February 15

Have you ever fallen down a “rabbit hole”? You know what I mean…an internet search “rabbit hole.” You look for information on one thing and hours later, you are still at the computer, learning about things you never even knew you wanted to know about. This happens to me, more often than I really care to admit…and it happened on this past Sunday. It started simply enough, I was reading a brief list of anticipated movies in 2021 and one was called The Vigil. The description indicated it had to do with a shomer. 

And off I went—what’s a shomer? Well, in the Jewish religion it’s someone who sits with the body after death. Why do they do this? Well, that led to a page all about Jewish funeral and burial customs (very interesting) which then led to a page about Muslim burial customs and just as Alice did in Lewis Carroll’s classic work, I went further and further down the rabbit hole. I’m glad I did, because it brought me to a reflective state that’s been on my mind all week long. In short, I began to wonder, what effect has COVID-19 had on funeral, burial and mourning customs in the past year? And, what would the long term effects be on society in general; the inability to gather to mourn, the inability to say farewell to someone in their religious traditions, the inability to have hospice care or palliative care in one’s home. Sobering thoughts for Valentine’s Day weekend, and yet in reality it is love that connects us to all of these final traditions—the love we have for our family and friends that causes us to grieve, to mourn, and to send our departed to God in a certain manner. COVID-19 has destroyed many things since last February and the ability to grieve as we wish is one of those things.

Still, the question begs, why am I writing about this instead of Valentine’s Day or Lincoln and Washington or the approaching Lenten season or even Mardi Gras? It’s a big few days spanning 2-14 and 2-17 this year. I think it’s because I could not get out of my mind that phrase each of us hear when people are talking about dying… “In the midst of life, we are in death.” How true that statement is, this year especially as we watched for daily counts of losses due to COVID-19. Even the youngest among our households could not be completely shielded from the fact that death was literally all around us; it had us on lockdown for most of the year. But what we didn’t hear much about, at least I didn’t, was how once death came, those who were left behind were able to cope with the loss and how, for many families across the country and the world, that the grieving process, so essential to us in life, was incomplete at best. 

If you turn on your TV or scroll social media these days, you hear about the vaccine, the rollout, who gets it first in which state et al. You see people with their stickers announcing their vaccination status, you can watch videos of health care workers administering the doses, you see indoor dining opening up, entertainment venues opening up, and we won’t even get into the heated debate about schools…I’ll just say my feeling is that all those in education are doing the best they can. You can once again buy tickets to a major league baseball game, it looks hopeful for Broadway to be open by the fall, vacations ( with masks) are once again being planned…and there’s a sense of re-emerging from the pandemic and coming out on the other side. Hope springs eternal and perhaps this spring season, more than ever in anyone’s memory, people will have a renewed sense of hope. However, for some it will be a hope tainted with sadness; because for every person lost to COVID-19, there’s been an imbalance in the grieving process for their loved ones. The tales I read during my time in the “rabbit hole” were heartbreaking and I will not heavy your hearts with them in detail. Suffice to say, the words I read and the images I saw are things I will carry with me, always. 

So, while God would want us to be hopeful, to see the rainbow shining through the darkness of the past year, to rejoice in the goodness of medical breakthroughs and the slow reemergence of gathering as we did once before, with hugs and laughter among friends, He would also remind us to never once forget those who are not with us, nor the families who lost so much. Those who lost a loved one lost that person in their lives; but they also lost the ability to say goodbye just as they would have wanted, the ability to have others help them grieve, and the ability to come to terms with loss surrounded by the warm embrace of family. We cannot ever lose the memory of all that loss and we should work to expand our sense of compassion and understanding as we move forward. Now and in the future, compassion is what everyone will need most.

Rose Fitgerald Kennedy once said “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”

How fitting those words are in light of what we’ve all lived through from last March until now. And how important they are, when it comes to us understanding and empathizing with the sadness of others, even as we celebrate our own joys in the coming months.

Happy Valentine’s Day and my prayers to all in the Saint Dominic Academy community who are grieving a loss. You have my sympathy and my empathy always.

Saint Dominic Academy’s National Honor Society Presents…

BEDTIME STORIES For READ ACROSS AMERICA

National Honor Society Students & Faculty Volunteers will pair one on one with your child, via Zoom for a ½ hour read aloud and discussion. 

It’s the perfect way to wind down the little ones before bedtime!

When: Tuesdays and Thursdays in March

March 2nd, March 4th March 9th, March 11th, March 16th, March 18th, March 23rd, March 25th, and March 30th 

Time:  7:00pm- 7:30pm

Age Range: 3 year olds to 9 year olds

(older siblings welcome to join the Zoom!) 

