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Beekman’s Unique and Successful Response to COVID-19: A Personal Account

Authored By: 
Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez, science teacher

On Friday, March 13th, we left Beekman for a two-week Spring Break vacation.  I told my students good-bye, be safe, and make good choices.  I made sure my room was tidy and the computer and SMARTBoard were turned off.  I watered my plants and rushed out the door to catch my flight home to San Antonio, Texas. 

We had heard whisperings of a virus that was going to be a big problem.  In the last week of school, our administration trained us on Zoom and we made sure all students could log on and knew how to use the platform.  The students, of course, had great virtual backgrounds going within seconds of logging on. 

Wherever we traveled, we were encouraged to take everything we would need to teach just in case things went sideways.  While we were prepared for the shelter-in-place order and knew we might not come back to school in two weeks time, none of us could have fathomed that we would not be returning to the Beekman brownstone this year.

We had plans!  Prom, graduation, Art Shows, Chirp Café’s, the Literary Magazine and yearbook to publish, and community service projects. As a science teacher, while we had already met our required 20 hours of lab time, there were still experiments to do, data to collect, and analyses to be written!

A few days into my vacation, my dad developed a cough he just couldn’t kick.  My dad is a tough military man who would never admit pain or weakness.  He said he felt fine, but was just really irritated by the constant cough.  He went to a Med-Clinic to be evaluated because it just wasn’t getting better and he was starting to look really rough.  He was told to self-isolate and that they would call him to set up a test.  My mom took care of him during the isolation and we FaceTimed him.  He continued to say he felt fine and put up a good front on FaceTime, but we all saw him getting worse.  My mom finally broke down and called the ambulance one night, because he was struggling to breathe.  My dad was not happy with her, and she was devastated that she could not go with him due to the COVID restrictions.  He sent a text from the hospital thanking her because he could not breathe and the oxygen they now had him on was now making him feel much better.  It would turn out that the oxygen he was receiving would not be enough to help him overcome the injury the virus had done to his lungs.  My dad has now been intubated on a ventilator for 9 weeks.  This virus has put his body through hell, and the man has fought setback after setback to get back to us.  I knew he was strong, he’s my Daddy, but man oh man, am I impressed with all he’s been able to overcome.  We seem to be through the worst of it and now just have a long recovery ahead of us.

At this point, you might be wondering why I am telling you all of this.  Well, one, because I’d like to request that, if and when you pray, you will send up a little prayer of gratitude for my dad’s recovery thus far and a few for support to help him get back to his normal.  Positive vibes will, of course, be accepted, too!  Second, because I’d like to thank the Beekman family for their support during this time and commend their response to this huge shift in education.

Some school districts are barely keeping their head above water as they try to figure out how to reach all of their students and get through the required curriculum so that students will be prepared for next year’s course work.  Kids are complaining that they aren’t being taught and they definitely aren’t learning; parents are frustrated with their new responsibilities.  People are genuinely unhappy and have time to sit and stew about it.  The Beekman School, however, has been teaching a regular 8:45 to 4:00 pm schedule with labs and Student Council meetings, Spirit Week, Story Time with Goats, Meditation, and Game Nights. 

The administration’s foresight and preparation has allowed us to continue to provide a rigorous and engaging educational experience for our students.  The teachers were not told how to teach and no restrictions on the amount of work we could assign were mandated.  We were simply told to be understanding of the situations students are in and to try our best to get through the curriculum by the end of the year.  With the flexibility to determine how to best reach our students, each teacher found a comfortable and adaptable strategy to implement.  Blessed with the opportunity to step outside our current reality for a few hours every day, the teachers are happy and the students are thriving.  This is Beekman. It is special and unique and wonderful.

Beekman’s response to this crisis is just another reason to love this school and everyone in it.  I am relocating to Texas this summer.  While I knew I was leaving, I did not know that when I walked out the door on March 13th, I had taught my last class at Beekman.  Looking back, I don’t think I would have done anything different, it would just have been nice to know (and maybe I would have gotten some pre-social distancing hugs in).  I am sad to be leaving such an amazing place, but if this virus has taught me nothing else, it has taught me how important family and the people you love and surround yourself with are.  I met some wonderful people, even an Oscar winner, and have learned so much in 14 years at this school.  I look forward to using all I’ve learned in a new setting.

I will return to pack up my classroom.  The huge Einstein art installation is coming with me, as are the handmade moles I’ve collected throughout the years.  My Instagram door of science memes will be cleared.  I’ll even take the googly eyes off the anatomical torso model.  It won’t look like I’ve even been there when I’m done, but I hope I’ve left my mark on this school, rich in tradition that existed 80 years before I got there and, due to its uniqueness, flexibility, and leadership, will be there for many years to come.

As I ride off into the sunset, (that’s me practicing my Texan), I want to tip my hat to y’all and say thank you to Beekman for 14 amazing years. Good-bye and God bless.