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God in a Pandemic

Today, Partnership Schools’ teachers, principals, operations and network staff gathered online for a period of reflection and prayer as students end classes for the spring, and as we plan for summer school.

Our reflection on how God could be present in the suffering and challenges of this time was led by our fellow educators–including Natalia Rodrigo, an eighteen-year veteran teacher and assistant principal of St. Charles Borromeo School in Harlem. This summer, she will become the school’s principal.

From her talk:

It is hard to describe for those people who work in other professions what it is like in the moments before students enter a classroom. The anticipation of a day full of learning and building relationships with students is one of the best things about being a teacher. The hundreds of little moments—the special handshakes with a third-grader, the bathroom report from a self-appointed 6th-grade monitor (we call it the presidential briefing), and joining the kindergarten morning song throughout the school day all make what I do worthwhile and keep me going.

This excitement turned into anxiety on March 13th. What was an ordinary—but in the same breath exciting—school year turned out to be a year filled with unforeseen challenges and stressors. Students, faculty, and parents alike had days to adjust and acclimate to a brand new learning environment. I myself felt anxiety: How are the students going to learn? Are we only going to just send work and have them complete it? How is that going to be helpful? Are the teachers going to be able to provide the meat and muscle lessons need to be productive? These are just a few questions that kept me up at night.

I am very proud to be on the front lines of the education side of this pandemic. I am more proud to be a part of this network team who  has shown me the true meaning of support, not only to our students and families but to our faculty and staff.

One of our beliefs at Saint Charles is that God is all things–which means, of course, that God is in this pandemic. Personally, I saw this first-hand through my son.

My son is a U.S. Army medic and registered nurse. He volunteered to perform COVID testing with the Army and to work in the COVID units in nursing homes. My initial reaction was, “Are you serious?!” I can’t even begin to describe my level of anxiety. This is my son we are talking about.

I said to him, “Are you sure? Do you have the right equipment? Don’t get too close.”

He looked at me and responded, “Mom, this is what I am supposed to do. I am a Christian.”

Then he goes on to tell me that he hugged an elderly COVID patient that mistook him for his grandson, I cringed. I said, “Efrain, you put yourself in harm’s way!”

He responded, “Mom, how could I not hug him? He needed that from me.” At that moment I felt both guilt and pride: guilt because I was more worried about him than realizing that he was absolutely right. We are all made for each other, to see God in everyone. Aren’t we here to serve and help one  another?

Yet here I am putting my anxiety before his calling, our calling. In the same breath, I felt pride, pride because in raising my sons, that is exactly what I wanted–I wanted to raise human beings who would see God in all things, and seek ways to help others.

I have also seen God through all of you [fellow teachers and leaders]! Your perseverance and selflessness have inspired me during this time. You have embodied the core values we believe:

Integrity: You did the right thing when no one was watching: the teacher that stayed on the phone with the great grandmother who didn’t know how to turn on a computer let alone log her first-grader into Google Classroom. Who then scheduled weekly FaceTime calls to check in on the family.

Hard-work: You never gave up: the teacher who spent hours re-planning and redesigning the distance learning assignments so her kindergartners could feel the connection to her and the classroom.

Service: You gave of yourself expecting nothing in return: the teacher that gave her time and skills to record the loom read a-loud not just for her class but for the entire network.

Humility: You gained wisdom through humility: All you seasoned teachers who weren’t afraid to ask questions and stepped out of your comfort zones to have those zoom meetings with your students.

These are just a few examples that I was fortunate enough to witness.

I keep hearing this time being referred to as the new normal, for us it is not new, It is normal!

We have always been a sounding board to parents, we have always selflessly given of ourselves to help. This was just a different platform! We might have shed tears, yelled, pulled our hair, but in the end, we again rose to the occasion.

Like it says in Colossians 1:16: for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities–all things were created through him and with him.

As difficult a time as this has been, it has allowed us to see God in all places and through others.