Positive Lessons from a Year with COVID
Selected remarks by Mary T. Ortiz from a Head of School Coffee
I'd like to share a couple lessons that I thought would be helpful as we've been living in this unique time in our country's history. There are positive lessons that have come from quarantine that are very helpful in our educational work with young women.
With all of these lessons, I'd like to keep this quote in mind: "Things that matter the most must never be at the mercy of things that matter the least."1 There are three main points that I've been thinking about and finding useful.
1) Slow down and make time to do what is important. Develop a family culture that prizes order and moderation. It's so important to have barriers that are intentionally created to protect us from the unhealthy tendency in our culture towards activism, which is activity for its own sake, without a soul or purpose, just to get things done. It often has a frenzied nature. We need intentional practices that help us avoid that. A family culture that values order and moderation will help us put the tendency in our culture towards excess and extreme at bay. In this culture of excess or extreme, there is this sense that there always needs to be more—more for the sake of entertainment, popularity, etc. The book The Teenage Brain by Dr. Frances E. Jensen backs up the importance of showing girls how important order and moderation is so that they can accomplish what's important and rest well. It's the value of working out a really good schedule. For a young person, life is going to be full of ups and downs. Work is putting order into chaos every day—the art of creating and living a good schedule. Learning those boundaries that help us to learn well and enjoy healthy fun is crucial. Establishing a good sleep schedule is an important part of this process of establishing order. Dr. Jensen writes that, "There isn't a single part of a teenager's life that isn't adversely affected by a lack of sleep."2 Sometimes, when I'm mentoring a student and she's feeling very down, I'll ask if she's had enough sleep. Very often we'll discover bad sleep habits. It's a great thing to find out and keep working on.
2) We are nourished by loving personal relationships with family and friends. Saint John Paul II said, "The love between spouses is bread for the children." Family is nourishment. The love, affection, and interest in a family are nourishment. These bonds with family, close relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers—they rely on time spent together. It's so beautiful to see how many people have talked about how a deep, renewed appreciation for family and close friends has come out of this time of quarantine. The theme here is people first, a person-centered approach. How person-centered are we as a family in the way we spend our time and resources? An all-girls environment of the kind we have at Oakcrest really allows girls to cultivate relationships. They're learning all the time from the good example of their peers and teachers, and sharing the practices that their own family has given them. The really small, personal details, such as thank-you cards or a simple phone call, are being learned by our girls during this time and they really love that. This bodes well for their relationships and future families.
3) Service—looking beyond my immediate sphere. Cultivate that spirit of service. We are constantly asked to look beyond our small world. Our school is not a bubble. It's a place that's forming people who will go out and are out in the world right now serving. Viktor Frankl wrote, "Being human is being directed to someone or something other than oneself, be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love, the more human he is."3 That awareness of suffering is in a sense beautiful and necessary because we are more human that way.
1. Joann Wolfgang von Goethe
2. Frances E. Jensen with Amy Ellis Nutt, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults (New York: Harper, 2015).
3. Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning (New York: Touchstone Books, 1970).
Mary T. Ortiz holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from New York University, and a B.A. in English and German from Bowdoin College. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. While completing her doctorate, she taught writing and composition at NYU, and began a 15-year career of developing supplementary educational programs for girls throughout the U.S. Working collaboratively with educators and parents, she coordinated the creation and growth of programs that develop the whole person: camps, service projects, cultural and leadership programs, all of which offer spiritual formation through the Prelature of Opus Dei. Mary first joined the Oakcrest faculty as an English teacher and Assistant Head of School in 2009. She became Head of School in 2012, bringing to Oakcrest her love of literature and the humanities, and experience and commitment to the education of young women.