To sign up, please fill out this form: https://forms.gle/GriwJ1vc2cDTLqHg6

You will receive a confirmation email with a Zoom link and the name of your Reader(s). 

There is NO cost and you can sign up more than once! Looking forward to fostering a love of reading all month long!

February 1

Today, I share with the entire Saint Dominic Academy community the letter regarding on site instruction that was given to our parents and students last week. We ask for the continued prayers of all who love Saint Dominic Academy, as we work hard to continue to provide both remote and in person learning options for the young women under our care.

Thank you for being so understanding and cooperative this week as we once again navigated the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic and its continual impact on our school community.  I had the opportunity to speak with some parents over the course of this week, and as always, I welcome the opportunity to talk with each and every one of you, should you ever wish to express your concerns and frustrations to me.

Every time I communicate with parents and students, I stress over and over again that the administration, faculty and staff of Saint Dominic Academy have been, from day one constantly committed to ensuring stellar education while at the same time keeping everyone in our “family” safe. That’s been quite a challenge from last March onward, and even when we make a decision we never consider it fully final—we are constantly re-evaluating and discussing the situations connected to our school, as we realize circumstances change quickly in the face of this pandemic.

The commitment to the health and safety of all truly extends to all—the dedicated and caring teachers who currently teach remotely for health reasons, those who are temporarily unable to with us due to quarantine or COVID recovery, and those who can be present on site, even if it’s at personal sacrifice—the inability to see family or friends due to their interactions at school. At all times, we are considering every single student under our care, those who wish to be remote and as well as those who wish to be in person, those who have the desire to participate in sports and those who chose to remain at home, relatively isolated until this pandemic is finally behind us.

I’ve made no secret of my disappointment in the fact that, in NJ, teachers are unable to be vaccinated as of yet. It’s a risk to their health when they enter the classroom—although we have taken every safety precaution and although we know you join with us in ensuring the young ladies take the necessary precautions as well, there is always a risk of exposure.  That said, our teachers, whether they are remote or able to be on-site, put the needs of our students first and foremost at all times.

It is in that vein that I am able to announce today that the administration has re-evaluated our remote learning status, and as of Monday February 8th, when  teachers who were quarantined are fully able to return, we will once again make an effort to have a hybrid learning option for those young ladies who wish to return to Saint Dominic Academy.  I know this news will please many of you and I am happy to be able to offer this in person learning option.  Students who wish to be remote may still opt to do so at any time, via an email to Mrs. Farrales ( gfarrales@stdominicacad.com) and those who wish to come off our remote list and return to hybrid can do so by also informing Mrs. Farrales.

Our commitment to returning to hybrid learning does not mean that we can 100% assure that we will be able to remain open at all times, for the duration of the school year. Our commitment to health and safety has not wavered and as such, if there is a need for quarantine, a need to re-evaluate the hybrid model due to rising numbers, or due to anticipated travel plans and higher risk of exposure after the Easter recess, we will do so.  Furthermore, as we move into the spring, the schedule may once again need to be adjusted, depending upon how the College Board plans to implement AP testing. I do have to ask for your cooperation and consideration in all of these situations, as they are yet unknown fully.

Teachers who are remote for health related reasons will continue to be remote until further notice. I ask that you please keep in mind that these men and women are fully dedicated to their roles as teachers; the only difference is where they are teaching. We have all, in our jobs and day to day activities had to be more understanding and accommodating from last March onward, and of course, we should all continue to do so.

Additionally, while we remain committed to our athletic program as well, it has been noted that more and more exposures in schools, especially colleges and universities, has come about due to athletics. While I do not ever want to even ponder the idea of not having athletics, I am going to ask our student athletes, parents, and our coaches to be even more diligent and take every single precaution to ensure that all rules are being followed at all times.  We must be very careful, especially as we are in the season of indoor sports right now.

In person learning on our hybrid schedule will commence on Monday, February 8th with our 10th and 12th grade students as well as our 8th grade, in the building. Please note, that Friday, February 12 and Monday February 15, Saint Dominic Academy is closed for President’s Day weekend.  In person learning on our hybrid schedule will commence for  our 9th and 11th grade students, as well as our 8th grade on Tuesday February 16th

If you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to call or email me. I ask for your continued prayers—as I said earlier in the week, this is not an easy time to be a student or a parent, nor is it an easy time to be a teacher, school staff member or a school administrator. We are doing the very best we can, in extremely challenging circumstances. Please, let us remember that and continue to be kind, respectful and pray for one another always.

Most sincerely,

Sarah Degnan Barbi

Head of School