe go outside for a walk. Maybe weave. Whatever.” I think that you guys have gotten better at that. And I think that’s important to highlight.

Abby: We’ve had Zoom offerings and some group texts that are just people being like, here are my pets or the thing I made for breakfast or my plants. And there’s a lot to be said about the challenges of being distributed and off site. But one of the things that we get more of than we used to is the show and tell of everyone’s pile of art sketches that they’re calling in from the middle of, or siblings diving in, cats on Ryan’s head. That’s been fun.

Hugo: I love how Nancy [our wonderful and much loved cooking offering host] texts “See you at Cook Noob tomorrow!” every Sunday. It’s very funny.

Ryan: Hugo, I’m so glad you mentioned Nancy and Cook Noob, because that has been just an awesome thing to have and know that first thing every Monday morning Nancy is going to be there and we’re going to be doing our thing. And we’re not all making the same recipe. We’re all making our own thing and kind of sharing the process as we go. But it’s another one of those offerings where, you know, even though it is focused on cooking, we’re sharing what we did with our weekend and what we’ve been reading. And I think that pattern has been something that’s been woven through a lot of the offerings. You know, maybe not so much for something like math where we’re there to, like, specifically spend the hour working through problems. But a lot of the ones like Art Jam and Cook Zoom have been those sort of informal check-in spaces, and I think that’s been a really, really nice thing to have.

Abby: And there’s a couple of people whose siblings, or people who aren’t students anymore…Having that social space to come into has been beneficial to people beyond our immediate staff and student cohorts.

Ryan: Oh, Abby, I’m really glad, again, that you said that, because it reminded me of another thing that started happening this year, which is that we’ve started having kids join just online who, because of where they live geographically or, you know, other factors, couldn’t be a part of the school anymore and now have, like, become a part of the school again, since we are doing a lot of stuff remote. That’s kind of connected to the opening up offerings to the wider network. But having former students or even students that maybe are homeschooled or in other environments join us for offerings, that’s been another awesome thing. 

Cedar, facilitator and friend calling in from The Greenhouse Project UK: Can I ask a question? What has supported, like, you? You, two and — is it Mel who is the other facilitator? What’s been, in retrospect, like, what’s been the things that supported you guys? Because it sounds like you hold a lot of space for…obviously for the children that come on, but also for the children that are not connecting and maybe the families as well. And also that sense of Zoom fatigue as well. I’d really be interested to hear.

Ryan: Maybe I can embarrass her by saying this, but Abby has done a lot to support me, and I can tell you that Abby is often doing a million things in the background that people don’t see. And so she deserves a lot of credit. Honestly, you know, from building the tools to just, like, dealing with the government or other people that try to make what we do harder for us unnecessarily sometimes…She has done a ton for that. And that’s made it a lot easier for Mel and I to just focus on facilitating and focus on supporting the kids. It gives me more energy and more stamina to do as much as possible to support the kids when I know Abby has our backs in that way. And I know that that’s why, you know what I mean, among other reasons but, I know that’s why she spends so much time and focuses on doing that. It frees up Mel and I to really focus on facilitation. I think another thing that’s important, Ceder, is that we do have the ALC network. We have our Slack channel where we can be asking other facilitators what they’re doing and sharing resources. And just maybe simply like…we have a channel on there that’s called random. And it’s just sharing funny gifs and articles and quotes. You know, those are the kind of things that keep you going. Or just, like, hearing stories about how Geoguessr was fun for you and the other Greenhouse people who showed up when we played together. You know it’s like, that’s — that makes me feel good about what I’m doing and kind of keeps me going and, like, on top of my facilitation game at a time where it’s hard to, you know, maybe feel as motivated or feel as engaged.

And, you know, the other thing, I think that we do a pretty good job of modeling as a team, the three of us, I mean, we’re always in communication. We have a staff check-in meeting twice a week. And we always have each other’s backs. If, like, one of us is just feeling tired and needs a day to not be there…because it’s important that if we’re telling kids that, that we’re able to also embody and live that message of, like, take care of yourself when you need to and take a step away when you need to. You know? I mean, we’re literally still in a pandemic. It’s — there’s, like, a lot of traumatic stuff going on. And sometimes you just need a day or you need a couple hours. And so I’m really proud of how the three of us have dealt with that and supported each other. And like I said, a lot of credit there also goes to the fact that we do have a network and we do have people that we can be talking to and sharing with about the challenges and successes that we’ve had.

