Havergal Launches New Strategic Direction
Extended Closure of Campus – Message from the Principal
Dear Parents and Guardians,
When I last sat down to write my newsletter, we were living in a different world. As we headed off into the March Break, we were thinking of holidays and spring and all the good things the end of the school year would bring. Little did we know at that time how different our lives would become.
When the World Health Organization announced on March 11 that COVID-19 was a pandemic, our worlds suddenly collapsed into the confines of our homes. Virtual became our new reality. Zooming, physical distancing, hand washing and face masks joined our lexicon. All but non-essential services were closed.
I returned to the school on March 23 and 24, to assist with locker clean-out and packing for some of our international Boarders who had decided to head home. When I left Toronto on the evening of March 24, to return to my home south of Ottawa, I drove east along Highway 401. The sun was low in the clear sky and I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life (and I have sailed on tall ships around the world!) I was virtually alone, in a car, on a 12-lane, then a 6-lane, then a 4-lane highway. I drove in the right-hand lane for the duration of my three hour drive and saw less than 10 vehicles, in either direction, during this time. It felt like I was in a sci-fi movie, that at any moment aliens, or robots would arise from the fields at the sides of the roadway. But, of course, they did not. There were other, invisible dangers that were lurking.
Our school community, like all others around the world, shifted to online learning, and we have remained in this virtual state ever since. We have reimagined school events and have spent more time in front of our computers and with our immediate families than ever before.
This pandemic has brought about significant changes to our lives. While these changes have been hard, I try to remind our Boarders often that they, and we, can do hard things. We need to be hopeful and have gratitude for the positive things that have come out of this experience. I am grateful to have had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know many of our Boarding parents each week via our Parent Zoom Meetings. I am thankful to have been in regular contact with our Boarding students, especially those who remained in Canada with their guardians, so far from their families. I am grateful for our Boarding staff, Claire Davis, Rosalyn Yake, Shannon Abel, Paige Day and Heather Elo, for supporting our Boarders via email and four weekly wellbeing Zoom sessions and for packing and cleaning the entire Boarding School. I am also grateful for our Junior Don Leadership Team and the Grade 12 students who are embracing an end to their high school years that was not of their own choosing with grace and resilience. I have gratitude for the leadership of our Principal, Mrs. Misson, and our VPs, Dr. Simmonds, Mr. Nichols and Ms. Davis. I am grateful to have connected and collaborated with so many of our staff as well as with schools, groups and organizations, both locally and around the world.
Our collective experience during this time makes us connected in a way that I expect we may never experience again in our lifetime. As we move forward next year into a still uncertain future, I know that we will continue to do so with integrity, inquiry, compassion and courage, the hallmarks of our Havergal College community.
“As we step into the unknown, we discover we can be fragile and strong and terrified and brave all at the same time” – Paul S. Boynton
Stay well and safe, until we can meet again.
Head of Boarding
When I left for March Break on Friday, March 6, I did not consider the fact that that would be my last day at school for the year. At that time, there were only a few cases of the coronavirus in Canada, but I knew that it was going to become very serious very quickly. I went home and immediately quarantined, staying inside for 14 days while paying very close attention to the growing number of cases around the world on the news. It gave me a lot of anxiety and fear about not only my own health, but the lives of some of my family members and friends. On top of this, I also had to adjust to learning online. The combination of the stress from the current world events as well as my schoolwork did not contribute to improving my mental health at all. In fact, it made it much worse in the first couple of weeks. Since then, however, I have come up with ways to adjust to this new way of living and instead of focusing on the negatives of our current situation, I tried to find some more positive things to focus on. This has not only made me acknowledge the things I’m grateful for, but it has also made me acknowledge some of the privileges I have. Additionally, I have used this opportunity to take up a few more hobbies like the guitar and exploring new music. I am fortunate to have a group of friends and family to support me through these times. Even though things are still not looking too cheerful with the injustices going on in America against Black people, I have hope that after all this, things will turn out for the better.
