Elle Chen, Production Manager

Originated in Wuhan, China, the first cases of COVID-19 was reported on Dec. 31, 2019. Initially viewed as nothing more than a “flu-like” break out in China, by early March 2020, the tables had completely turned as the fatal virus had spread around the world. Officially deemed as a pandemic, COVID-19 felt scary and closer to the community. On March 6, news had spread about the first case of COVID in Ramsey County, Minnesota. As spring break rolled around, COVID was at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts and become the main character of many conversations. Uncertainty about safety, school, sports, and quarantine was inevitable. Preparing for the worst, students were asked to take home all of their school supplies and clear out all personal belongings from lockers. And indeed, the end of the 2019-2020 school year ended online instead of in person. What was supposed to be a relaxing two-week break after the notoriously long “SPA third quarter”, continued on and ended up dragging out for half a year too long.

Since the transition into full distance learning last spring, many students have not yet physically returned to the campus building. Many have been living the same day over and over again. Eat, sleep, google meetings, repeat. And although this lifestyle has created many limitations on daily life, time has still flashed by in the blink of an eye. Now, already into the second week of the 2020-2021 school year, the SPA Upper School is in it’s, hopefully, the final stretch of full-time distance learning. But even after the third and final week of full distance learning come to a close for this school year, things won’t be returning back to normal anytime soon. Starting from late July, Head of School Bryn Roberts, and US Principle Max Delgado, have been sending out lengthy emails about the plan for this school year. Most up to date, Delgado released a statement and schedule for SPA’s plans to transition into an optional hybrid learning starting on Tuesday, September 29. In the email, Delgado wrote, “ US students will be on-campus for two days per week (typically Monday and Tuesday) and then engaged in Distance Learning for two days per week (typically Thursday and Friday). On the Flex Days (typically Wednesday), we will have half of the US students on-campus each week, split into two cohorts: grades 9 and 10; and grades 11 and 12. Whichever cohort is not on campus on a Flex Day will attend their classes via Distance Learning.”

Even if hybrid learning will allow US students to partially return back to school, campus life will still be very different. To further ensure the safety of the community, SPA has not only made decisions to install a new HVAC system and one way only hallways on campus but also reduce classroom sizes, remove harkness tables, reinforce all people on campus to wear PPE at all times, follow social distancing protocols, etc. Any violation of school safety measures will also result in repercussions.

Below are some before and after photos of SPA during COVID-19 times.

On the left is the SPA lunchroom at the beginning of last year during a 9th grade mentor meeting. On the right is the current lunchroom (one of two), set up to ensure the safety of students during the pandemic.

Temporarily closed to visitors, the school compared to last year (left), is much emptier.

To further reinforce social distancing, chairs in common resting and studying areas of the school have been reduced.

All photos taken and Juxtaposes made by Elle Chen. Note: photo on the left of the second juxtapose was taken by the SPA SmugMug and left photo of the third Juxtapose was taken by Clara Garner.

So far looking at the statistics, Minnesota has not yet reached its peak in COVID cases as there is still a constant increase of daily cases. Compared to the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 1918, more than a decade ago, PPE, medical and technological advancements have surely occurred and made the COVID-19 outbreak much more bearable and “as normal as possible” for students, workers, and everyone’s daily lives. But nevertheless, the numbers for COVID related deaths, infections aren’t looking so bright. Since the first case reported at the very end of 2019, there have been a total of 29 million confirmed cases and almost 1 million COVID related deaths. Almost 7 million of total cases and around 198,000 deaths have arisen from the leading contributor of COVID, the US. There have not been steady signs of decrease either.

The new habits and lifestyles formed from what feels like a never-ending cycle of COVID will most likely become the new “normal” for a long time to come. As for SPA and many schools alike, the biggest blows have probably come to the theater, sports, art, music programs, not to mention the social aspects of life in general.