‘Your email feels a little like it read my mind. As I run between 3 children, in 3 different rooms, on 3 different devices, I have not stopped wondering how those families outside this north London bubble are coping…. how do you allow multiple children to “attend school” if you only have one computer? Or one room for them to work in?
‘I do have some ideas for practical ways that we might be able to help and I would love to chat them through.’
This was an email I read on 22 April, a month since schools were instructed to ‘lock down’, other than for the children of key workers. It came in response to a touch-base message sent to Highgate’s donors and volunteers, inviting them into a dialogue: how best to shape the school’s response to Covid-19? And that parent’s idea: buy laptops for pupils in lock-down who don’t have access to their remote learning and who, day by day, are losing touch with their A level and uni dreams.
Thirteen days later, a Governor in a local state school emailed Highgate’s Community Partnerships Director asking whether we could help Year 12 students in her school: ‘[her Year 12] is one of the most economically disadvantaged sixth form cohorts in London, and a substantial number of the […] sixth formers lack online access.
‘We are asking local tech companies if they can provide any devices, but we are also sounding out local independent schools to see if they can help in any way. Do you think that Highgate School would be worth approaching? If so, I can forward more details of the kind of devices we need.
‘I do of course understand if this is not possible.’
Community Partnerships Director liaises with the Development Office, and the emails fuse: donations are found for one local school’s most disadvantaged students to have laptops.
Between these dates, I record a ‘Thought for the Week’, an ersatz assembly, in which I mention a love of printed maps, particularly ones of where I live, and the running I do on routes I plan on these old-fashioned navigation devices; a colleague-neighbour drops a cheeky email to the Development Office asking whether I’d like to run a marathon round our playing fields, recently opened to local residents to take exercise during the week, somehow seeing a link between maps, running and a route which will require zero navigation. Development Office colleagues tentatively suggest ‘laps for laptops’ …
And so, last Friday, 22 May, exactly a month since that first email was sent, I found myself, accompanied by my daughter, Millie (first half), my son, Louis (second half), his boyfriend, Drew (three laps with me), and their hangover, Fr Robert, our Chaplain (not the hangover; punctuation only just up to this list) (five laps), Mr Neocleous, Ms Pride and Mr Tapp, Sport and Exercise colleagues (too many laps to count), children of key worker parents happy to escape their lessons for a break (two laps), running round Junior Field; Felix, youngest Pettitt, having dashed off a 45k bike-ride before school with Barbara (Mme Pettitt to many of you), did an early and speedy lap for good measure. I was supposed to do 106 laps to reach the 42.2k but, in fact, hit the magic total after 99.5 laps so, of course, had to ask Mr Tapp to shepherd me round one last lap to ensure we made the century. And 480 kind people – staff, alumni, parents, pupils, the Parents’ Association, friends and family – donated £68,357 which will allow us to give a laptop to disadvantaged students in more of our Chrysalis partner schools than we could have hoped for. Highgate’s campaign to respond to Covid-19 is real: Highgate is Here.
As Steph Pride wrote after the run which she and Messrs Tapp and Neocleous had gamely organised for the 6.30 am start: ‘Marathons are emotional at the best of times, so well done at holding it together!’ Only just: I was choking up at the end, and no wonder.
The support from so many parents who have their own worries to contend with; the pride of seeing kith and kin throw in their lot with their exhibitionist dad and husband; the humbling determination of a partner school’s willingness to just knock at the door; the warmth of colleagues who could be forgiven for feeling under the cosh with the frenzy and uncertainty of their daily duties; the can-do will-do, under-the-radar energy and expertise of Chrysalis and Development Office colleagues, living out a mission to be a charity that runs a school rather than a school that flaunts its charity for status; the certainty that, with the money, we’d be unlocking children pincered and imprisoned by Covid-19 and digital poverty; the sheer excitement of getting an answer to a problem in weeks rather than months or years or not at all; passers-by – key worker parents, local residents out for a walk, colleagues in to supervise the former, support staff arriving for essential, on-site duties – cheering from a socially-distanced side-line.
It helps to be an optimist as a teacher, so it’s no surprise to find a school stuffed to the gunnels with colleagues seeing the glass half-full or, as Milton asks: ‘Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud/Turn forth his silver lining in the night?’ Covid-19 is indeed a pretty dark cloud, and the growing realisation that it is just a reflection of a pretty threatening sky that has been there all the time could blow away our youth-filled optimism. But those hours on Junior Field, and those that followed as that parent’s ‘ideas for practical ways’ took shape, were the best silver lining I could have imagined, ever: thank you, all of you, for enabling us to help, for making sure Highgate is Here for those who need us now and for those who will still need us long after we’ve worked out how to get out of lock-down.