How the King’s Academy community met 2020 head-on
With the effects of COVID-19 in full swing, last summer King’s Academy mobilized to implement a program of resiliency and care to support quarantined community members and prepare for the start of a radically different school year
Last summer, King’s Academy was challenged by the same questions every educational institution around the world was asking itself: with little information on how long the COVID-19 pandemic would last, how would schools open in the fall? Would students remain home and learn online? Would they come back to school but wear masks and maintain physical distancing? How would King’s international students get back to Jordan if the airports were still closed? Despite so many questions and constantly changing scenarios, King’s decided, based on Jordan’s stable epidemiological condition at the time, to open school in person with physical distancing measures for added safety.
While the school prepared its campus and classes for these measures, plans were put in motion to help students and faculty abroad return to Jordan. The next hurdle was that everyone arriving to the country would have to go directly to a hotel for 14 days to wait out the government-mandated period of quarantine. Their departure from the hotel would coincide with the return of local boarding students moving to campus, where they would all spend another week, at least, of “cohort quarantine” within their dormitories before transitioning to a physically-distanced school life on campus.
“Even before we knew what the school’s opening plans were, we knew, as a theme, that this would be the year of resilience,” says Wellness and Advising Director Nada Dakhil. “We had international kids coming, some completely new to King’s and Jordan, who we would not see or talk to in person for three weeks. This was not a small thing.”
The school knew that it had to mobilize quickly to ensure the wellbeing of its quarantining students and faculty, and help them — from a distance — navigate the many new challenges and transitions. What ensued was a whole-school effort to develop an all-encompassing program to support students in quarantine, providing for their minute-to-minute and day-to-day physical, social and emotional needs.
“We knew we needed to build a special program to understand resilience better and practice it, and there’s no time to teach it slowly, it’s sink or swim,” says Dakhil.
The result was the development of the King’s Academy Resiliency Efforts (KARE) program. The KARE program was designed for the very specific circumstances of helping students stay healthy and well in quarantine and beyond, while also providing an orientation opportunity.
“It was not easy to create a program from scratch in such a limited time,” says faculty member and Senior Class Dean Maram Haddad. “It was an all-community effort, not just a few people, it was everyone from faculty, purchasing and operational staff, to doctors, nurses and drivers. The commitment was incredible.”
The program included three main tools: a printed guide and journal, a special package with essentials for quarantine wellness and activities and a digital platform.
“We put this [resilience] philosophy into action by designing a four-week online program and delivery effort, starting with daily orientation sessions the week before they came,” explains Dakhil. “When you can’t see someone in person and give a hug, words of consolation, or give them a program or a book, you need to deliver it in packages and online. We needed to get over the idea that these are inferior tools; they can be awesome tools to connect.”
The KARE team had to put themselves in the shoes of those in quarantine and think about what they would need in their hotel room for two weeks, as once they arrived they could not leave their rooms and deliveries would not be allowed for the duration.
“Everything in the program was based on research: how to sit, eat, move, create, be hopeful and encourage yourself when in confinement — it was holistic,” says Dakhil.
“It took us all of June, July and August, working non-stop day and night to make this program work,” says school counselor Sarah Nino.
When students and faculty arrived to the hotel, they found two boxes waiting for them. One was more practical, filled with essentials such as toiletries, cleaning and laundry supplies, a universal outlet plug, healthy snacks, herbal teas and more. The second was the “wellness box” and was filled with supplies to support the activities scheduled for each day of hotel stay.
“The vision of it is huge,” says Nino. “The small details are unbelievable, from logistics to purchasing, sterilizing, packing the boxes, designing the whole program, and thinking of all the little things people might need without having ever done something like this before. The KARE package was like a two-week event; everyday they would open the box to discover something in it to do.”
The KARE guide provided a suggested schedule of activities and “events” for students to engage in throughout the day. Meals were provided at set times by the hotel, and KARE events were organized around them. Divided into categories — motivate, connect, create, challenge, move, watch and play, and explore — the program provided daily opportunities for arts and crafts, exercise, meeting other students and faculty, sessions with a nutritionist or the counselors on different topics, short and fun challenges or brain teasers, touring the school campus virtually, and much more.