Quarantine can be extremely hard for Boarders. Social distancing requires us to be away from our friends and other Boarders, which to me is almost the same as asking me to stay away from my family. Due to the pandemic, I was in limbo in Canada for three months. This definitely was a hard time for me without my parents, my friends and the familiar environment of Havergal. But it was also a time for a lot of personal development. Living by myself completely, cooking my own meals, cleaning the apartment, picking up groceries are new things that I have never done before. These experiences benefited me a lot and it is very different from living in Boarding. There’s a saying that distance creates beauty and this is the time that I really found this saying meaningful. During my time alone, I found my connection with Boarding and Havergal so strong that things just simply don’t seem right without the Havergal environment. I hope that I can see the familiar faces and go back to the familiar environment in September.
How was I, a 17-year-old high school student, supposed to travel all the way back to Singapore from Canada on my own with less than 24 hours notice?
It was Sunday morning when I received the call from my mother. I had only slept for four hours due to a project I was working on with friends. So, when my mum called me over 10 times at 7 am on a Sunday morning, I was not too pleased. Groggily, I reached over the bed and picked up the phone. “Hello?” “The transit flights for Hong Kong are closing. If you want to get back to Singapore, we have to book you a ticket back home tonight at 1 am.”
That was definitely not what I was expecting on a Sunday morning, but then again, we were in the midst of a world health crisis, so nothing really is expected. I was still processing the information in my head when my mum popped the question: “Do you want to come home?”
I mean, of course, I do but in the middle of a pandemic? The risks are extremely high. I was already safe in my aunt’s house alongside my cousins. If I were to travel back home, the chances of me catching the coronavirus would be dramatically increased. Running off four hours of sleep did me no good when calculating the risks. I could barely even open my eyes at that time. Yet, I made the final call: “Yes. I want to come home.”
My aunt drove me to the Boarding School, where all my things are kept. I packed as much as I could as fast as I could. I picked up my passports and I went back to my aunt’s house where my uncle tried to convince me that staying at their place was the safer option. I almost listened to them. I thought that it was too scary. Traveling in the midst of a pandemic could lead to severe consequences. I am not at-risk, but just the thought of being one of the potential cases shook me to the core. I kept my head up, though, and decided that going home to my parents is definitely what I wanted. I mean, I had cried about it to my friends just the week before. If I had to be sheltering in place and not allowed to see my friends for months, I’d rather be with my parents.
I continued to work on the project with my friends as I prepared for my journey. It was a project I was passionate about. I was fully ready to stay up all night working on it. It frustrated me when I had to sacrifice working on something I love. I did as much as I could in the short time I had. Meanwhile, my aunt prepared raincoats, gloves, masks, hand sanitizer and much more so I could travel safely. I planned to wear my waterproof jacket as a protective layer throughout the trip while also doubling up on face masks and gloves. I even switched out my contact lenses for glasses so I didn’t have to worry about touching my eyes.
Alas, the time came. I had to be dropped off at the airport four hours before departure. At that time, it seemed a bit ridiculous. However, due to a large number of students who had to return home on short notice as well as the lack of staff available, the flight actually had to be delayed for a bit because a lot of people were still checking in. The whole time, I was still working on my project with my friends, helping them as much as I could. To be completely honest, it really helped having something else to work on while in the midst of such chaos. Seeing so many people around me wearing hazmat suits with their high tech masks did not help with my anxiety about travelling.
Sitting in the airplane was nerve-racking, to say the least. Everyone was completely suited up in their raincoats, masks and goggles. I was frankly super nervous. Luckily, with less than five hours of sleep, I managed to sleep through the entire flight. The entire 17 hours!
My layover in Hong Kong was four hours. Everyone was being checked and I saw flights on the schedule being cancelled. I had an emergency contact list to use if I were to be stuck in Hong Kong due to flight cancellation. Luckily, my flight departed as usual. We were the last transit flight out of Hong Kong to Singapore. I was able to catch the very last one and made it safely back to my parents.