Abby: Yeah, I guess there’s a couple of aspects to it. When I took a long Central Park walk before starting to get the stuff set up for school to move online — that’s one of my thinking practices and has been since I was young — I was reflecting on how humans get through crises, what it was like being a young person going through crises and the things the adults did that worked well and the things they did that I needed to proactively warn the adults in our community against doing. You know, like binge watching the news loudly in shared spaces. And because I grew up in a rural place, you couldn’t walk anywhere. The internet was not really a thing. There weren’t really other kids on my block — it was a lot of old people — so I spent a lot of time by myself trying to figure out… just amuse myself. And it was super lonely sometimes, but I read a lot, I did a lot of art, I took some simple and more complicated machines apart and put them back together. A lot of how I am as a learner now and how I handle pandemic solitude, like, it’s pretty much the same, with the added bonus of now there’s the internet so I can be in contact with these friends and these other people I care about. And I don’t run out of things to read the way I used to. I also spent a lot of time as a kid being like, well, what is the most basic, like what actually matters at the base of things?

And so going into the pandemic was like, let me check back in with that, again. What really matters? And I was researching…For humans during times of acute stress it’s like, do we have some kind — do we have rituals? Or something to help us make sense of the chaos? And it doesn’t have to be a big fancy thing. It doesn’t have to be meetings. It can be, like, make yourself a cup of tea in the morning and ideally don’t multitask while you drink it, but maybe you do. Maybe your ritual is drink your tea and scroll Twitter for 20 minutes. [These items are a list and explained more clearly and comprehensively in ALC-NYC’s 2020-2021 covid plan, as well as in livestreams on our Instagram and Abby’s blog posts.] The sense of hope that this isn’t permanent, that we have survived all kinds of things as species, that together we will figure– Things have changed and will continue to change, and we can figure it out as long as we’re in relationship. Um.. The — what is it — connection to something bigger than yourself, a purpose beyond this moment of despair that we’re in. And there’s lots of ways to build that. It’s part of why we play a lot of games together. The meaning-making / sense-making I pay attention to is not from that, like, “humans navigating disaster” content. That’s more of a therapeutic thing for during and after. But when people are ready to start making sense — and I find kids tend to be down to show up to a meeting and be like, I’m afraid of my mortality today, and it’s like, “Alright, we’re doing the sensemaking. Let’s go. Let’s tell our stories!” That’s really powerful for people. And the, oh, and the last one is one of the most protective factors, really, as we’re trying to navigate traumas, is supportive relationship. Having steady access to relationships where we feel felt and unconditionally cared for. And so in all of this — in navigating stuff for the school and trying to figure out how to support the network and other networks and, you know, here is my solo self in this apartment, not allowed to go hang out with people anymore — coming back, touching back into that and being like, Well, do I have a sense of hope today? Am I feeling connected to something bigger than me? If not what is — how do I get that? How do I fill that need? And so  that framework’s been helpful across arenas. 

Also, I run the outdoor winter pods and I love being outdoors in the cold with kids.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s one of Abby’s secret superpowers, when it drops below 30 or drops below zero Celsius…

Abby: I love for everyone who wants to be warm, to get to be warm, and for everyone who’s like, can I have a fun day when it’s twenty seven degrees to, like, realize they can and come figure out how to.

Cedar: The other question I had also was I’m just interested how, like, the trajectory worked? Did you notice any patterns around, like, at the beginning were there — was there quite a lot of attendance and then did it drop off and come back up? Or is it just steady? I’d love to know that flow and anything that might influence that. And I heard you also saying about some of the other things you do, like you write letters? Any other kind of other off-Zoom things that can keep students connected, that you’re willing to share?

Ryan: Yeah, I mean, attendance definitely wasn’t linear in the sense that it wasn’t a graph going this way or a graph going this way. I think in the very beginning it was a little lower until people kind of figured out, like, OK, this is what we’re going to be doing here. It’s like, you know, just weird, simple logistical things, like getting your mic to work and knowing where all the links are, what time offerings are happening. And then also in the beginning, there were multiple calendars to manage, because we had the “Inter ALC” calendar that had all the offerings that were open to all the ALCs. There was just our calendar. And there was also a local SDE calendar for other smaller projects that had open offerings. So there was a lot to navigate from a technological and logistical standpoint. And I think once people figured that out, then attendance was a little higher.