While most events were optional, some were mandatory, such as daily check-ins and sessions during which students met or reconnected with members of the King’s community, from advisors, dorm parents and deans, to proctors and members of the Student Leadership Council (SLC), who played a major role in the program.
“Through KARE, we got to know the international students and enjoyed spending time together doing activities like check-ups, challenges, social sessions, watch parties, and music and game nights,” says SLC member Fanar Al Derzi ’21. “Quarantine can make people feel isolated and increase stress and anxiety. With KARE we learned that coping with stress in a healthy way will make us stronger.”
“The SLC did a great job making it easy to meet new people and also made quarantine fun,” says Arabic Year student Ela Hebeka ’23, a sophomore at Chapin School in New York, who joined King’s for the fall semester. “It was frightening initially just thinking about staying alone for two weeks, especially as it was my first time being away from my family. The KARE community really helped with that; everyone in the group was always open to talk and always super kind and caring.”
KARE made a big difference in combatting loneliness, agrees Aya Abdallat ’22. “I found myself experiencing various emotions, like happiness that I had finally made it to my destination but sadness about not being able to see my family. From the very beginning, KARE was there for us. I was able to meet many students who I wouldn’t have met till I arrived on campus or maybe not at all.”
Quarantined faculty members also appreciated having the support of the KARE program. “It’s never easy to be in quarantine on your own, but you can choose to make the best of it or to be miserable for two weeks,” says faculty member Lana Abu Khader. “So I challenged myself to do at least one thing from the package every day.”
One day in quarantine, Abu Khader decided to use craft supplies in the box to show gratitude to the hotel staff for their care by decorating her door with a thank you note, and shared a photo with the others during an art session. That action set off a ripple effect; by the next day almost everyone had decorated their doors with thank you notes too. The hotel staff were so touched that they created a thank you video in response.
Cohort quarantine began in the fourth week, which in typical years would have been the first week of school starting with in-person orientation and move-in day for boarding students. Because King’s was starting the school year with new physical distancing measures, it was the first time it had to provide orientation to everyone — new and returning students and faculty — and virtually in order to avoid large gatherings. Again, a school-wide effort was mobilized to provide the new virtual program of orientation.
Orientation and the KARE program helped ease the transition of both new and returning students starting school — returning students hadn’t been on campus in six months. Quarantined students were welcomed to campus with a red carpet, music, balloons and banners; although faculty and staff wore masks and had to remain at a distance, it was an emotional moment to see one another in person for the first time. And when local students moved in, there was more celebration and balloons, but it was all hands on deck as parents were asked for the first time not to stay to help their children move in to limit crowds and interactions. Instead, new students were paired with returning students who, along with faculty and staff, helped them move in.
“We needed parents — who were dropping off their kids with tons of luggage and emotions — to trust us, that they would be ok,” says Dakhil. “We even gave them a little thank you package on their way out, to acknowledge the hardship and for not succumbing to emotions. Safety first!”
Although students were in cohort quarantine, meaning they were limited to socializing with others residing within the same dorm wing while remaining masked and distanced, they were also busy with online orientation and the start of classes, so the KARE program evolved again in week four to provide a dose of entertainment and help build connections.
“We held the quarantine version of Madaba Games,” says Nino. Every day KARE would post one of 13 total challenges, from singing to acting, cooking to origami, arts and crafts to sports. A huge box was delivered to each dorm with everything needed for the activity, which the dorm heads would distribute among their cohorts. Students could participate in person within their cohorts or online, and send photos and videos of their efforts to be judged. “Everyone got involved, it really built team spirit,” adds Nino.
After ensuring a strong, spirited start to the year, and as classes got underway, the first iteration of the KARE program ended — over the coming weeks late-arriving students would continue to be welcomed by KARE. However, the spirit and overall philosophy of KARE continued to be in effect throughout the year as new situations and transitions arose, such as a shift back to online learning and the eventual establishment of the Green Zone (see page 6).
“We called it King’s Academy Resiliency Efforts because we knew it would need a lot of effort and stamina,” concludes Dakhil. “It’s the whole community in this struggle together and showing them care and love and thinking of their deeper needs and trying to provide the resources to meet them.”
“When you see kids impacted as they have been this year by COVID-19, there is no doubt you have to mobilize. Everyone working on KARE was super passionate about this project — helping our students is what fuels us.”