The months of March and April 2020 were like no others in Pearson’s 46-year history. As the pandemic made its way across the world and we saw how UWC schools and colleges reacted to their local situations and we watched as infection and fatality tolls mounted in neighbouring Washington State.
On campus, a COVID-19 planning group met daily to assess, evaluate and make quick decisions about health, wellness and continued operations. In short order, we moved from the cancellation of our premier “downtown” community performance One World, to invoking physical distancing by regrettably but firmly sending our Year 46 first-year students home to pioneer full online learning and education at Pearson. Literally within days, public health authorities in our home province of British Columbia directed all schools to close, meaning that all remaining students would have to return to their homes or, if that was not possible, to a safe and welcoming Host Family or Alumni home.
Working long, long hours remotely or on campus, our student travel coordinator helped get everyone booked with flights or ferries while staff and volunteer drivers ran shuttles throughout the days and nights. Meanwhile, working almost entirely from their respective homes, determined efforts by faculty and staff made it possible for full online education and learning systems to be set up and in place within a week. Students began demonstrating their resilience in new ways by sometimes “attending” classes at midnight or 4 am their times and by setting up their own virtual networks to keep their friendships thriving and their learning experiential.
At this point in late April, most summer events on campus have been cancelled or postponed, planned upcoming alumni reunions are being re-imagined and some of our colleagues are experiencing temporary layoffs. Like everyone else across the UWC movement, we are laying out contingency plans based on a variety of “could-bes” about what the summer and fall months of a pandemic affecting the economy and international travel will bring. In the meantime, we are doing our best to stay focused and to continue to work together from our home offices, kitchen tables and, as the weather grows kinder in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps from our back gardens and terraces. One way or another though, we will see you again!