But then I think after a while, people just got fatigued by just being online all the time. And I think having the pods this fall went a long way to giving some of those kids something who were really just looking for, you know, I’ve just been inside too long and I just want to get outside. Or I just want to see other people that aren’t my parents, as great as they may be. You spend every hour of every day with the same people and it can get a little stale. So I can speak for myself there and say that, being somebody who’s more extroverted, I just enjoyed seeing people again in person and even…I hadn’t taken the subway in months. And when case numbers got to a place where it felt responsible for me to take the train uptown and do the pod up there, like, even just that weird little thing that used to maybe be annoying sometimes, actually I felt grateful for.

So I would say definitely not linear, Ceder, and I don’t know, Abby, if you have other thoughts…

Yeah, there was the scramble, right, when things first shut down and everyone was like, oh my gosh. And so there were a million things and some people were on, trying to do everything. And other people were like, this is all overwhelming. And dropped off. And then it kind of tempered as people found their flows. It’s changed with the weather, it’s changed with holidays. There’s definitely — people are worn at this point, and one of the things that I have listed as one of the things that’s still a challenge for me is that people are — from the constant newness and adjustments and unknown — Kids and parents have been wanting and craving social and connection time, but like…too tired to have one more Zoom meeting, even if it’s just for games. Or hesitant about opening an offering, doing a big thing with a bunch of strangers, because it’s like, “Oh my gosh, but new people!” And it’s just an exhausting thought. And that all totally makes sense and it’s super valid. And it makes it kind of tricky sometimes, when you simultaneously are craving socialization and new people and are too tired to show up. But it’s not forever, right? And in terms of the non-Zoom, non-pod things we’ve got going on…None of the kids have wanted to write me back, but….I keep writing, and sometimes they text me. Some of them we text. We’ve got Instagram threads going with a couple of them. Mel is on Tik Tok; they’re braver than I am. Apparently Sterl is on Twitter, and we’re playing hide and seek on Twitter. That’s a whole thing. A bunch of the kids have YouTube channels; Ryan and Seb are starting a YouTube channel, so that’s — we comment on each other’s videos. Hugo has a newspaper that gets emailed out, and everyone sends all of their applause as a “reply all,” which is hilarious and adorable. I know a bunch of the kids play video games together. I don’t partake in any of that, but I know it’s happening. Trying to think what else… We’ve been looking for ways. Sometimes they call me. There’s, like, two teenagers who periodically will just call, and they just want to talk, and that’s cool. And one of the struggles has been that a bunch of them are like, can you help me find a job? And I’m like, you know, there’s 12 million [actually estimated to be at 9.97 million in the US in February of 2021] adults asking that same question and you are not legally able to be worked as long as them. This is tricky. We’ve tried some bigger formal things, like, Zoom parties, game nights, showcases…and those are fun, but attendance hasn’t been…I find at this point, people are mostly engaging in the one-on-one or smaller group stuff.

Cedar: I have a question for Hugo. Is that OK, Hugo? What is – what have you found the most valuable from the facilitators? What are some of the things that worked well for you?

Hugo: Well, I go to all the offerings, and I think that really works, because there’s — there’s so many different things. There’s math, there’s crochet where it’s an hour of usually just Mel and I, and maybe Jiji talking to us, maybe a couple other kids crocheting. And then there’s math, which we use Khan Academy for. And then we have art history. So there’s just a bunch of different subjects that we have offerings on, and I think, really the offerings are the best part for me.

Cedar: Great, thanks. It sounds like you enjoy just showing up and being there, doing your own thing, but being with other people as well.

Hugo: Yeah.

Ryan: Well, I guess we’re about time here. I hope that this was fun and useful, and will be fun and useful for people who watch this later since it’s recorded. I feel like I should put some promo in. Abby, what should I promote? What should we promote as we sign out here?

Abby: Being generous with yourself when you’re like, I will not act like this is business as usual….because…
Ryan: That part. And thanks to Hugo, Monique, and Cedar for coming.

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