At the airport in Singapore, we had to fill in a form. I had to list my name, address, phone number and sign an agreement to stay at home for the next 14 days. They even photocopied my passport. My mum thought it was too risky to fetch me from the airport, so I had to take the cab home by myself instead. I was quarantined with my dad in a separate apartment. Every day, volunteers would call the house phone to make sure I’m staying at home and not breaking the agreement. Every day, my mum would drive over to drop off food for us to eat.
Having to go through this all alone was scary. The good news is that I’m clear of the coronavirus and I am now with both my parents in my house. I can finally go out for a walk as long as I am practising social distancing. I never thought I would ever experience a day like this in my life, but the universe works in unexpected ways.
My heart goes out to those families directly impacted by COVID-19. Going on vacation is not an option. I had to travel just so I could be safe with my parents. Please be responsible and stay at home on behalf of those at risk as well as the medical staff working to help us.
Hello, perhaps for the one last time. I cannot believe my journey at Havergal is ending so soon. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to my experience as a Havergal Boarder. I cannot thank this community enough for what you have contributed to my high school life, from sister love to anger management. It has been a pleasure to serve this community as its captain this year and I am forever grateful for this experience. I have learned, grown, and developed as a student, leader and community member. Through the ups and downs, thank you everyone for being a part of this community and I cannot wait to see what this community can achieve in the future. During these tough times, I have had faith in our community that we will all come out stronger. At last, it is time for me to sign off this year by saying once again: wash your dishes, please!
As the newest staff member of the Boarding community, my time at Havergal has certainly been unique. I was only working in Boarding for about a month before we went remote. Now I have been in the school without students for longer than I had been with them. It has been a surreal experience.
First of all, I would like to thank all the Boarders and staff for how warm and accepting they were of me joining the community. There was never a day that I did not feel welcomed and you were all very helpful, patient and kind as I learned my new role. I also want to say a special thank you to my Boarding family. It is not easy to get accustomed to a new person halfway through the year, but you all were so friendly and our conversations at bed checks and our individual one-on-ones were some of the highlights of my time here. From what I learned, Havergal Boarding is a special place, where we all come together from different backgrounds and cultures to create a community. Friendships made here are strong and you will always find someone to lean on or to help you in some way. I am grateful for the time I did get to spend with you. You are all bright lights with strong futures ahead!
Remotely, I loved hearing about the things you were doing, how you were coping with the Remote Learning Plan and quarantine in general. It was a little glimpse into your lives and proved that we are still a community even when apart. During our packing weeks, I enjoyed seeing Elena (thanks for coming in) and remotely packing for 10 others. For some of you, it was the first in-depth conversation we had ever had and although I could have done without the packing or the reason behind it, I truly enjoyed that time we spent together talking and catching up. Your stuff is all now safely stowed waiting for your arrival! In general, it was crazy to see the amount of stuff some of you had. I sincerely advise you to please pack only what you actually need next year!
It is still a surreal feeling to walk down the school hallways without everyone here. It is eerily quiet and there is a sense of emptiness. With your belongings still out in the rooms, it was like you had just left and would return again. Then, once we packed everything, it was like the school had settled knowing that although the year was over, there would be a new beginning next year, as long as it waits patiently, as it has every other time the school has shut its doors throughout its long history. I can tell that it misses the sound of footsteps in the corridors, laughter echoing down the hall, excited people chattering and even doors slamming in its halls. It is just an empty building, waiting for students and staff to make it come alive once again. It may look a little different next year, and there may be different protocols to follow, but the essence of school and Boarding life will stay the same. It is a place where we all come together to form a community, to learn and grow. People may come and go, but the memories and friendships made here will last a lifetime.
To the Grads and people who will not be returning next year: I wish you the best of luck in your futures. You can take what you have learned in your time at Havergal and apply it to whatever you are choosing to do after your time here. I know you are all strong, smart, dedicated and capable human beings who will accomplish great things. To the returning Boarders: I hope you have a great summer! Know that both the building and the staff await your return. We look forward to guiding you on the rest of your journeys here, until it is time for you also to leave these ivy-covered walls. See you next year!