Amid an unparalleled global health crisis, 11 months from retirement, I was faced with a challenge. It was so intricate. My ability to overcome this unprecedented hurdle can only be explained as a work of God. It was He who knew the needs our school would face during COVID-19. In a matter of days, He revealed His delicate, planned work (years in the making) to my staff and me. During a state-wide chaotic shift to online learning, our school was able to pivot in days. By His hands, we retained all staff members. The connecting pieces that all came together this last March are too beautiful not to share; let me elaborate.
For Such A Time As This
Three years ago, at an education conference, a colleague introduced me to Google for Education. It was amazing to see the host of free resources that were available through this platform to Olive Crest Academy. The Academy is a a unique educational program, one of the many service programs of Olive Crest that works to prevent child abuse, treat and educate at-risk children, and preserve the family. I went right home and began completing the application. It turns out, to get access to the services, I needed to verify our school’s National Accreditation status. At the time, we were certified by the California Department of Education, but we did not have this particular accreditation, it wasn’t something we could easily obtain. In the active pursuit of having our students leverage Google for Education, our school began the 12-month process of earning the National Commission on Accreditation for Special Education Schools (NCASES). An incredible amount of work went into obtaining our 4-year accreditation. In 2018, our school received our National Accreditation.
Over a year later, our application was complete, and we were granted access to Google for Education. The 2018-2019 school year, even with a great deal of additional resources for our teachers, was not without its challenges. The platform required training and ongoing practice to obtain proficiency. We conducted hours of training in order to learn how to open a Google classroom, upload documents, give access to our students, as well as communicate through the platform. We spent the school year ramping the skills necessary to fully leverage the platform’s capabilities.
What To Do?
Fast forward to March 2020. The rapidly spreading, Coronavirus sent our state, and country into unparalleled turmoil. In a matter of one or two short weeks, it became evident we were no longer going to be able to conduct school as we knew it. I dropped to my knees in prayer to ask God for his wisdom on what to do. As Psalm 121:2 says: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” I felt peace but knew on a deeper level that there was something greater at play in this story.
During the weekend of March 13-15, God revealed to me the answer to our dilemma.
On Monday morning, March 16th, my Directors and I spent three hours building, and finalizing details of a plan to conduct distance learning for our special needs children. This was as difficult as it sounds. Because 40% of our families have no access to internet, we made packets of materials for up to 16 weeks of school. For families that could access Google Classroom (a part of the Google for Education platform), we uploaded materials, schedules, and activities. Lastly, we created a schedule of video and audio appointments for each of our 160 students/families to provide daily assistance and support.
On Tuesday, March 17th, we launched our distance learning school. Eight weeks in to our program, it has proven to be exceptionally successful. Our staff is connecting with students and caregivers alike. We provide counseling and speech therapy, both academically and emotionally, to the students. The feedback has been tremendously positive! So successful in fact, that other schools began looking to ours for guidance.
God Had A Plan
God is a God of details. With the major pieces in play, He took care of our hourly staff as well. Separate from the COVID-related challenges, in January 2020, we lost thousands of unrecoverable documents due to a computer virus. At the time, I was extremely frustrated and overwhelmed at the work this would take to recover. With the rapid student transition home in March, our hourly staff lost the ability to perform many typical in-person job duties. However, the loss of the documents provided much-needed work for our team. If school were in session, like we had planned at the beginning of the year, it would have taken many months to recreate the essential manuals, forms, and documents. Instead, we had the staff and available hours to complete this time-consuming project.
As I sit here reflecting on the past eight weeks, in awe and with utmost gratitude, with goosebumps. I realize only now, God was creating a beautiful tapestry for the past three years, with every thread accounted for and chosen with utmost care. It brings to mind the magnificent poem by Grant Colfax Tullar:
Life is But a Weaving
My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.
But God, for such time as this.