Tuesday, February 23rd, was the last day of cycle six and the final day of two straight months of being forced to be remote. Austin Public Health had lowered the risk stage level meaning we could be together in-person again after the coming break, and with the numbers of infections and hospitalizations quickly dropping in Central Texas it seemed possible that they could even move it to stage three within a week. The idea that the pandemic’s end is on the horizon (although still months away) and that we will likely be able to meet in-person for the rest of the year left me filled with hope and joy.

Statement of the obvious from the vanguard media

Statement of the obvious from the vanguard media

Unfortunately, not everyone is on board with doing what is necessary to more quickly bring the pandemic to an end. Since the earliest days of the pandemic there were people denying that it was anything to concern ourselves with, and many of those people twisted and contorted their position to meet the latest covid-skeptic take as the year progressed. At first it was no more than a couple people would die, then a couple hundred, then maybe two thousand, but not more than 5,000, and definitely not 10,000. Well here we are, at 500,000, and CNN puts out a story that says the US death toll did not have to be this high. What a statement of the obvious.

Yes, if people would have prioritized solidarity with those who would be most impacted by the disease and caring about the people in their own communities (in many cases in their own families) by staying home over their “freedom” to not wear a mask or their “right” to go to a restaurant and bar then we could have certainly kept the death toll at least under six digits (each one of those digits still being a human life lost). But for some reason the allure of fantastic conspiracy theories “Trump”ed the ethical call to modify behavior to save a half million lives (with at least another 100,000 deaths surely on the way).

We went outdoors this year, in small groups, for periods of no more than three weeks at a time so that we could do our best to drastically decrease exposure and the potential spread of the disease within our community, which would most likely then leak out into the broader community if someone did get infected at Abrome. And then when the spread was out of control during stage level five we did the bare minimum that every school and “non-essential” workplace should have done, we stayed home. We went remote. We were remote for two months (the last half of a month due to the Texas freeze). I also shouted what we were doing from the rooftops to show schools that they could do the same. That together, even if we did not agree on a philosophy of education, that we could put society first in time of pandemic. I invited other schools to (virtually) plan with us on how to be outdoors, and I shared our process, and our successes and failures. I blogged about our process and I have included a recap of every day “with” the Learners during this pandacademic year. I published our contingency planning document and encouraged other communities to copy and modify it in the ways that would work for their communities. And I also shared lots of thoughts on social media and on this blog post about the evolving conditions of the pandemic and how it should shape our actions, and how educational communities should be shaping the response to the pandemic. I’ve even admitted when I was wrong, such as I did on Tuesday when I edited a portion of a blog post talking about how effective the vaccines were. (They are way more effective than I suggested. And the argument still holds–keep schools closed until we hit herd immunity.)

We are going to continue to do what is necessary to support the Learners and the Abrome community without putting the broader Central Texas community at risk. We will probably be outdoors for the rest of this academic year, at least.

Morning meeting

Morning meeting

Okay, now to the actual Abrome day. It was my turn to facilitate so I opened the meeting with a rundown of the agenda, reviewed each awareness and practice on the Community Awareness Board, opened up the meeting for announcements, and then launched into the morning prompt.

Each of us shared one disappointing moment, experience, or realization that we had over the past two remote months, and one good moment, experience or realization. I led with the negative so that we could end on the positive, although some chose to lead with the positive.

The disappointments:

  • finding out that every conventional school in Central Texas would ignore Austin Public Health guidance to stay remote post-holiday season

  • government response to the snow disaster

  • looking forward to being back in-person again [when the risk stage dropped down to level four] and then not being able to come back together [deep freeze]

  • not being able to be in-person

  • everything: snow, stuck inside, no water

  • when I got mad at Antonio

  • being in a cell I liked because of people and location but not being able to meet [because we were forced to be remote]

  • the birds flew away [for context, see the goods below]

  • I realized our state was not prepared [for the snowstorm]

  • did not build a snowman

  • ran out of water

The positives:

  • a masked up and socially distanced professional development day for Facilitators in Wimberley, TX, in January

  • being able to read [a lot]

  • the connections we made through offerings (e.g., yarrow salve, 7-minute workouts, adolescent Learner’s workouts)

  • Covid-19 numbers dropping enough to move us back to risk stage level four

  • my last check-in with Antonio

  • I got to do a lot of art related stuff, and bike rides

  • mi madre made tomato soup

  • sledding [for the first time in his life]

  • saw birds [but they flew away]

  • wow, it’s snow!

