How SSSAS’s Responses to Past Crises Can Help Us Prepare for the Future:

by Harrison Brown '20

As St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School is shut down indefinitely and engaging in distance learning due to the spread of the coronavirus, The Voice takes a look back at the archives to see whether something like this has happened before. We discuss the impact of events like World War II with Ms. Payne, SSSAS archivist and upper school assistant librarian, and 9/11 with Mr. Garikes, an upper-school history teacher; Dr. Carter, a college counselor; and Joan Holden, the former head of school.

Welcome to the community! The terror events of 9/11 took place in only Mr. Garikes’ second week at the upper school, and the faculty was not in contact with their students during that time; we’ve come a long way since 2001. In fact, no efforts “were made to conduct any Distance Learning,” since people did not have the technology that they do now at their house. He talked about the events: 

“The impact hit hard that day when the plane hit the Pentagon. We were gathered in Morning Meeting in the gym when Dave Faus, the Upper School director [at the time], announced the Pentagon had been hit. That heightened the crisis for the community. I think people took care of each other, comforted each other. The SSSAS community grew closer,” he said.

Mr. Garikes told The Voice that the return to class was in a matter of days, not weeks like the expected timetable for the community to return now. He did not recall getting a timetable for a return to school when the attacks happened but thought it was beneficial it happened at the start of the year while everyone was getting their feet wet into the year.

Dr. Carter said that school was shut down just for the remainder of the week and that “There was [also] some concern and protocols put in place during the DC sniper crisis when outdoor activities were limited.”

We reached out to Mrs. Holden to get her perspective of those times. She told us that school was closed the day after the attacks but not for very long. “I learned over the years that every situation is unique and brings a different set of circumstances and therefore responses. … We felt it was important for everyone (students and adults) to return to our routines and schedules as this often brings comfort and consistency when externally so much was happening. Safety always remained, and I know continues to remain, the top priority. Throughout 9/11, our caring and dedicated faculty, supportive parents and cooperative students carried us through this difficult and uncertain time, as I am sure is happening today and in the future. The Saints community is remarkable in its strength and faith. My thoughts are with every Saint.” 

Ms. Payne told us that despite not having the technology that we have today, the school year did not leak into the summer and scheduled day-offs for the students remained that way.

 “On the morning of 9/11, like most schools, some teachers tried to teach and maintain normalcy, while other teachers stopped teaching to cover the news. Some parents came to pick up their child/ren early,” she continued regarding the 9/11 events. “There were gatherings in the US and MS gym for students to comfort and receive strength from each other. With so many military families at the school, it was an especially emotional time, so the school became a gathering place.”

She mentioned that schools, especially private ones, were “used as the rock in the storm.” They tried to make things as normal as can be for students so the academic and cultural aspects did not really change.

Ms. Payne added that the school did have to make accommodations when the D.C. sniper was active. “There was a lot of anxiety at that time. All field trips were canceled and all outdoor activities (including recess, gym classes, and athletics) were either moved inside or canceled,” she told The Voice.

Looking further back in history, Ms. Payne said that “According to the student newspapers during WWII there were accommodations, but they were gradual and cumulative. Mostly it was 'please be flexible as' teachers have to leave during the day to register for food rationing coupons, or because there is no more rubber, clean up nails and glass from the streets on your way to school so no one gets a flat tire,” she said. “The St. Agnes school houses (think the traditional English school system or Hogwarts) were the colors gold and green, but the army was buying up all the green dye, so it was hard for the Greens to find anything new that was green.”

While times have certainly changed in 20 years, it is interesting to hear what it was like for some of the faculty members who have been at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School long enough to go through those times. We all certainly hope for the best but there is no telling of how long until we all return. Until then, stay safe and Go Saints!