  • only” had power out for five days

  • we got our water back and it’s warm outside

I did point out that a Learner who was without power for five days, whose temperature in her house dropped to at least the low 40s, said her positive was that it was only five days without power and heat. What a way to reframe what would be a negative for most into a positive. I then adjourned the meeting exactly 15 minutes in in accordance with one of the new practices we came up with at our Check-in and Change-up that prior Friday.

A one-to-one check-in

A one-to-one check-in

After the morning meeting I had one-to-one check-ins with two adolescent Learners and Facilitator Lauren had a one-to-one check-in with a younger Learner. Given that it was the last day of a long two-month run of remote days we wanted to go out of our way to connect with as many Learners as possible. Later in the day I had a one-to-one check-in with a younger Learner and Facilitator Lauren had two more with adolescent Learners.

High fives after our 7-minute workout

High fives after our 7-minute workout

Next up was the daily 7-minute workout which we were fortunate to be able to do each day during this truncated final week of the cycle. There were only three of us present, but it was fun and energizing as always. And we all gave each other a final high five for hopefully quite some time.

Besides the meetings and the check-ins, though, there was very little Learner presence in the virtual Abrome space during the day. In fact, only one Learner showed up to any of the five offerings that were hosted by Facilitators on this last day of the cycle. And no Learners hosted their own offerings. Zoom and Discord fatigue on top of pandemic fatigue seem real. I’m so excited that we are going to be in-person again for cycle seven!

Coffee and read

Coffee and read

The other offerings that were planned for the day were Facilitator Lauren’s art and fart, Facilitator Ariel’s coffee and read, and my free write and goofy drawing offerings. The Facilitators made the most of these offerings while holding space for the Learners if they wanted to show. For the coffee and read offering, Facilitator Ariel continued to work through Marquis Bey’s Anarcho-Blackness, while I was able to finish up How We Get Free by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, which I started reading over a year ago, and then continue my reading of the underwhelming Never Stop Learning by Bradley Staats.

Art and fart creations

Art and fart creations

No one showed up for my free write or goofy drawing offerings, but one showed up for art and fart, as did Facilitator Ariel. With no one showing up for my offerings I was able to spend a good chunk of that time writing, and I later heard that Facilitator Ariel also got a lot of writing in on this final day of the cycle.

Afternoon roundup

Afternoon roundup

Our day, week, cycle, and our two cycles of remote ended with the afternoon roundup. Facilitator Lauren hosted the final meeting. She covered the Community Awareness Board one last time, used game shifting to encourage folks to jump in when they wanted to speak, and then asked us what we would do with our five days off to be prepared for the beginning of the next cycle that starts on March 1st. We did not know for certain who would be remote for the next cycle, but we had a general idea. Of the four who were most likely to be in a remote cell they said: set an alarm so I can wake up early enough (a practice we’ve had on the Community Awareness Board at various times this year), set an alarm, not getting arrested (although getting arrested is sometimes out of our hands), breathing correctly (always a good call). Those who would most likely be in-person said: lots of rest, play Minecraft, update medical cards, sleeping the correct amount of hours, practice how to bike and read Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier, dress accordingly.

And that was it. After the meeting the Facilitators reviewed the day, confirmed plans for the professional development day that we had scheduled for the next day, and identified to-dos that needed to get done. We then celebrated making it through this portion of the remote experience and gave each other permission to disconnect.